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Complex Nocturnal Behaviors: Nocturnal Seizures and Parasomnias

Foldvary-Schaefer, Nancy DO, MS, FAASM; Alsheikhtaha, Zahreddin MBBS, RPSGT

doi: 10.1212/01.CON.0000427210.98305.8f
Review Articles

Purpose of Review: This article summarizes the clinical and electrophysiologic manifestations of nocturnal seizures, particularly nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy (NFLE), parasomnias, and other disorders presenting with complex behaviors in sleep. The evaluation and treatment of patients with complex nocturnal behaviors can be challenging. While the differential diagnosis of sleep-related movements, including physiologic and pathologic phenomena, is extensive, the focus of evaluation in patients with complex nocturnal behaviors distinguishes between nocturnal seizures and parasomnias.

Recent Findings: Seizures in NFLE have a wide range of complexity and severity, overlapping considerably with the disorders of arousal from non-REM (NREM) sleep. Video polysomnography with EEG (VPSG-EEG) has identified key clinical features useful in differentiating these disorders. A dysfunctional arousal mechanism involving the cholinergic system is involved in the pathophysiology of the autosomal dominant form of NFLE and NREM parasomnias. The high prevalence of parasomnias in NFLE families further confounds their distinction. VPSG-EEG combines PSG with comprehensive EEG to evaluate unexplained nocturnal behaviors when epileptic seizures are suspected. This procedure provides improved detection of interictal and ictal EEG abnormalities and time-synchronized correlation of clinical and neurophysiologic phenomena.

Summary: The diagnosis of complex nocturnal behaviors is among the most difficult to establish in sleep medicine clinics and laboratories. VPSG-EEG is indicated in the evaluation of patients with complex nocturnal behaviors when routine EEG is nondiagnostic. Ongoing research is necessary to fully elucidate the pathophysiology of these disorders, which share a host of clinical manifestations.

Address correspondence to Dr Nancy Foldvary-Schaefer, Cleveland Clinic, 9500 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44195,

Relationship Disclosure: Dr Foldvary-Schaefer has served on the speakers bureaus of Jazz Pharmaceuticals and UCB; has received an honorarium for co-editing an issue of Sleep Clinics; and has received royalty payments for authorship of a textbook on sleep medicine from Oxford University Press. Dr Foldvary-Shaefer also receives research support from Cleveland Medical Devices, Inc, and ResMed. Dr Alsheikhtaha reports no disclosure.

Unlabeled Use of Products/Investigational Use Disclosure: Drs Foldvary-Schaefer and Alsheikhtaha report no disclosures.

Supplemental digital content: Videos accompanying this article are cited in the text as Supplemental Digital Content. Videos may be accessed by clicking on links provided in the HTML, PDF, and iPad versions of this article; the URLs are provided in the print version. Video legends begin on page 127.

© 2013 American Academy of Neurology
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