The epileptic encephalopathies are conditions in which neurological deterioration is attributable entirely or partly to epileptic activity and is due to very frequent or severe seizures or severely abnormal electroencephalograms (EEGs), or both. Evidence for the concept that seizures or the abnormal EEGs are responsible for the cognitive deterioration is the observation that patients can improve dramatically when therapy eliminates or reduces seizure frequency and improves or normalizes the EEG. For example, children with the syndrome of continuous spike-wave of sleep (CSWS) have electrical status epilepticus during sleep (ESES) and cognitive regression. Although seizures often occur in the disorder, there are indications that the EEG abnormalities are responsible for the cognitive regression. Interictal spikes, which correspond to a large intracellular depolarization with evoked action potentials, in many ways mimic a "miniseizure." Interictal spikes can result in transitory cognitive impairment with the type of deficit dependent on where in the cortex the spike arises. We suggest that interictal spikes, particularly if frequent and widespread, can impair cognitive abilities, through interference with waking learning and memory, and memory consolidation during sleep.