A common affliction many caregivers of children with special needs must tackle is nighttime disturbances, whether it be insomnia, night terrors, or even nocturnal seizures.
If your child or a loved one has nocturnal seizures, try the following steps:
- Identify triggers like lack of sleep, fever, or certain sounds which could be causing the seizure.
- Use a movement monitor or seizure monitor to track movement throughout the night.
- Ensure the bed is a safe place with padding and perhaps a canopy to prevent falling.
While nocturnal seizures are frightening, fortunately, there are lots of steps caregivers can take to help keep children safe, healthy, and happy even while experiencing this challenging reality.
Read on to get an in-depth look at childhood nocturnal seizures and what you can do to prevent them, and keep your child safe when they happen.
What are nocturnal seizures?
Nocturnal seizures are, as the name suggests, seizures that occur when a child or individual is asleep.
Seizures in general are caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain; this activity can cause muscles to tense, weaken, or jerk for a temporary amount of time.
Any sort of seizure can occur while a child sleeps, though some conditions are more likely to cause nocturnal seizures in particular than others.
Nocturnal seizures can happen at any time, but they’re most likely to occur just before or shortly after a child wakes up or soon after they fall asleep.
Depending on the type of seizure, a child may or may not be fully conscious or aware of what’s happening before, during, or immediately after the incident.
Because nocturnal seizures tend to happen when a child is alone, they can be hard to notice and diagnose.
Nocturnal Seizures Causes
There really is no easy answer to the question “what causes night seizures in children?” Instead, there are multiple potential triggers to consider and a myriad of conditions that can contribute to nocturnal seizures.
With that being said, here are some potential causes of seizures and epilepsy that we know about:
Brain injuries can cause or contribute to seizures, especially during the time right after said injury occurs. Example include:
- Difficulties during birth
- Brain infection like encephalitis or meningitis
- Traumatic brain injury (the result of external force on the head)
If a child already has epilepsy or another condition that predisposes them to seizures, certain triggers for nighttime episodes may include:
- Lack of sleep
- Certain sounds
Note: A Cubby Bed can help with all these triggers by providing a sensory-calm environment, padded bedding, and a safe place to sleep.
There are also specific types of epilepsy that tend to cause nocturnal seizures, especially in children:
- This rare condition may be accompanied with learning and behavioral problems. Seizures will typically continue into adulthood.
- If you know and love someone with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, you may qualify for insurance coverage for a Cubby bed that can keep your loved one safe during nocturnal seizures. Get in touch with Cubby beds to discuss your options.
- This condition typically causes seizures upon waking in the morning and it does not go away with age.
- This typically disappears in adulthood.
- Absence seizures usually only last for a few seconds and do not tend to include noticeable muscle convulsions. For this reason, caretakers may not realize that the child is having a seizure.
- These types of spasms are associated with a brain injury early in life and typically start before the child reaches the age of one.
- Temporal Lobe Epilepsy will typically develop between the ages of 10 and 20.
- This is a rare childhood disorder that may also come with difficulties in understanding verbal cues and language.
Nocturnal seizures can be isolated events, meaning they only happen once, or they can be chronic and continue to impact an individual throughout their life.
Again, depending on the types of seizures experienced and any pre-existing conditions that might contribute to them, treatment options may or may not be able to easily control symptoms.
Working with a healthcare professional to monitor seizures and track what circumstances surround them is often an essential part of learning to live with these experiences.
Nocturnal Seizures in Toddlers
Sleep and seizures are a two-way street; they can both influence one another, and this is especially true for children too young to manage a bedtime routine on their own or fully express their experiences (like toddlers).
It is indeed true that even infants and toddlers can experience seizures - as mentioned, many will grow out of it over time, but for others, symptoms last well into adulthood.
Toddlers with nocturnal seizures can be especially hard to care for because they might struggle to understand what’s happening and, as a result, fail to understand the importance of communicating these experiences to a caregiver.
For toddlers, infants, and other children with a higher level of need, it’s particularly important to be aware of the signs of nocturnal seizures (other than those that happen during the seizure itself).
Seizures can be scary to witness, but the primary goal of a caregiver in this situation should be to keep the child safe during a seizure and take action to seek treatment after the fact.
Though toddlers may need extra monitoring, it’s worthwhile to consider investing in a safe bed with sensors, monitors, and padding for children of all ages.
Non-verbal older children or teenagers, for instance, may still benefit significantly from the monitoring and communication tools that their bed has to offer.
Nocturnal Seizures in Children: Symptoms
Aside from monitoring your child while sleeping or encouraging them to speak up about these sorts of experiences, there are other steps you can take to look out for nocturnal seizures in children of all ages.
Nocturnal seizures might cause a child to injure themselves, so pay attention to any new bruises, scratches, or other marks that might indicate uncontrollable movement. It’s also beneficial to be mindful of excessive sleepiness, drool found on the pillow, bed, or pajamas, headaches, and other signs that your child’s experience might not be as peaceful as it might seem overnight.
Nocturnal seizures and bedwetting or nocturnal seizures and vomiting often go hand-in-hand, as do nocturnal seizures and sleepwalking.
It’s easy to dismiss these behaviors as normal parts of childhood - and to some extent, they are - but anything new or unusual should always be taken note of.
To summarize, some common symptoms of nocturnal seizures in children include:
- Waking up suddenly confused for no reason
- Wetting the bed
- Vomiting in the nighttime
- Biting their tongue
- Falling out of the bed, sometimes causing scratches or bruises
- Suddenly becoming rigid
- Shouting or crying out before the muscles begin to convulse
- Being very difficult to wake up after the seizure
- Waking up very tired
The majority of nocturnal seizures in children don’t cause memory loss, so your child may be able to vaguely describe what has happened when prompted.
Parental monitoring and intervention is too important to describe in words when it comes to diagnosing and treating nocturnal seizures in children.
It can be hard to diagnose seizures in children because they’re too young to communicate fully, and electroencephologram (EEG) scans or other diagnostic tests may not show anything irregular.
A lack of tangible diagnostic information doesn’t mean your child isn’t experiencing something scary and very, very real, so it’s vital that caregivers be the voice that children deserve.
Nocturnal Seizures vs. Night Terrors
Night terrors, a type of parasomnia (where the brain fails to fully “shut off” while an individual is asleep and causes abnormal behavior), can look very similar to nocturnal seizures.
A child experiencing night terrors might thrash around, cry out, jerk, or even get up and move.
These occurrences can closely mirror those that occur during nocturnal seizures, but they are fundamentally different and should be treated as such.
Night terrors are typically not a symptom of an overarching issue, but nocturnal seizures in children may be caused by epilepsy.
Night terrors are more comparable to sleepwalking than a seizure.
When a child’s brain is unable to turn off physical motion and vocalization, nightmares can cause what appears to be a very real and visceral reaction. However, when woken, many children don’t remember night terrors.
Most nocturnal seizures don’t cause memory loss, which means that children are more likely to recall that it happened and remember how it felt.
Night terrors are also shorter-lived than nocturnal seizures.
Night terrors tend to disappear as a child matures into adulthood, and even when they occur frequently, they tend to only be a problem maybe once or twice a night.
Seizures, on the other hand, tend to persist throughout an individual’s life and may occur multiple times within a single night.
It is possible for childhood nocturnal seizures to dissipate as an individual ages, but for many children with special needs, the cause of these seizures continues to exist as they get older, meaning that seizures won’t necessarily go away on their own.
Night terrors are nocturnal seizures in children that may have similar triggers, for example, anxiety, fever, or lack of sleep.
Therefore, both of these conditions may be treatable with a consistent nighttime routine, and a safe, calming space in which to sleep.
The Cubby beds include monitors, safety padding, enclosable canopy and a door to prevent uncontrolled sleepwalking.
Both night terrors and nocturnal seizures can be very distressing experiences for children and families alike.
While night terrors aren’t pleasant, they don’t tend to pose as much of a safety risk as nocturnal seizures do, and they may be easier to address and treat.
What to do if your child has nocturnal seizures?
Perhaps the best thing you can do in the face of a nocturnal seizure is react quickly and calmly.
Getting your child to a safe place where you can monitor them is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind.
You may also consider investing in a Cubby Bed for children with an enclosed canopy, padding, a monitor and sensory features. Certain childhood seizure conditions can get a Cubby bed with all these features for a discounted price. Check out our funding options here.
- It’s also helpful to familiarize yourself with any triggers, if there are any, that your child might have so you can be better prepared for potential future incidents. Typically triggers may include stress, sleep deprivation, certain medications, and fever.
Nocturnal Seizures Triggers
The most common cause of seizures is epilepsy, but other things and conditions can trigger seizures.
Medications, head trauma, autoimmune disorders, strokes, brain tumors, abnormal blood vessels, and more can all lead to singular or chronic seizures.
Specific triggers often depend on the root of the problem itself; flashing lights, lack of sleep, and other factors can trigger episodes for some, but for others seizures may appear seemingly random or hard to control.
Some individuals experience an “aura” before seizures in which coordination, vision, hearing, and other senses become slightly impaired, but others might not present any warning signs, especially in the case of children who, even if they do see warning signs, may not be able to recognize them.
What to do if a toddler has a seizure?
If a toddler, child, or even adult has a seizure, the procedure you should fall back on is essentially the same.
Move the child to a safe location and position - if they’re standing, try and move them to the floor or another soft place where they are less likely to injure themselves.
Stay with the child and if possible, watch the clock.
Don’t put anything in the mouth or try to restrain the child or stop their movements.
Turn your child on their side so any drool or foaming from the mouth flows outward rather than down the throat.
Once the seizure is over, it’s okay to let the child sleep - check in on them frequently and contact a doctor as soon as possible to discuss next steps.
Nocturnal seizures treatment can look different from person to person, so it’s always crucial to consult a healthcare professional who has the expertise to diagnose and provide care for a child experiencing said seizures.
Medication, surgery, dietary changes, and other options can help manage or prevent seizures for those who experience them chronically.
A big part of living with seizures, though, is understanding how to react when they happen.
This involves avoiding situations that might put a seizure-prone child in harm’s way (like leaving them unattended in water, which can lead to drowning).
In addition to harm-prevention, medication, and more, treatment plans might include activities or techniques a child can turn to during or after recovering from a seizure to help them calm down and return to a normal headspace.
Nocturnal Seizures Natural Treatment
Many families are tempted to seek out natural treatment options for children, especially because prescription medications can sometimes carry unpleasant side effects.
It’s important to note, though, that natural treatments have little actual evidence to back them up, so they should not be used as the primary means of preventing or managing seizures.
However, techniques like meditation, recognizing the onset of a seizure, herbal treatments, and diet changes may help some individuals better manage the stress that comes along with nocturnal seizures and improve overall livelihood.
Because common triggers involve lack of sleep and stress, you may consider creating and maintaining a nighttime routine, such as the following:
- Hygienic needs like bath time and the final diaper change at the same time each night.
- Put on your pajamas
- Reading to your child, or, if it is an older child, having a calm and quiet conversation about the events of the day.
- The goal after this should be your child’s ability to fall asleep alone. For example, if your child can only fall asleep when you brush their hair, this could become a problem if they wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall asleep again without you brushing their hair.
- For your child to fall asleep, leave them in their Cubby Bed, which has an enclosed canopy, padded walls, and sensory control. The child will learn that this space is designated for sleeping, and they will feel safe also knowing that there are monitors inside the bed.
Helpful Devices: The Cubby Bed
In addition to working to keep your child safe during a seizure or treating them for epilepsy, it helps to take advantage of resources and tools that are designed to protect your child.
The Cubby Bed is one such tool, and one that encapsulates many of the pro’s of alternative options all for one price.
Whether your child experiences nocturnal seizures every night or just on occasion, the Cubby Bed is an incredible option.
Thoughtfully created with the needs of children who experience seizures, elopement, or other challenges in mind, the Cubby Bed combines functionality, safety, and comfort.
A high-quality, 1080p HD camera provides constant access to the view, motion, and sound present in your child’s room at any time, and motion detecting features can help alert caregivers when a seizure may be occurring.
A padded, enclosable canopy as well as an anti-wander enclosure are also included to ensure that your child is safe from injury even if you can’t be present during a seizure.
What’s even better is that the Cubby Bed doesn’t have to be an unattainable, luxury expense; financial assistance, including insurance coverage, is possible for those who need it.
With devices like the Cubby Bed, caregivers and children alike can sleep soundly, and those who need to can access important information and records of past seizures or incidents.
Let tools like the Cubby Bed do the hard work for you - that’s what they’re made for!
Children and Nocturnal Seizures: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Nocturnal seizures are a common enough occurrence in children that there’s a large variety of specific questions and concerns out there to consider.
Below, we’ve listed some of the most common uncertainties caregivers and parents tend to have to help you further your understanding of this important topic.
What does a seizure look like in a sleeping toddler?
A child may make strange or unusual movements, convulse, adopt unusual positions, and even make noise during a seizure.
These signs can be present even if the child doesn’t appear to be conscious.
Do toddlers cry during seizures?
Crying out or making other noises can indeed be one of the signs of seizures in toddlers while sleeping.
Not all toddlers will cry, though, and even those who tend to do so might not during every individual seizure.
Crying during the night is certainly something to look out for, but it’s not always present, so relying solely on noise to determine when your toddler might be struggling isn’t necessarily the best idea.
What causes seizures in two year olds?
Seizures in children, regardless of their age, is generally caused by some form of epilepsy.
Other chronic conditions, injuries, anatomical abnormalities, etc. can also contribute to seizures.
If a child has epilepsy, then the seizures can be caused by certain triggers such as lack of sleep, stress, or fever.
What do infant seizures look like?
Identifying baby seizures while sleeping can be difficult - babies can’t speak, after all, to let us know when scary things have occurred!
An infant experiencing a seizure might jerk their limbs, experience muscle spasming and twitching, convulsions, foam at the mouth or drool, and, in some cases, cry out.
Some seizures may be more severe and symptomatic than others, so monitoring an infant in this case is extremely important. Try looking into specific monitors like that of the Cubby Bed.
Can stress cause seizures in toddlers?
Stress is very unlikely to cause seizures on its own, especially in otherwise healthy and functional toddlers and children.
However, if a child has epilepsy, stress and lack of sleep can both lead to seizures.
Stress can indeed be a trigger for those with a condition that already tends to cause seizures, but experiencing stress is a normal part of life and not necessarily a cause for concern.
Unusually high levels of stress should be noted though, especially if you notice a chance in your child’s sleep habits or behavior.
What are the three types of seizures?
There are more than three types of seizures when it comes to specific conditions and diagnoses, but they all fall into one of the below categories:
During these seizures, electrical activity outside the norm occurs throughout all areas of the cerebral cortex, which is associated with movement, reason or memory, and thought.
Generalized seizures include tonic-clonic or “grand mal” seizures (classified by stiffening of the body, jerking motions, loss of consciousness) and absence or “petit mal” seizures (which involve brief periods of staring, blinking, and minor movement in hands, arms, and limbs).
Focal onset/partial seizures.
This category is limited to one hemisphere of the brain.
Those who experience them may remain conscious during the seizure but are sometimes unaware of the fact that it’s happening.
These types of seizures generally involve involuntary movement, and changes in behavior, consciousness, and responsiveness.
Myoclonic seizures, characterized by short, jerking motions or spasms in muscles, are a great example - myoclonic seizures in toddlers while sleeping, for instance, might create smaller movements and thus be harder to identify from the outside.
Unknown onset seizures.
In this category, the beginning of the seizure is not known or identifiable.
This type may shift to a diagnosis of the types of seizures listed above once more information is gathered.
Can a 2 year old have absence seizures?
Yes, a child of any age can have absence seizures.
Absence seizures may be responsible for periods of blinking, staring, and subtle movement in the muscles and limbs of a child, which can make them difficult to identify.
Takeaway: Prevention, Treatment, and Tools
Keeping a child safe during nocturnal seizures is not a one-step task - it involves being educated on what to do when a seizure happens, how to help prevent them, and taking the time to get a child the professional care they need.
Tools like the Cubby Bed can go a long way when it comes to creating a genuinely safe, cozy, and comforting environment for your child to sleep in.
The Cubby Bed takes a lot of the guesswork out of caring for a child with seizures and can get both you and your child the rest you deserve.