A close up of a person's eyes and head who is wearing an EEG electrode cap.

Sleep-Deprived EEG Versus Ambulatory EEG: What Are They Like?

EEGs (electroencephalograms): we've all had them and few of us love them. I am thankful for their existence.

Diagnosed with absence seizures via EEG

My first EEG diagnosed me with epilepsy which has helped lead me to a safer and healthier life. My other EEGs over the years have given my neurologists great feedback and helped them be able to help me.

I did have a neurologist in Alaska say something interesting to me. I remember she smiled and told me how my EEG readings were "textbook for absence seizures." Basically, I was happy she was happy – since I am sure it's exciting to see textbook readings. Personally, I was grateful that my seizures hadn't changed.

If you're reading this and haven't had an EEG before, let's answer a basic question: Why do we need EEGs? EEGs are a test that measures electrical activity in the brain. Your test results can help diagnose brain disorders – like epilepsy! (Check out this page on EEGs for more info.)

Here's my personal experiences with EEGs.

Sleep-deprived EEGs

Until recently, I had sleep-deprived EEGs. They were lovely. (Please note my strong sarcasm here!) This is what sleep-deprived EEGs were like for me:

  • From age 16 to about 20 or 21 I was told I couldn't sleep for 24 hours!
  • After that I was told I couldn't sleep for 22 hours. I was very grateful for those 2 hours! (No sarcasm here.)
  • I had someone drive me to my doctor's appointment.
  • A wonderful person would put a significant amount of gel in my hair to keep the electrodes attached to my scalp.
  • I would lie down on the exam table.
  • I would get to look at flashing lights. (I always felt like I was looking into a kaleidoscopic.)
  • Next, I'd fall asleep.
  • The electrodes were still on my scalp during this time. That means my doctor was able to see further information about my seizure disorder.
  • I would wake up.
  • Electrodes would be removed.
  • Someone would drive me home.
  • I'd take a shower and wash my hair a minimum of 5 times to get the gel out of my hair.
  • I'd take a nice long nap.

Then I met my current neurologist and he introduced me to ambulatory EEGs. BLESS THAT SWEET MAN!

Ambulatory EEGs

The process is so much better (at least to me). Here's what my experience has been with ambulatory EEGs:

  • I drive myself to the doctor's office.
  • Get my electrodes attached – with the same gel.
  • In the office, the tech records different facial movements, when I turn my head, and a couple of other actions on their computer. This is for my baseline in movement.
  • I get a super cool and stylish mesh cap to wear on my head.
  • The tech checks to make sure all the wires are working properly.
  • Then I get a little diary.
  • I have to document when I am driving, walking, eating, drinking, and going to bed.
  • There is also a red button to push if I feel "off" – then I write down what I feel.
  • I go home and live my life and sleep like normal.
  • I go back to the doctor 24 hours later.
  • They remove the electrodes and the gel (to the best of their ability).
  • I drive myself home.
  • I take a shower and thankfully don't have to use a whole bottle of shampoo to remove the gel.

What's also great about the ambulatory EEG is I don't come home and need a nap! I can just enjoy the rest of my day post-shower. So, clearly, I am pro-ambulatory EEG. If I had known about them, I would have seen if I could have an ambulatory instead of a sleep-deprived EEG.

How to get eeg gel out of hair

I do want to briefly address removing the gel from your hair. Try this protocol. (If your hair is colored, I'd call your hair stylist to make sure this won’t mess with your color.)

  1. Apply a little acetone to the glue with a cotton ball.
  2. Start combing your hair out.
  3. Apply a hair mask for moisture.
  4. Shampoo your hair.
  5. Comb your hair in the shower.
  6. Wash again (or maybe a couple of more times).
  7. Condition your hair.
  8. Comb one more time when you get out of the shower.

My most recent EEG tech told me this process. It has worked the best so far.

And always remember, you are not alone.

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