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Can Too Much Screen Time Cause Seizures?

One type of epilepsy, called reflex epilepsy, involves seizures that are triggered by certain sensory events. Triggers often come from the environment, like flashing lights or loud noises. Looking at a screen, whether on a phone, tablet, laptop, computer monitor, or TV, can be a trigger for some people.1

Screen time often takes the form of entertainment, like playing games, watching movies, or reading on an e-reader. Many of us also spend a lot of time in front of a screen for work, replying to emails, taking part in video meetings, or writing reports.

How might screen time affect seizures?

Screen time can involve different tasks for different people. So, there might be a combination of factors that increase a person's chances of having a seizure. Here are a few examples of how screen time and seizures might be linked.

Screen time and sleep

Spending a lot of time in front of the screen can reduce the amount of sleep you get. Getting less sleep may increase your chances of getting a seizure. A few studies have looked at the relationship between screen time and sleep.2

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One study looked at the screen time and sleep behaviors of children with epilepsy between the ages of 1 1/2 and 6. For children in this age range, the recommended screen time is 1 hour. The study found that children who spent more than 1 hour in front of a screen had worse sleep quality. It took them longer to fall asleep, and it took them longer to wake up in the morning.2

Other factors related to sleep

Screen time can affect your sleep in multiple ways. The light from screens can reduce the amount of melatonin your body produces. Melatonin is a hormone that helps keep your sleep cycle consistent. Also, screen time before bed can make you more alert and make it harder to fall asleep.2

Another study found that children with epilepsy spend more time in front of a screen and less time being physically active compared to healthy children. More research is needed to learn how this may apply to adults with epilepsy.2

Photosensitive epilepsy

Between 2% and 5% of people with epilepsy have photosensitive epilepsy. Seizures in people with this type of epilepsy might be triggered by bright lights that are flashing or changing quickly. These types of images are common in video games, movies, and sports.1,3

Photosensitive epilepsy is most common in children and adolescents. Lab tests can tell you if you have this type of epilepsy.3

Dealing with seizures triggered by screens

Here are a few things you can do to lower your chances of having a seizure triggered by electronic screens:1,3

  • Find out what activity may be a trigger for you. Your trigger might be a single activity that you do in front of a screen, like reading or playing video games.
  • Limit your screen time.
  • Use screens that do not flicker or flash.
  • Watch screens in a well-lit room, and lower the brightness on the screen.
  • Sit at least 2 feet from the screen you are watching.
  • Take regular breaks to relax your eyes.
  • Change the photosensitive settings on your device. Some devices and apps allow the user to turn on certain settings to hide bright, flashing lights in videos.
  • Try to keep a consistent sleep schedule. It might help to stop looking at screens an hour or 2 before bedtime.

So can screen time cause seizures?

There is very limited research on screen time as a trigger for seizures. Experts know that screen time has a negative effect on sleep and that poor sleep is linked to seizures. If you have epilepsy, keep track of your activities, including screen time and sleep. This can help you and your healthcare team learn your epilepsy triggers. Once you know your triggers, you can find ways to avoid or reduce them.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The EpilepsyDisease.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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