Sleep disruptions caused by epilepsy ‘might cause learning difficulties’
An ongoing study hopes to establish whether or not disruptions to a child’s sleep patterns caused by epilepsy can account for the high proportion of patients who experience learning difficulties.
According to Medical News Today, researchers at the University College London Institute of Child Health believe that abnormal electrical discharges in the brain – common during sleep in people with epilepsy – make it more difficult for children to form cohesive memories of the day before.
It has previously been documented that sleep plays a key role in learning – something scientists call ‘sleep-related declarative memory consolidation’. Equally, if a person has a poor night’s sleep, they are more likely to have difficulty remembering what they learned the previous day.
The new project, led by Epilepsy Research UK trustee Professor Helen Cross, intends to determine if the poor academic performance of some children with epilepsy can be attributed to the same phenomenon.
“There is research to show that people lay down their memories during sleep… We also know that if you interrupt sleep, the results are not so good,” Professor Cross told the European Paediatric Neurology Society Congress last week.
“We also know that certain types of epilepsy, in which there is continuous epileptiform activity during sleep, can have a major impact on memory – and by treatment, that can improve again.”
To establish whether or not an association can be drawn, Professor Cross’s unit is examining a number of children with different epilepsies, including focal epilepsy that requires surgical treatment and benign forms of the condition that nonetheless involve epileptiform discharges during sleep.
The professor went on to say that the research’s findings could have huge implications for future epilepsy treatments. If it does establish a link between the condition, poor sleep and learning difficulties, new therapies will be required to target both waking seizures and abnormal brain activity at night.
“Hopefully we should start to have some results next summer,” she concluded.