Sleep Apnea and Epilepsy

We’ve repeatedly been shown that untreated sleep apnea has consequences that reach far and wide throughout the body. The sleep fragmentation and oxygen deprivation caused by repeated apneas and hypopneas affect the brain as well as the body. Since we know treating sleep apnea has beneficial effects on bodily issues, such as blood pressure and diabetes, might sleep apnea treatment be able to improve brain issues, such as epilepsy? Amazingly, up to 1/3 of those with epilepsy also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). With this idea in mind, researchers set out to further probe the connection between these two disorders. 

This study was retrospective, meaning data were extracted from pre-existing patient records. Clinical data regarding seizure frequency, sleep apnea severity, treatment duration and treatment compliance (how well they used their treatment) were obtained from the records. Eligible study subjects were those who had at least 5 apneas and hypopneas per hour when untreated and also had had a seizure within 6 months before beginning their sleep apnea treatment. Subject data were compared before and after 6 months of sleep apnea treatment (CPAP) initiation. 

When comparing a group who used their CPAP well and those who did not use their CPAP well, results showed seizure frequency reduced in the good users from 1.8 per month to 1 per month. A reduction was not seen in the group of poor CPAP users. Additionally, 57% of the subjects in the good usage group had been seizure free at follow-up, while only 23% of the poor users were seizure free1.

Given these results, it is interesting to speculate about how untreated sleep apnea may contribute to the occurrence of seizures. For some, seizures are triggered by stressful events. Given this knowledge, it may not be surprising that apneas and hypopneas can act as triggers, since they are extremely stressful to the body. If you or someone you know has untreated sleep apnea and also suffers from seizures, it is certainly time for treatment!




1. Vendrame M, Auerbach S, Loddenkemper T, Kothare S, Montouris G. Effect of continuous positive airway pressure treatment on seizure control in patients with obstructive sleep apnea and epilepsy. Epilepsia. 2011 Nov;52(11):e168-71.

Janna Mantua


Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.

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