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Epilepsy and Brain

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Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system, specifically the brain. In simple terms, our nervous system is a communications network that controls every thought, emotion, impression, memory, and movement, essentially defining who we are. Nerves throughout the body function like telephone lines, enabling the brain to communicate with every part of the body via electrical signals. In epilepsy, the brain’s electrical rhythms have a tendency to become imbalanced, resulting in recurrent seizures.

If you have seen a picture of the brain before, the outer surface contains numerous folds that increase the surface area and allow more cerebral cortex to be packed into the skull, giving us more “Brain power”. The brain is an extraordinarily complex organ. When it comes to understanding epilepsy, there are several concepts about the brain you’ll need to learn.

The first is that the brain works on electricity. Normally, the brain continuously generates tiny electrical impulses in an orderly pattern. These impulses travel along the network of nerve cells, called neurons, in the brain and throughout the whole body via chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. A seizure occurs when the brain’s nerve cells misfire and generate a sudden, uncontrolled surge of electrical activity in the brain.

Another concept important to epilepsy is that different areas of the brain control different functions. If seizures arise from a specific area of the brain, then the initial symptoms of the seizure often reflect the functions of that area. The right half of the brain controls the left side of the body, and the left half of the brain controls the right side of the body. So if a seizure starts from the right side of the brain, in the area that controls movement in the thumb, then the seizure may begin with jerking of the left thumb or hand.

Sleep and Epilepsy
We all know that we think more clearly, react more quickly, and generally perform better after a good night’s sleep. And while a good night’s sleep plays a key role in the overall well–being and health of all people it is even more vital in people with epilepsy.

One reason why is because a lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep can in turn increase frequency of seizures. The reasons why sleep deprivation provokes seizures are unclear. However, what we do know is that the sleep–wake cycle is associated with prominent changes in brain electrical activity, so seizures and the sleep–wake cycle are often clearly related.

We also know that most types of seizures are affected by sleep, although the degree varies greatly from type to type and patient to patient. Further, there are hormonal changes during sleep that could possibly be related to seizures. Finally, the effects of seizures and seizure medicines on the quality of your sleep can make the relationship even more complicated.


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