Epilepsy (also known as seizure disorder) is a neurological condition with symptoms which vary from a momentary lapse of attention to convulsions. Damage to brain cells can disrupt the normally smooth-running pattern of electrical activity in the brain by causing an electrical overload. This can create a seizure, which causes a sudden change in the individual’s consciousness and/or change in motor activity. Epilepsy was one of the first brain disorders to be described. It was mentioned in ancient Babylon more than 3,000 years ago. The word epilepsy is derived from the Greek word for “attack.” It was once thought that people who had epilepsy were being visited by demons or gods. However in 400 B.C., the early physician Hippocrates suggested that epilepsy was a disorder of the brain.
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. For years, scientists have known that melatonin’s main function was in the control of our sleep patterns. However, more recent research has revealed that it also functions as an important antioxidant.(1) After puberty melatonin output begins a gradual steady decline. Adults experience about a 37 percent decline in daily melatonin output between the ages of 20 and 70 with the majority of the decline occurring after age 40. Melatonin does not occur in foods.
Since melatonin has been advocated in the treatment of many sleep disorders, researchers in a recent study sought to assess melatonin levels in children with intractable epilepsy and its relation to sleep patterns, as well as the effect of melatonin therapy. The study included 23 children with intractable epilepsy and 14 children with controlled seizures. The patients were then evaluated using psychometric sleep assessment and assay of diurnal and nocturnal melatonin levels. The children with intractable epilepsy were given oral melatonin before bedtime for three months and then reevaluated. At the start of the trial, the patients with intractable epilepsy had higher scores for each category of sleep walking, forcible teeth grinding and sleep apnea. When the subjects were assessed at the three month follow-up the researchers discovered that patients with intractable epilepsy exhibited significant improvement in bedtime resistance, sleep duration, sleep latency, frequent nocturnal arousals, sleep walking, excessive daytime sleepiness, nocturnal enuresis, forcible teeth grinding, sleep apnea and Epworth sleepiness scores. It was also found that there was a significant reduction in seizure severity in the patients who received melatonin therapy. It appears that melatonin may be useful in patients with intractable epilepsy to improve many sleep related issues and reduce the severity of seizures.1
1 Elkhayat HA, Hassanein SM, Tomoum, et al. Melatonin and sleep-related problems in children with intractable epilepsy. Pediatr Neurol. Apr2010;42(4):249-54.