A seizure (also called a convulsion) occurs when the brain short-circuits. This can cause uncontrolled body jerks, an inability to communicate and urination.
Night is actually a common time for seizures. The brain is more susceptible to these electrical eruptions when it’s overly tired and just entering sleep…or just awaking. It’s easy to mistake the screaming and unresponsiveness of a night terror for a seizure. But while night terrors terrorize us, they lack the cardinal signs of seizures: drooling, limb twitching, tongue biting and incontinence.
Night seizures may be triggered by a sudden surge of fever. It’s pretty clear when this is the case because a child usually is flushed red and hot to the touch.
But when there’s no obvious reason for a night seizure, the cause may be benign rolandic epilepsy (also called benign focal epilepsy of childhood).
This problem can start as early as 3 years of age, although it usually doesn’t begin before kids are 5. These seizures are often overlooked for a long time because they happen during sleep. But once the diagnosis is suspected, parents often report that their kids have been sleeping less, exhausted during the day, and experiencing night terrors and sleepwalking for weeks or months. Fortunately, the seizures cause absolutely no serious health problems and disappear by the teen years.
The diagnosis of seizures requires a full medical evaluation, including a sleep EEG (electroencephalogram) to record the electrical activity in the brain (although sometimes the EEG may be normal). Many children don’t need any treatment at all, while others benefit from taking an anticonvulsant drug.