Jumping while you sleep

Why Am I Jumping in My Sleep?

Q1. I’ve been looking into sleep disorders for some time, but I can’t seem to find anything related to my problem. It’s been about a year and a half since it began, and I only know about it from what my partner has told me. Basically, I start jumping while I’m asleep. I don’t get up or out of bed, but she says my whole body will jump — I do this three or four times a week. She also says I make weird twitching movements. Can you help me or guide me on where to look for answers?

— Karla, Washington

You are describing a condition known as sleep myoclonus. This fancy term refers to the involuntary contraction and relaxation of muscles, which is what is causing the jumping your partner sees. Most people with this condition do not realize they are twitching. The movements occur early in the sleep cycle and may be triggered by stimuli such as loud noises or movements your partner makes in the bed. We do not know what causes myoclonus, but medication may be prescribed in severe cases.

While this condition is completely harmless, it can be associated with other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea. If your partner notices that you periodically stop breathing during the night, or if you often wake up without feeling refreshed from your sleep, you may have sleep apnea and you’ll need to seek help for it. An expert in sleep disorders can help determine a specific diagnosis. Neurologists see many patients with restless legs syndrome; the complaints they hear include twitching, which you mention, but also a sense of tightness or burning, an inability to keep the legs still, and a constant desire to get up and move about.

Q2. I fall asleep fairly fast, but in about two hours I awake and do so about every one to two hours the rest of the night, so once I am up I feel like I never went to bed. I had a prescription once for Ambien and I got the best, most restful sleep I have ever had in my life! And when I woke I was fully rested and very energetic. I heard the doctors do not like to prescribe sleep aids for long-term use. Is there anything over the counter that works as well that is not as likely to become habit forming or make me groggy when I have to get up? Some people swear by melatonin. What is it? Is it safe?

— Annie, Montana

Insomnia, or trouble sleeping, is a problem that plagues more than 50 percent of adults at some point in their lives. Women are 1.3 times more likely to report insomnia than men, and people over age 65 are 1.5 times more likely to complain of it than younger people. (Divorced, widowed, and separated people report more insomnia, too.)

When sleep difficulties are short term, no treatment is usually necessary. However, chronic insomnia can lead to significant health issues and problems with work performance and interpersonal relationships, so it’s important to try to establish the cause. In addition to an underlying medical problem, common triggers include stress, anxiety, depression, medications, and substances such as caffeine and alcohol.

Your pattern of sleep difficulty — such as trouble falling asleep or early awakening — can help pinpoint the problem. If a thorough evaluation by a physician indicates no medical issue, it’s time to consider approaches aimed at improving your sleep routine. These include using the bedroom only for sleep and sex, leaving the bed after 30 minutes if not asleep, and consistency in bedtime and arising.

When it comes to medication, you’re right that the chronic use of sleeping pills is not generally recommended. But a newer class of drugs, known as sedative hypnotics (such as Ambien) shows clear, measurable benefits with minimal risks. Sedative hypnotics can decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and reduce wake-ups. Most experts consider them to be effective and safe for a few nights or a few weeks, or when used intermittently over a longer period of time.

On the other hand, the jury is out on melatonin, a hormone produced in humans by the pineal gland in the center of the brain. It is the only hormone available in the United States without a prescription since it is considered a dietary supplement rather than a drug. That means the production of synthetic melatonin is not regulated by the FDA, nor is the recommended dosage. Plus, the evidence on melatonin’s effectiveness and safety for long-term use is inconclusive. The bottom line: More research is needed before I would recommend it.

Learn more in the Everyday Health Sleep Center.

Hypnic (Hypnagogic) Jerking Explained – The Comprehensive Guide For 2020

The twitching itself is not a disorder. However, as we’ve already stated, there are certain sleep disorders which could lead to it. Anxiety, as well as panic attacks, could be caused by repeated sleep starts. The fear of suffering a twitch is also something that could set off a lot of issues, and it could dramatically disrupt your bedtime.

Do not confuse the hypnic jerks with the far more dangerous sleeping disorder known as sleep apnea. This is a condition where you get your breathing airways obstructed because your tissue and muscles in your throat are overly relaxed. This could cause some serious issues.

Why Do You Twitch in Your Sleep?

There is no one-off definitive answer to this questions and scientists are quite thorn about it. However, there are a few well-known causes for this sleeping phenomenon. Excessive alcohol, too much caffeine, exercising far too close to bedtime, stress, anxiety, and others of the kind are common causes. On the bright side, there is a lot that you can do to reduce or prevent the twitching in its entirety.

Can Hypnic Jerk Be A Near Death Experience?

Hypnic twitches tend to last for no more than a microsecond. None of your vitals are shown to stop, and there is no chance of this being a near-death experience. People who have these issues show absolutely no change of pace regarding breathing, and as such, there’s nothing serious going on within their body.

The issue is that it could cause serious anxiety as it starts to happen over and over again. In additional, it will undoubtedly disrupt your sleep which is definitely something that you want to avoid.

What Does It Mean If You Jump In Your Sleep?

Well, the truth is that there are a few different explanations for that with one of them being related to our breathing patterns. Heavy snorers usually experience this “jump” feel because their airways are commonly almost blocked. As soon as the airflow gets disrupted more substantially, you will quickly experience the jump sensation and wake up.

Another explanation is related with our dreaming. When you dream, you are most commonly on solid ground. However, as soon as you lose the ground under your feet or you experience a fall in your sleep, this would immediately send the same signal to your brain which would cause an overly protective reaction. So, the jump is pretty much you trying to find a quick solution to the falling issue.

Can It Happen While You’re Awake?

Hypnic jerks while awake can’t happen, obviously. Regular muscle twitching, on the other hand, is a common phenomenon. It could be caused by a range of different things, but it’s mostly indicative of magnesium deficiency.

Can You Cure Hypnic Jerk?

There is nothing to cure. You can reduce the twitching or get rid of it entirely if you follow the advice that we gave you above. Reduce caffeine and alcohol, exercise in normal training hours, give yourself a break in terms of stress, unplug and make sure that you have a good night of sleep. Don’t think about it too much and you will be able to see the difference quite quickly.

How Might It Affect My Life?

If the situation becomes chronic, and you got some severe hypnic jerks, this could have a rather serious impact on your life. It would result in sleep deprivation which quickly translates to stress and anxiety. Additionally, the lack of sleep is also known to cause a lot of issues such as depression, weight gain, higher blood pressure, heart conditions and others of the kind. Of course, these are worst-case scenarios in the event of a chronic hypnic twitching.

Everything You Need to Know About Hypnic Jerks

Is a Hypnic Jerk a Sleep Disorder?

Alone, this feeling is not a sleep disorder but as explained above it may be a result of another sleep disorder or it may well cause you to suffer one. Repeated sleep starts can cause anxiety and panic attacks. The fear of suffering a hypnic jerk as you fall asleep can set off other problems with your sleep and cause disturbances or difficulty sleeping.

While a hypnic jerk in itself isn’t a sleep disorder, it can be easily confused with a chronic and quite dangerous sleep disorder called sleep apnoea. This is where your breathing and airways becomes obstructed as the muscle and tissue in your throat relaxes and can block your airways for ten seconds or more. This can cause you to jerk awake as your brain reacts to the lack of oxygen coming through and sends a panic signal to your limbs.

You might be interested in: All About the CPAP Machine

You may find you are snoring and seeing other symptoms like noisy breathing and short periods where there is no breathing at all. It is quite difficult to diagnose alone as often the sufferer doesn’t realize they are having trouble breathing and it is the “jump” feeling that causes them to wake which is why it is confused with a hypnic jerk.

Try videoing yourself or ask for a consultation at a sleep clinic to get to the bottom of the problem. Untreated sleep apnoea can lead to cancer, strokes or even cause death so if you suspect this might be the cause of your hypnic jerks then go straight to your doctor.

You might be interested in Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Apnea

Hypnic Jerks and Anxiety – a Vicious Cycle

As mentioned above, the fear of suffering a hypnic jerk as you fall asleep can cause anxiety but anxiety itself may cause hypnic jerks. This can leave sufferers in a vicious circle where they fear and feel anxious about going to sleep and the anxiety and panic attacks actually make the situation worse. It can feel like you are fighting a losing battle when faced with the two problems side by side but there are techniques and tips you can use to get yourself out of this situation and back to a relaxing night’s sleep.

One of the best things to do is stop caring about how much sleep you get and plan to not sleep at all. This sounds like weird advice but many people end up brooding and worrying about how much sleep they will get before their head even hits the pillow. This just makes the whole situation worse.

However, if you say to yourself that you aren’t going to get a full eight hours and make peace with that, you take away the main worry which is likely the thing keeping you awake. It could lead you to having a good night’s sleep and then the anxiety and extreme fatigue will go as well – reducing your risk of having a hypnic jerk. There are other things you can do during the day to deal with anxiety and stop worrying about not being able to sleep.

Keeping a journal is one of the first things you can do to tackle anxiety and it will also help you identify any triggers that make your worry and stress worse. As you write down your thoughts from the day, physically imagine them leaving your mind and resting onto the paper. That way you are mentally clearing your mind before bed which will stop you brooding and over thinking the day.

If there are specific things you are worrying about and things you can’t find a solution for, writing them down can also help.

Make a list of things you are concerned about before bed and then even if you haven’t found a solution you can put them out of your mind in the knowledge that they are safely written down and can be dealt with in the morning. Confronting obsessive thoughts or recurring worries can also help you tackle them and calm your mind.

Identifying when your thoughts become repetitive and unhealthy is a good technique to get your mind out of that automatic anxiety setting. If you are really struggling, seek a therapist and talk through your problems. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, hypnosis and other talking therapies can help you work through the issues that are causing you anxiety.

Distracting yourself also works, read a book or listen to an audiobook on a low volume through headphones so you can concentrate on something else which will help you go to sleep. Meditation, mindfulness and even yoga are also great ways to combat anxiety and, as a result, lessen the risk of suffering hypnic jerks and break that cycle.

The Impact on Your Life

Chronic or violent hypnic jerks can cause real problems for people and impact on their work and home life. If the hypnic jerks are causing you to lose sleep then you could be storing up problems for the future. The side effects of sleep deprivation can cause damage in the short term but continued lack of sleep can be really dangerous. We all know the feeling after a bad night’s sleep, the groggy slow feeling, bad mood and a weakened immune system are immediate problems that you can suffer after just one night of no or disturbed sleep.

Over time, you could suffer weight gain, depression, heart disease and high blood pressure. This lack of sleep can cause you to become less productive at work or have lower energy levels to spend time with your family. This is why it is so important to tackle the causes of this unpleasant feeling as soon as you can before it escalates.

You might be interested in:

How to Stop Hypnic Jerks

The good news is, there are lots of things you can for hypnic jerks treatments. Running through the treatments one by one, you should be able to isolate what aggravates your problem the most and then tackle it to get yourself back to a peaceful night. For the most part, these are all homeopathic treatments, too.

Caffeine is also best avoided if you don’t want to feel the unpleasant effects. Even a coffee in the afternoon can affect your sleep overnight and a lack of sleep can cause hypnic jerks. Try to keep caffeine to a minimum and if you really must have it then go for a morning coffee and try to avoid another caffeine boost past about midday.

Avoiding alcohol will improve your ability to sleep and avoid hypnic jerks. It is a stimulant and a depressant so it can affect the chemical make up in your brain and make it difficult to go to sleep or stay asleep. While it is quite tempting to knock back a couple of glasses of wine as it does send you quickly to sleep, the quality of sleep you get will be affected and you may find yourself suffering hypnic jerks in the middle of the night as a result.

Exercising too close to bedtime can wind your body up and tense your muscles which is one of the known causes of hypnic jerks. Try to exercise in the morning or only do a relaxing workout, such as yoga or Pilates, in the evening instead of going for a run or doing an intensive workout. Improving your sleep pattern is also a key treatment for hypnic jerks since so many sufferers find them worsening or coming on when they are exhausted or haven’t had a night of unbroken sleep. Get yourself in a pre-sleep routine.

This can include taking a warm bath, listening to a piece of music or audiobook, drinking a relaxing brew such as chamomile, peppermint or cocoa and cutting out screen time or emailing for an hour before bedtime. You should also make sure your bedroom is a relaxing and calm sleep environment.

Get rid of the TV, make sure it is at the right temperature and your bed is free from too many pillows or blankets that might mean you’re sleeping in an awkward position. Ban phones, tablets or other electronic devices and if you really need a distraction get a book or a coloring book to use before you go to sleep. A good blind is also helpful if you are on night shifts as is a sleep mask to make sure your brain is tricked into thinking it is actually night time.

Try going to bed an hour before you need to actually go to sleep, this gives you time to unwind without feeling that all too familiar pressure of “needing” to go straight to sleep in order to get the set eight hours. Magnesium and calcium supplements can also help your muscles relax and stop them spasming so try to make sure you get plenty in your diet or take a recommended supplement.

This is easy to say and hard to do (especially if you have a demanding job or a newborn baby!) but try not to let yourself get too fatigued. Make sure you plan ahead and if you do have a long day and not much sleep, try your hardest to build in some time to catch up and get back on track with your sleep. In the long term, this will cure your hypnic jerks and you will find the more sleep you have the rarer the episodes become. Also, invest in some quality bedding and a good mattress. Studies have shown that making your bed and having a cozy haven to fall asleep in dramatically improves the quality of sleep you get.

Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed this list and have learned something about hypnic jerks, why they happen, what it actually is and how you can help to reduce them or stop them altogether.

We’ve gone through the probable causes and although no one knows 100% what is behind these strange episodes there are a few things which are known to make them worse or bring them on including drinking caffeine, late exercise and even a lack of magnesium.

If you are someone struggling with hypnic jerks or you are stuck in the cycle of anxiety and these involuntary spasms then we hope this article has given you more insight into the condition, its causes and given you some ideas as to how you can treat it and bring it down to a manageable level.

If hypnic jerks are interfering with your sleep, please consult your doctor.

Why Does Your Body Twitch As You’re Falling Asleep?

If you’ve ever found yourself drifting off to sleep only to be woken by a vigorous, full-body twitch or jerk, then do not feel alarmed. You’re among the estimated 60-70% of Americans who regularly experience a phenomenon known as a hypnic jerk—also known as a hypnagogic jerk, or sleep start—which strikes as a person falls into a deep sleep. Here’s what to know about it.

What do sleep jerks feel like?

Hypnic jerks—involuntary twitches or jolts which occur during the night—can affect people in different ways. Many people will sleep right through them, but for others, they are vigorous enough to wake them up.

Although there is no definite explanation for what causes hypnic jerks, people are more likely to suffer from them when they’re sleep deprived or anxious, or when they do sleep-impairing habits before going to bed, like drinking caffeine or doing exercise close to bedtime, says James Wilson, a U.K.-based sleep behavior and sleep environment expert. “For people who suffer from hypnic jerks, it’s awful,” he adds. “They worry about it before they go to bed, which makes it worse.”

Jacqui Paterson, who is 44 and lives in the U.K., says she has experienced these kinds of twitches on an almost-nightly basis for about three years.

“When I was about 41, I started getting insomnia, which I’d never had in my life before,” she says. “Initially, I was staying awake all night, but I now get these annoying jerks which wake me up exactly an hour after I fall asleep, like someone has set an alarm in my head. I seem to have replaced one evil with another.”

MORE: TIME’s Guide To Sleep

Paterson says the jerks come more regularly when she feels concerned or preoccupied. If she worries about them happening before she goes to bed, then it “almost guarantees” that she will suffer from them that night.

The jerks feel like a jolt or an electric shock, Paterson says. “I’ve heard people talk about getting a falling sensation when they drop off to sleep,” she says. “To me, the feeling is like that but on steroids. It’s like someone has come and slapped me. It’s a really shocking feeling, like jumping into freezing cold water. I always wake up feeling totally alert.”

What causes hypnic jerks?

Put simply, hypnic jerks are caused when one part of the brain tries to go to sleep more quickly than other parts of the brain.

“The complexity of going to sleep and waking up is incredible, and sometimes—particularly when we are sleep deprived—our brain doesn’t shut down normally, which means we get this sort of jerking movement when we’re in a light sleep,” says Wilson. Often, he adds, the brain tries to make sense of it, “which is when we imagine ourselves falling off the sidewalk, a cliff or in a hole.”

The reason why some people experience the twitches at such a predictable time is due to their circadian rhythm, or body clock, Wilson says. “Normally when we go to sleep, about half an hour later we go into a deep stage of sleep during which we wouldn’t get these hypnic jerks,” he says. “If someone is sleep deprived, as they go through the process of falling asleep, the brain will get stuck at the same point in time. Usually if we can help people address their sleep deprivation, the instances decrease or disappear altogether.”

How can you prevent sleep jerks from happening?

There are ways to limit the effects, particularly by making a conscious effort to sleep better. “Try and get in a good routine around sleep,” Wilson says. “Wake up at the same time every day, and wind down properly before going to bed, making sure the activities you do in the hour before going to sleep are relaxing to you. Like most issues surrounding sleep, preventing hypnic jerks is all about trying to solve that sleep deprivation.”

Wilson also suggests that if a person suffers from them at the same time every night, they could ask a housemate or family member to disturb their sleep about five minutes before the jerks tend to occur, either by encouraging them to turn over in bed or rustling something near them. Often, that will help stop the twitches from happening, he says.

Write to Kate Samuelson at [email protected]

Why Does My Body Jerk Before I Fall Asleep?

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Lots of times as I’m going to sleep I suddenly jerk awake. And sometimes it feels like I’m falling down so it’s kind of scary. What’s going on?
– Molly*

This body movement is what doctors and scientists call a

(or hypnagogic) or jerk. It’s also known as a “sleep start,” and it can literally startle you out of falling asleep.

This type of feeling is normal, and it can happen before people enter the deeper stages of sleep. Doctors and scientists aren’t really sure why our bodies do this, but they have a few theories.

One theory is that the brain misunderstands what’s going on as our muscles relax before sleep. It’s normal for the muscles to relax, of course, but the brain gets confused. For a minute, it thinks you’re falling. In response, the brain causes your muscles to tense as a way to “catch yourself” before falling down — and that makes your body jerk.

These body jerks can wake you up with a start — but they’re nothing to worry about. Lots of people fall right back asleep afterward.

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

Reviewed by: KidsHealth Medical Experts

Why Do I Jump in My Sleep?

Have you ever bolted awake by an unnerving sensation of falling, just as you were drifting off into deep and peaceful sleep?

Or woken up in a panic with your heart racing, sweating, and feeling like you’d just received an electric shock?

Chances are you were experiencing a hypnic jerk – an involuntary contraction and relaxation of the muscles which causes jumping or twitching.

Hypnic jerks are known by many different names including sleep starts, night starts, hypnagogic jerks, and myoclonus jerks. They are also incredibly common – they are believed to affect over 70% of adults and children, and often go unnoticed as the jerks are not strong enough to break sleep.

However, for an unfortunate few, these jerks can ruin sleep for themselves and their partner.

They occur during the transitional period between wakefulness and sleep, which is known as the hypnagogic state. This is the same stage of sleep where sleep paralysis takes place, which can result in bizarre or frightening hallucinations.

Here we look at the common causes of hypnic jerks and consider whether there is currently an effective hypnic jerk cure.

What Causes Hypnic Jerks?

The medical community isn’t entirely sure what causes hypnic jerks, although there are a few different theories. One theory is that as you drift off to sleep your breathing slows down, your temperature drops, and your muscles relax. These changes can cause nerves to misfire, triggering a muscle spasm.

Another theory is that the brain may get confused as you are falling asleep, misinterpreting muscle relaxation for falling and so signals the arms and legs to move to an upright position. If you are overly exhausted, you may go through the first stage of sleep too quickly which makes the brain think that your vitals are falling. The brain responds by releasing chemicals that jolt you awake.

There is also an evolutionary theory that hypnic jerks were used to warn sleeping primates they were about to fall out of a tree, causing the muscles to react quickly. While the underlying cause is not yet known, certain factors have been shown to increase the frequency and severity of hypnic jerks.

These triggers can vary from person to person and include:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Feeling very tired or fatigued
  • Caffeine or other stimulants
  • Intense physical exercise late in the evening.
  • Alcohol
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Medication use

Hypnic jerks are thought to be completely harmless and don’t require medical attention. However, they can be associated with certain medical conditions such as sleep apnoea which can be serious and should be treated by a medical professional. If your partner notices that you stop breathing for periods during the night, or you wake feeling unrested, consult your GP.

Is There a Hypnic Jerk Cure?

There is a limited amount of research into the causes and treatments for hypnic jerks. While there is no hypnic jerk cure as such, certain habits can be effective at reducing the frequency and severity of jerks, including:

  • Avoid Heavy Exercises After 8pm: Try to avoid heavy cardio or weight sessions in the evening as they can lead to an over-activation of the motor cortex, which the brain finds difficult to shut. Instead, opt for a gentle walk or yoga routine to help you relax and stretch before bed.
  • Avoid Stimulants Such as Caffeine After 2pm: Stimulants can disrupt the circadian rhythm and impair our natural sleep schedule and quality of sleep. Caffeine is perhaps the most widely used stimulant and can stay active in the system for as long as eight hours. So stick to a maximum of two cups of coffee per day and avoid drinking it after 2pm.
  • Ensure Your Diet Is Rich in Magnesium and Calcium: There is some thought that hypnic jerks are caused by a lack of electrolytes in muscles. Electrolytes are minerals that have an electrical charge and are essential for the maintenance of blood chemistry and muscle function, amongst other processes. Magnesium is a particularly important electrolyte for muscle function as it helps to relax muscles and nerves, and reduces spasms. Good food sources of magnesium include bananas, avocados, and nuts, while supplements and magnesium oil can also be beneficial. Calcium is another important electrolyte for muscle function as it regulates the rate of muscle contraction. Good food sources of calcium include dairy produce, seafood, and legumes, while a combined magnesium and calcium supplement can ensure you don’t miss out on either mineral.
  • Improve Your Sleeping Environment: Hypnic jerks are more common in people who are sleep-deprived or have irregular sleep schedules, so it’s essential to establish a regular sleep routine. Over time the brain will adapt and the frequency of hypnic jerks will likely reduce. Some people find that hypnic jerks occur when they’re sleeping in uncomfortable positions so make sure your sleeping conditions are as comfy as possible. Sleeping on your back also increases the risk of hypnic jerks so try lying on your side or front.
  • Address Stress or Anxiety: Pent up anxiety and stress are linked to a variety of sleep problems and many people say hypnic jerks worsen when they feel stressed. It is thought that stress impairs the brain’s ability to let go of conscious awareness and worry, which is needed to fall into deep sleep. Try to manage stress by maintaining a positive outlook and practising daily relaxation techniques.
  • Check Your Medications: Check that any medications you are taking don’t have hypnic jerks (myoclonus) as a side effect. It’s not uncommon for sleeping pills, pain killers, and antihistamines to trigger small twitches or hypnic jerks. If you are concerned that they may be caused by your medication, speak to your GP to discuss alternatives.
  • Natural Sleeping Aids: Perhaps the best loved herbal remedy for promoting deep and restful sleep is valerian. While there is little evidence to show that this will cure the hypnic jerk itself, a high-quality valerian supplement will help you to establish a regular sleep schedule and can be particularly effective at reducing the frequency of hypnic jerks caused by exhaustion or stress.
  • Stay Hydrated: The human body is made of up to 70% water and every single cell needs it to function. Drink at least two litres of water per day at a bare minimum, which equates to around eight small glasses.

  • Take Time to Relax Before Bed: Spend at least thirty minutes calming the mind before bed to get rid of any restlessness. Try taking a warm, relaxing bath with Epsom salts as these are rich in magnesium to further relax muscles. Lavender oil can also be effective at soothing the nervous system so add a couple of drops under your pillow. But be careful not to overdo it as overpowering fragrances will likely have the opposite effect.

If you have ever suffered from hypnic jerks we would love to hear from you. Have you noticed any particular triggers or found an effective hypnic jerk cure or treatment?

📚Why Do People Jump In Their Sleep?

Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post. At no cost to you, I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Have you ever had a sudden jolt in your sleep or witnessed it? It can be quite a movement during sleep and it just begs the question- why do people jump in their sleep? Some might say it’s all a part of a dream and others, involuntary muscle movements. I decided to find out the truth once and for all.

What Does it Mean When You Twitch in Your Sleep?

When we fall asleep it is normal to experience twitching every now and again. According to Live Science, this twitching is known as a hypnogogic jerk- otherwise known as involuntary muscle spasms. These typically occur while our minds and bodies are drifting off to sleep.

This involuntary phenomenon is named in a reference to the stage of sleep called Hypnogogic State. During this sleeping stage, we are going through a transitional period between wakefulness and sleep. Other common names for this twitching could be hypnic jerks or even sleep starts. Anyone of any age can get them when they are sleeping.

How Does it Happen?

Jumping while sleeping, or even small twitches, occur spontaneously or they can be induced. These movements can be induced by light, sounds, or other external stimuli. Many people will report having jumped in their sleep due to dreams, getting the feeling of falling, hallucinations, bright lights being turned on, or even loud noises coming from inside your head. I know I’ve jumped myself awake due to a dream I had of falling. In your dream it feels so real it causes your body to react.

It could also happen if you start to sleep a little too close to the edge of your bed. Your body will jerk you awake due to the change in balance and the feeling of falling. If you’re lucky, you will wake up before you roll out of bed and hit the floor.

Sleep starts can be frequent and intense due to your diet or your mental state. According to Sleep Education, the jumping in your sleep can occur more often and more intense due to:

  • Higher intake of caffeine or other stimulants
  • Emotional stressors
  • Sleeping after intense exercise or physical labor

Are There Other Types?

Now, as I mentioned above, most of the time when you jump or twitch in your sleep it is caused by hypnagogic spasms. However, a few other types of movement in your sleep can occur that you should be aware of. According to Sleep – Love to Know, there are a few causes of twitching or jumping out of your sleep that you should identify:

  • Convulsions: these are unintentional spasms that usually occur with seizures
  • Myoclonus: unintentional movements caused by a muscle or several muscles when unexpected tensing or relaxing occurs
  • Tics: movements that repeat themselves and are characterized as intermittent and spontaneous. Tics are often designated to definite areas such as the hands, face, neck, torso, or shoulders
  • Tremors: these are milder than spasms, convulsions, or tics. These are also unintentional movements that occur regularly and can have several different causes.

While it is normal to have an occasional start in your sleep or even twitch slightly, if you or a family member is having noticeable movements each and every night it is best to speak with your doctor to ensure that everything is alright. Not to mention, constant and intense movements while you are trying to sleep will often wake you up which could lead to chronic insomnia.

Jumping in your sleep can also cause injury to yourself or even your bed partner. The large, sudden involuntary movements can cause the sleeper to fall out of bed or even kick or flail their arms uncontrollably, unintentionally harming their bed partner.

What Can I Do?

If you are suffering from jumping in your sleep nearly every night, speak to your doctor. You can also keep a sleep journal to record the days and times you are waking up in the night due to jumping or twitching in your sleep. It is important to know that these movements can be caused by a few other things, which is why it is important to speak to a doctor should you feel they are happening quite often.

Jumping in your sleep can also be caused by:

  • Another sleep disorder
  • Medication usage
  • A medical condition
  • A mental health disorder
  • Substance abuse

The Final Verdict

Why do people jump in their sleep? Most of the time it is few and far between and caused by the hypnogogic spasms. However, if you find that you or a loved one are jumping out of your sleep nearly every night, it can be caused by something more serious and lead to even bigger problems. Always speak to a professional if you have any concern about your sleeping habits.

Hypnic Jerks: Why Do They Happen?

The inside story on why it sometimes feels like you’re falling as you fall asleep

Have you ever been jolted awake by the sensation of falling, just as you were drifting off to sleep? If so, you’re not weird; you’ve got plenty of company. These involuntary muscle twitches in the arms, legs, or entire body are called (or sleep starts), and they’re very common. Up to 70 percent of people experience them occasionally—but no one knows exactly what causes them.

Naturally, there are some theories. One is that they’re a result of the natural downshifting of the nervous system that occurs as you’re falling asleep: As your breathing and heart rate slow down and your body temperature drops, your muscle tone shifts, and these twitches occur during this transition. Another theory suggests that as you’re drifting off to sleep, your brain misinterprets the relaxing of your muscles as a sign that you’re actually falling and signals your muscles to tense up, in order to protect you.

More often than not, hypnic jerks are nothing to worry about. If one wakes you up, simply roll over and go back to sleep. But keep in mind: a high caffeine intake, strenuous evening activities, emotional stress, or sleep deprivation may increase the frequency and intensity of hypnic jerks. If you suspect that one of these factors may be worsening your nighttime muscle twitches, try cutting back on caffeine, using relaxation techniques to help you decompress, or practicing better sleep hygiene. And if the jerks themselves—or your anxiety about having them—prevent you from getting enough sleep, talk to your doctor.

What Causes Jerking and Twitching in Sleep?

We’ve all been there. You’re about to drift off into the land of nod, when suddenly your body twitches and your limbs, for some reason, jerk in random directions. It may cause confusion or even amusement, but have you ever wondered what causes this bizarre phenomenon? We look into scientific theories to find out what causes jerking and twitching in sleep.

What is Sleep Twitching?

Twitching in sleep is academically known as a ‘hypnagogic jerk’ or a ‘hypnic jerk’. It got its name because these twitches usually occur while you are in the hypnagogic state, which is in between being awake and asleep. According to the BBC, they are most common in children and are basically an unconscious muscle spasm that occurs as you are drifting off to sleep. Hypnic jerks can be completely random or induced by certain triggers, such as sound or light.

Sleep expert Dr. Natalie Dautovich states:

‘As we transition from wakefulness to sleep, we experience a hypnagogic state of consciousness. During this state, we can experience unique phenomena including a hypnic jerk that accompanies a falling sensation. During sleep, restlessness centered in the legs, or periodic jerking of the legs can be symptoms of sleep disorders.’

Why do I Twitch in My Sleep?

If this all sounds too familiar, don’t worry because you are not alone. According to LiveScience, 60-70% of people experience twitching in sleep and that’s only the number of people that manage to remember having these twitches in their sleepy state. Many hypnic jerks can go unregistered.

In terms of science, there are different theories for why twitching in your sleep could occur, but little concrete evidence. Some research suggests that sleep deprivation, and factors such as stress or anxiety, can increase the chances of twitching in sleep. Some people report hypnagogic jerks that are accompanied by the age-old nightmare of falling; which suggests there could be a link to stress.

Although these movements can correlate with certain dreams, such as falling or tripping up, hypnic jerks do not usually reflect what is happening in the dream world. Instead your brain builds dreams based on what is happening in the real world. In other words, as you twitch or jerk your brain corresponds with your body’s movements and you conjure up a falling scenario in your head. This is similar, to when your alarm clock goes off, and you incorporate the sounds into your dreams.

But what makes these movements occur in the first place? The BBC suggests that hypnagogic jerks are your last attempts of regaining control as your body drifts off to sleep, stating:

‘As sleep paralysis sets in remaining daytime energy kindles and bursts out in seemingly random movements. In other words, hypnic jerks are the last gasps of normal daytime motor control.’

One interesting hypothesis behind hypnagogic jerks claims that they occur when nerves ‘misfire’ during the body’s transition from being awake to asleep. Another idea links them back to an ancient primate reflex, suggesting the brain misinterprets the body’s relaxation as a cue that the sleeping primate is about to fall out of a tree, and thus causes the muscles to react immediately.

Can I Stop Twitching in Sleep?

While there is no clear explanation behind twitching in sleep, the above theories suggest that external factors can play a role. If you’ve been suffering from many hypnic jerks recently, the best advice would be the avoid any additional light or sound in your bedroom and try to wake up naturally without an alarm clock. On top of that, incorporate relaxation into your daily routine to try and minimise stress and anxiety levels.

How often do you experience twitching in sleep? Let us know in the comments!

Terrors. Photo: Garo/Phanie/Corbis

You’re lying comfortably in bed, your heavy eyelids starting to close, when suddenly, you jerk awake, muscles tensed and gasping for air, because you feel like you just fell off a cliff. Then you look around and realize you’re safe at home before sinking back onto your pillow, where you either nod off without incident or lie awake all night, wondering: What was that?

There’s a name for this phenomenon: It’s called a hypnic jerk or sleep start. It’s a sudden increase in muscle activity that happens to just about everybody and can be quite literally startling, though the intensity depends on the person, says Carl Bazil, M.D. Ph.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center at New York–Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

Some people just twitch and don’t wake up; it’s their partner who tells them about it later. Others actually cry out in fear, says Dr. Bazil, who’s also a professor of neurology at Columbia. Making a noise during a sleep start is likely associated with a visual component, like plummeting to your death, for instance. He says that experts don’t know the exact cause of sleep starts, but what seems to be happening is that there’s a neurological tussle between the brain systems that keep you awake and the ones that encourage you to fall asleep.

During this transitional state, the sleeping mechanism usually wins, but the wakeful one sometimes puts up a fight. “One of the things that happens as you fall asleep is your muscles relax, but the awake part may still be stimulating enough that it will temporarily overreact and you get this jerk of muscle activity,” he says. And for reasons that are unclear, it’s sometimes accompanied by an image.

Sleep starts are usually harmless, and since they’re considered more of an observation than a medical problem, there’s not a ton of research in this area. “It doesn’t usually mean anything, so there hasn’t been a huge amount of resources devoted to figuring it out,” he says. They’re like hiccups in that regard.

But doctors do know that sleep starts can be worsened by sleep deprivation, having too much caffeine or tobacco, and taking stimulant medications (like Adderall or Ritalin, for example) or drugs that have stimulating qualities. “The most common culprit by far would be caffeine,” he says. “If it’s bothersome, the first thing I tell people is to cut back on the caffeine, especially late in the day.” And that, along with getting more sleep, should fix it right up. There are extreme cases where sleep starts are so intense and disruptive that people have trouble falling asleep in the first place, but Dr. Bazil says he’s only seen that a couple of times, so try not to think about it too hard next time you’re awake at 2 a.m.

What about the sudden muscle-jerks as you nod off in a particularly dry meeting? That head-bobbing action might be a different process because you’re falling asleep while sitting up, which could have been dangerous for our tree-dwelling ancestors. It’s possible that it’s an evolutionary reflex tied to protecting primates snoozing on branches. “If you’re in a position where your head starts to drop or your limbs start to drop, that may trigger this sort of response back into wakefulness,” he says. “It would be kind of a normal process, but also, I guess, theoretically protective to keep people from falling asleep in the tree — or in the meeting, that might not be a good thing either.”

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