As we give up our bodies to sleep, sudden twitches escape our brains, causing our arms and legs to jerk. Some people are startled by them, others are embarrassed. Me, I am fascinated by these twitches, known as hypnic jerks. Nobody knows for sure what causes them, but to me they represent the side effects of a hidden battle for control in the brain that happens each night on the cusp between wakefulness and dreams.
Hypnic jerks are myoclonus twitches, or involuntary muscle spasms, but sleep starts occur during hypnagogia, the stage when the body is falling asleep.
The strength of a hypnic jerk may vary. Some people may not be aware of the twitches, and may only know that they experience them if a partner or caregiver notices the movements. Other times, the spasms can be strong enough to startle the person and wake them up.
People may experience other symptoms alongside hypnic jerks, such as:
- feeling as though they are falling
- rapid heartbeat
- rapid breathing
- dreaming about falling
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.
Another possible reasons may include:
Exercise: Exercising stimulates the body, so exercising late in the evening may make it more difficult for the body to relax in time for sleep. This excess stimulation may cause a hypnic jerk.
Stimulants: Body and brain stimulants, such as caffeine, nicotine, or some drugs, may make falling asleep or staying asleep throughout the night difficult. They may also increase the frequency of hypnic jerks.
Stress and anxiety: A high-stress lifestyle or feeling very anxious can make it difficult to relax in preparation for sleep. An alert brain may be easier to startle, so a person may be more likely to wake up when these involuntary muscle twitches occur.
Poor sleep habits: Irregular sleep patterns, sleep deprivation, or regular sleep disturbances may lead to hypnic jerks.
How can you prevent sleep jerks from happening?
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.
Also, you should avoid late-night exercise, caffeine and Other stimulating drugs, such as nicotine and alcohol.
It is useful to create bed time routine. Creating a bedtime routine may help the body relax and reduce stress. Some people drink calming teas or warm milk and read a book before bed. Others may prefer to do gentle stretches or listen to music.