Sleep Starts – Hypnic Jerks

Last updated: April 2, 2019

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

A hypnagogic jerk/myoclonic jerk, or most commonly known as hypnic jerk, is an involuntary twitch of a muscle. This happens just when a person is transitioning from wakeful state to a sleeping state. To put simply, a hypnic jerk is when you suddenly feel like you’re falling off a building as you fall asleep.

Hypnic jerks belong to a classification of involuntary muscle movements called myoclonus. Periodic limb movements are another form of the said classification.

What are the symptoms of hypnic jerks?

Some hypnic jerks are sudden jerks that are intense enough to startle a person and cause sleep disruption. While other times, they are unnoticeable. A person may not notice the symptoms especially when he is in a deep sleep. However, a bed partner may be able to easily spot the movements.

Some common symptoms associated with hypnic jerks are:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • The sudden heaviness of breathing
  • Intense sweating
  • Feeling of falling

It is important to remember that hypnic jerks are completely common. These symptoms are not signs of any underlying serious medical issues.

What are hypnic jerks caused by?

There is no definite cause of hypnic jerks. These muscle twitching happen to people without any underlying medical issue.

Not one clinical trial has proceeded to conclude a concrete statement as to why these twitchings happen. However, there are theories present that suggest why these sleep interruptions occur. Some of these are:

  • Excessive exercise – exercise stimulates our body. It “awakens” the hormones which in turn make us energized and enthusiastic. Therefore, exercising in the evening may promote excess stimulation which will cause hypnic jerks in your sleep
  • Stress and anxiety – high levels of anxiousness and stress may make a person difficult to relax in time for dozing off the bed. An anxious brain means a high level of nervousness. And when you’re nervous, you’re easier to startle. An anxious person may be more likely to be awakened by the twitches
  • Stimulants – nicotine and caffeine are the two common stimulants that increase wakefulness. This may increase the difficulty in getting a good night’s sleep and can make hypnic jerks more frequent
  • Poor sleep habits like sleep deprivation, imbalanced sleeping schedule or sleep disturbances

How are hypnic jerks prevented?

It is impossible to alleviate instances of hypnic jerks during a person’s sleep. Although, through these tips, people have reported getting them less frequently. Some of these tips are:

  • Avoiding caffeine
  • Avoiding excessive, late-night exercise
  • Creating a balanced sleeping schedule
  • Avoiding other stimulant drugs
  • Turning off the lights at night
  • Relaxing meditations

Hypnic jerks are totally normal. Just because a person experiences muscle twitching doesn’t mean there are underlying medical issues they need to worry about.

Although if you really feel concerned about the instances, especially if it happens regularly, consult your local physician to discuss matters properly.

Additional references:

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.