Does Twitching in Your Sleep Mean Anything?

Have you ever started to fall asleep and felt like you were falling? Or perhaps you woke up due to a twitch in your arms or legs? This phenomenon is referred to as a sleep myoclonus or hypnic jerk. There are many theories about why this happens. This article will discuss if twitching in your sleep means anything, why it happens, and what you can do about it.

Key takeaways:

What is a hypnic jerk?

The twitch or startle you experience just before going to sleep is known as a hypnic jerk, a form of myoclonus. Myoclonus, which can occur alone or in a series of quick, multiple twitches, is a muscular spasm that causes jerking or twitching. There could be a single, intense contraction or just a slight twitch. They are frequent, haphazard, and generally safe.

As opposed to hypnagogic jerks, which occur when the victim is not awakened, hypnic jerks occur when they cause you to wake up. Both of these happen as soon as you go to sleep or very early in the night. This phenomenon is also known as "sleep starts" at times. It can impact the entire body or occasionally just one limb.

There is not an exact known reason for why hypnic jerks occur. According to one theory, hypnic jerks are caused by the same area of the brain that becomes active when you are startled. This is thought to be the result of a miss fire in this part of the brain.

Your muscles unwind as you naturally drift off to sleep. In deep sleep, the muscles go into a state of profound relaxation, sometimes to the point of paralysis. It is possible that your brain interprets this motion as a fall and twitches in response. According to some theories, your brain is reenacting dream images while you sleep.

Causes of hypnic jerks

While it is not known exactly why hypnic jerks occur, there are certain activities that can increase their frequency. They are usually lifestyle-related and can be reduced. Some of these include:

  • Caffeine and stimulants
  • Nicotine usage
  • Vigorous exercise
  • Stress
  • Sleep deprivation

Other risk factors that could cause hypnic jerks:

  • Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
  • Certain medication
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental health disorders
  • Certain medical conditions

People of all ages are susceptible to hypnotic jerking, which is entirely random. Around 70% of people experience these hypnic jerks. However, adults are more likely to have them happen than children.

Hypnic jerks can also occur in newborn infants. In babies, they are called benign neonatal sleep myoclonus. It is believed that because of their immaturity, babies experience it more frequently than children.

Hypnic jerks and sleep

The jerks can occasionally wake you up from sleep with their strength. Sometimes they can be so mild that you can fall asleep during them, a phenomenon known as a hypnagogic jerk. It is possible that neither you nor your sleeping partner will notice the jerk because of its variable strength.

Hypnic jerks happen in the early stages of sleep when you are transitioning from an awake to a sleep state. They typically show up in sleep stages 1 and occasionally 2 and go away by stage 3, or REM sleep. People typically wake up around stage 1, and if they happen in later stages, they may continue to sleep through them.

Sometimes people may feel as if they are actually falling with the twitches; they may feel a sensory flash-like tingling, and some may have a hypnagogic hallucination, where they see something or have a vivid dream sensation.

Concerns of hypnic jerks

Although hypnic jerks are harmless, some patients claim to have tingling or other discomfort in their limbs. They are very common and affect up to 70% of people. They are not harmful, even though they could startle you when you awaken from sleep.

The only risk associated with hypnic jerks is getting hurt if you jerk and strike something.

Though some sleep disorders, like restless leg syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder, may also involve twitching, hypnic jerks are not thought to be caused by this. If you feel that you are having an abnormal occurrence of twitching, you should see your doctor for additional assistance with a diagnosis.

When to see a doctor

Hypnic jerks are considered harmless, and you may not need to see a doctor. They can, however, be mistaken for other forms of myoclonus, which may indicate a more serious condition. Unless these hypnic jerks are causing you pain, confusion, or any other type of distress, it is not necessary to see your doctor.

If you are experiencing these jerking movements while awake or in deep sleep, you should speak with your doctor. You should also consult your doctor if the severity of your hypnic jerking is preventing you from falling asleep or lowering the quality of your sleep.

Tips for people experiencing hypnic jerks

While hypnic jerks are normal, they are also unpredictable. There are some things though you can do to help prevent them from happening as often:

  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine
  • Get good-quality sleep
  • Minimize caffeine
  • Reduce stress before sleeping
  • Exercise early in the day rather than at night

If you are experiencing twitching in your sleep, you are likely experiencing a hypnic jerk. These are common, harmless occurrences that happen to everyone who is trying to fall asleep. You can take a few steps to help stop them from happening as frequently. Hypnic jerks can be mistaken for other conditions that include twitching while trying to sleep. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, you should follow up with your primary care doctor to get evaluated.

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