Hypnic (Hypnagogic) Jerking Explained – The Comprehensive Guide For 2021

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Have you ever been lying down in bed, just about to drift off into blissful sleep when suddenly your body jerks you awake? Out of the blue, you’re startled by this involuntary twitching, and you can feel your heart racing. If you’ve found yourself in this situation before, rest assured that you’re not the only one, and this is more common than you think.

You’ve fallen victim to a natural phenomenon known as a hypnic jerk or a sleep twitch. While it may be entirely normal, it doesn’t make it any more pleasant. Hypnic jerking is nothing more than an involuntary twitch that usually happens just as you are about to step into dreamland. While it’s known by many different names, they all stand for the same thing.

Infographic Hypnic (Hypnagogic) Jerking Explained

What is Hypnic (Hypnagogic) Jerking?

Hypnagogic jerking refers to involuntary muscle contractions that cause sudden and brief twitches when you’re trying to fall asleep. The word “hypnagogic” describes the time immediately before you fall asleep, while “hypnopompic” would be when you wake up. Hypnic jerks could easily disrupt your bedtime, leaving you feeling wide awake because they are so startling.

Some people experiencing them may lash out or move their legs and arms, while others might jump up or twitch ever so slightly. In very few cases, though, this same sleep twitch is accompanied by a scream or shout as your body reacts to the violent nature of this phenomenon.

Different Names

As we’ve mentioned before, the hypnic jerk has a few variations of its name. It is commonly referred to as hypnagogic jerk, sleep start, night start, or a regular sleep twitch. While the names might differ, these are generally describing one condition.

Additionally, it is called myoclonus or myoclonic jerk, which is the actual medical term used to describe that particular involuntary muscle twitch.

Symptoms

These jerks are sudden and involuntary, which means you have no control over them. Some people relate them to feeling startled or as though they're falling. If you're really startled, you may experience a rapid heartbeat, sweating, or accelerated breathing, though extreme reactions such as these may indicate the presence of anxiety spectrum disorders and should be discussed with a physician.

In some cases, these twitches could occur alongside hypnagogic hallucinations or vivid dreams. The most obvious thing to note is that you are likely to wake up if the twitch is considerable, and because they are so startling, they could interrupt your sleep and lead to sleep-onset insomnia if they happen frequently.

Causes

According to an article published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine, hypnic jerks are quite common, with up to 70 percent of people of all ages and genders experiencing them. They seem to appear more frequently in childhood, often being mistaken for seizures and epilepsy. While little is known about their cause in adults, there are some prevailing theories.

  • Poor sleep habits – Irregular sleep schedules, chronic sleep loss, and frequently interrupted slumber may contribute to involuntary twitches.

  • Stimulants – Caffeine, nicotine, and certain drugs can impact the body and brain, making these movements more likely.

  • Exercise – While exercise is important for the body, working out too close to bedtime can have a stimulating effect on the brain, leading to twitching.

  • Anxiety – Stress and worries can also stimulate the brain, making it difficult to wind down for sleep and may increase the likelihood of hypnic jerking. 

Even though these twitches happen to people with certain bad sleeping habits, people who lead normal, healthy lives can experience them as well. 

How does Anxiety target your Sleep Animation

Tips to Prevent Hypnagogic Jerk

Reduce Caffeine

One of the first things you can do is avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Even if you love a refreshing cup of coffee in the afternoon, this could have a serious effect on your overnight sleep, and both the lack of sleep and the stimulation from caffeine could easily cause a hypnic jerk.

It would be best for you to keep caffeine to a minimum, and if you need to have it, make sure that you do so in the morning and avoid it past midday. This should give you the best chance of minimizing the jerks.

Read More: Caffeine and Sleep

Avoid Alcohol

illustration of a woman refuses chips and alcohol

This is another thing that you might want to consider. Not consuming alcohol would allow you to enhance your sleep and could help prevent a hypnic jerk as well. Alcohol is a depressant but it also has some qualities of a stimulant, which means it can affect the brain and make it more challenging to fall and stay asleep.

Sure, we get that it’s quite tempting to knock back a glass of wine. However, it’s important to note that this could potentially compromise the quality of your sleep and you may find yourself twitching through the night.

Get More Info: How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

Exercise

Exercise is great for your body, and you should consider it if you haven’t already. However, there are appropriate times of the day when you should be exercising. If you do it too close to your bedtime, this could easily cause hypnagogic jerks, and as we’ve stated above, this is one of the leading causes.

You should try to keep your exercising activities for the morning hours. If you don’t have time for it then, stick to more relaxed undertakings later in the evening, like Pilates or Yoga.

Relaxing Herbs

illustration of a person smelling lavender oil

There are a number of different herbs and essential oils that may help to induce a deeper and more relaxed sleep. Lavender is one of them, and it’s known to produce a calming and particularly enjoyable aroma.

The list goes on, and there are many soothing aromas and herbs that could help you go through the night in a more relaxed manner. They may also result in fewer hypnic twitches or eliminate them entirely.

Find Out More: Best Essential Oils for Sleep

Unplug

Get yourself in the habit of a bedtime ritual. This includes a series of things that you should do half an hour before you fall asleep. First off, it might be a good idea to relax your mind and quit thinking about the issues of the day.

Second, cut out technology entirely before bed. Turn off the TV, forget your phone, put the laptop in the other room, and stay there in the dark. Your mind should quickly adjust to that as a stress-free environment that induces relaxation. This would translate to a deeper, twitch-free state of sleep.

Learn More: How Technology Impacts Sleep Quality

Supplements

There are a few additional supplements that you could use to reduce twitching during the night. Calcium, as well as magnesium, are known to relax your muscles and prevent spasms. In fact, magnesium plays a role in regulating muscle contractions, and deficiencies of this mineral have been shown to lead to myoclonic jerks.

View Our Comparison: Magnesium vs. Melatonin

How to Reduce Anxiety Before Bed

There are several ways to reduce anxiety before bed, and they all center around calming the body and mind. Yoga, meditation, journaling, or even just some relaxing stretches can be helpful. The important thing is to refocus your mind from whatever is causing you to stress to a more peaceful state.

For some people, it helps to take five minutes to journal your concerns, allowing yourself to worry about them for a set amount of time. When you’re done, close the journal and shift your focus to something else. Read a book (just nothing suspenseful before bed), listen to some calming music, or perform a guided meditation.

For More Info: How to Cope With Anxiety and Sleep

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Hypnic Jerk a Sleep Disorder?

The twitching itself is not a disorder. However, as we’ve already stated, there are certain sleep disorders that 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, which could cause some serious issues.

Why Do You Twitch in Your Sleep?

There is no definitive answer to this question. However, there are a few well-known causes of 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?

While it may temporarily feel like a life or death situation, hypnic twitches tend to last for no more than a microsecond and don’t cause any harm. None of your vitals are shown to stop, and there is no chance of this being a near-death experience.

The issue is that it could cause serious anxiety if it happens over and over again. In addition, it may disrupt your sleep, which could lead to more twitching.

What Does It Mean If You Jump In Your Sleep?

There are a few different explanations for why you may “jump” in your sleep. Heavy snorers usually experience this “jump” feeling because their airways may become blocked. As soon as the airflow gets disrupted, you may experience that jumping sensation and wake up.

Another explanation is related to dreaming. When you are in a deep sleep, your brain prevents you from acting out your dreams since this could be dangerous. However, there are times when this doesn’t happen and you may sleepwalk or flail around in your dreamlike state.

Illustration of a Woman Jumping in Sleep

Can It Happen While You're Awake?

Hypnic jerks usually happen when you’re beginning to fall asleep, but they can also happen when you’re sleeping. On the other hand, regular muscle twitching is a common phenomenon that can happen when you’re awake. There are many known causes, but most commonly they are related to magnesium deficiency.

Can You Cure Hypnic Jerk?

While there is no known cure, you may be able to reduce twitching by following the recommendations we gave above. Minimize caffeine and alcohol, exercise during normal training hours, give yourself a break in terms of stress, unplug, and make sure that you have a good night of sleep. Try not to focus on twitching as you’re falling asleep and you should be able to see the difference quickly.

How Might It Affect My Life?

If the situation becomes chronic and you’re experiencing severe hypnic jerks, this could have a rather serious impact on your life. It may result in sleep deprivation, which quickly translates to stress and anxiety. Additionally, a lack of sleep is also known to cause issues such as depression, weight gain, higher blood pressure, heart conditions, and more.

If you’re experiencing chronic hypnic twitching, talk to your doctor to discuss other conditions and to talk about possible solutions.

Our Final Thoughts

While sleep jerks are quite common and may happen for no reason at all, they could also be a sign that you need to take a step back and look at your overall lifestyle. If you’re not making time for sleep or have poor habits that are keeping you awake at night, you may find that prioritizing rest helps alleviate twitching.

Take a look at the common causes we’ve listed above, and follow our steps for reducing hypnic twitches. While you may not be able to prevent them entirely, you should be able to minimize them. In the end, remember that they aren’t dangerous (unless you accidentally hit your partner), and in most cases, they go away on their own.

Sources and References:

Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.

Sleep research is changing all the time, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping up with breakthroughs and innovations. You live better if you sleep better. Whatever has brought you here, we wish you luck on your journey towards better rest.

Board-certified Psychiatrist, Founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine

Dr. Alex Dimitriu brings a deep respect for science and spirituality into his work. He is board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and specializes in the complex interplay between the mind and body.

Using neuroscience and pharmacology to attain the most efficient and holistic solutions, he helps his patients achieve highly restorative sleep and optimal daytime performance.

Alex has been nationally recognized by The New York Times, Psychology Today, and NBC News. He has brought remarkable outcomes to the most challenging of cases through the optimization of wakefulness and sleep.

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