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Do you suddenly jerk or twitch in your sleep? If so, here’s why!

I’ve recently felt sharp jolts in my body as I’m about to fall asleep. I’ve had them before, but they’ve become far more frequent in the past year. There are times I don’t realize when the twitching and jolts happen, but my husband does – I’ve scared him a few times when I’ve attempted to jump out of my skin in my sleep!

When I do remember them, it’s usually associated with me falling from a building whilst I’m in a dream-like state. As I’m about to hit the ground in my dream, I feel my whole body jolt – my sudden, inadvertent reaction causes me to wake up from my slumber. I was never too concerned about them before, but as I was having them more frequently, I was a little worried that it might be a sign of something serious.

After some research, I found that they were in fact hypnic jerks.

I spoke to The Sleep Council where they explained further on what hypnic jerks are. They described them as nothing more than an involuntary twitch that happens during the first stage of light sleep.

The Sleep Council goes on to explain that hypnic jerks are part of the parasomnia group and are relatively common. Around 60-70% of people remember having them. They’re generally not distressing and don’t affect sleep long term if you have them infrequently. When they occur, it can affect the whole body or just the legs. The jerk is often associated with the sensation of falling (which I’ve had!), a loud noise, or a flash of light.

Ultimately, hypnic jerks are nothing to worry about and they are completely normal to have!

Here are some causes of hypnic jerks:

If you’re wondering why you’re having them, here are some of the potential causes as outlined by The Sleep Council and Healthline.

Anxiety and stress

If you have anxious thoughts running through your mind or you’re under emotional stress, this will likely keep your brain active. Your brain may send out “alert” signals as you’re dozing or even whilst you’re in a deep sleep. As the pandemic has elevated our levels of anxiety and stress, it’s understandable if you’re experiencing hypnic jerks for the first time or having them more often.

Increased use of stimulants

Stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can impact your body’s ability to fall asleep naturally and stay asleep.

Intense exercise too close to snooze time

Exercise can help you rest and sleep better, however, if you exercise too close to bedtime, your brain and muscles may not be able to slow down by the time you want to sleep.

Sleep deprivation or other poor sleep habits

Sleep disturbances and poor sleep habits, (for example, irregular sleeping hours, using technology before going to sleep, napping during the day) may be linked to hypnic jerks.

Preventing hypnic jerks

It’s worth stating that hypnic jerks are not considered a serious condition and they don’t require treatment – again, they’re nothing to worry about! However, there are ways to prevent hypnic jerks as advised by The Sleep Council and Healthline if you find that they’re disturbing your sleep.

Limit your caffeine intake

Drinking a morning cup of tea and coffee is fine to have, but avoid caffeine after midday as this may cause your sleep to be disrupted.

Avoid stimulants

Limit the amount of nicotine and alcohol you use in a day. A glass of wine before bed may help you get some shut-eye, but you’ll be more likely to have a restless sleep.

Exercise earlier

Try working out earlier in the day. If you do prefer exercising in the evening, try low-intensity workouts, such as pilates or yoga.

Plan a pre-sleep routine

Around 30 minutes before you sleep, disconnect from technology, turn down the lights, and slow down.

Breathing exercises

When you’re in bed, inhale for 10 counts, hold for 5 counts, and exhale slowly for 10 counts. Do this exercise several times to help slow your heart rate, brain, and breathing.

See your GP if hypnic jerks are accompanied by other complaints

This can include physical injury, bedwetting, or confusion when awakening. Visit your GP if this happens.

My sleeping pattern has been pretty inconsistent since March, so it’ll take me some time to practice these habits. I’ve recently found that doing a Body Balance class in the evenings has helped me to feel relaxed before I sleep. The biggest challenge for me is avoiding technology before I sleep – I’m so used to either working or watching Netflix or YouTube videos before I doze off! I’m working on changing this by getting stuck in a good book for half an hour before I drop off to sleep. 

Hypnic jerks are nothing to worry about, they’re more of a sign that you need to look after your body when you’re awake and whilst you’re sleeping. There are ways to prevent them that can also help with your overall mental health and wellbeing, such as relaxing before you go to sleep and making adjustments in your daily routine. 

If you find that hypnic jerks are causing you anxiety about falling asleep or preventing you from getting sleep, don’t hesitate in booking an appointment with your doctor. 

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By Rebecca Azad

Rebecca Azad is the Lookbook + Weddings Editor for The Tempest, Co-Founder of a digital design event program, writer, and sustainable fashion blogger. You'll usually find her in a cozy corner of a coffee shop sipping a latte whilst reading a novel or writing.