A hypnic jerk
, hypnagogic jerk
, sleep start
, or night start
, is an involuntary myoclonic twitch
Myoclonus is brief, involuntary twitching of a muscle or a group of muscles. It describes a medical sign and, generally, is not a diagnosis of a disease. Brief twitches are perfectly normal. The myoclonic twitches are usually caused by sudden muscle contractions; they also can result from brief...
which occurs during hypnagogia
Hypnagogia is the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep , originally coined in adjectival form as "hypnagogic" by Alfred Maury....
, just as a person is beginning to fall asleep, often causing them to awaken suddenly. Physically, hypnic jerks resemble the "jump" experienced by a person when startled,
often accompanied by a falling sensation. A higher occurrence in people with irregular sleep schedules is reported.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is a United States professional society for the medical subspecialty of sleep medicine. It was established in 1975. The AASM is the only professional society that is dedicated exclusively to the medical subspecialty of sleep medicine...
there are a wide range of potential causes, including: anxiety, caffeine, stress, and strenuous activities in the evening.
This strange falling sensation and muscle twitch is known as a hypnagogic myoclonic twitch or "Hypnic jerk". Close to 70 percent of all people experience this phenomenon just after nodding off, according to a recent study at the Mayo Clinic.
Most experts agree that this is a natural part of the sleeping process, much like slower breathing and a reduced heartbeat. The occurrence is well known and has been well documented. However, experts are still not completely sure why the body does this.
The general consensus among researchers is that, as the muscles begin to slack and go into a restful state as sleep is entered, the brain senses these relaxation signals and misinterprets them as indications of falling. The brain then sends signals to arm and leg muscles in an attempt to regain balance. This misinterpretation that takes place in the brain may also be responsible for the "falling" dreams that accompany the falling sensation. These "dreams" are not really normal dreams, as they are not produced from REM sleep, but rather more like a daydream or hallucination in response to the body’s sensations.
While this phenomenon happens to most, studies have recently begun to link some occurrences of "Hypnic jerks" to sleep anxiety, fatigue, and discomfort. People who are having trouble sleeping or cannot get comfortable in bed appear to experience the sensation more often throughout the night. It is especially more common with people who are trying to fight falling asleep or have deprived themselves of sleep for more than 24 hours.
Researchers believe that the lack of sleep from sleep anxiety or sleep deprivation confuses the muscles and the brain. The muscles continually attempt to relax and shut down for rest, while the brain remains awake creating continued "misinterpretations" of falling or loss of balance.
Scientists and researchers continue to study sleep twitching and jerking in a small capacity, but state that the sensation is completely normal for our bodies and is of little medical significance. Our bodies go through several procedures of shutting down and preparing for an extended period of rest. "Hypnic jerking" is just one of them. It does not appear to cause damage to the body and poses no danger to its physical wellbeing.
According to Marianne Middleton, clinical coordinator at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Sleep Disorders Center, the occurrence of hypnic jerks can become cyclical. The cycle occurs because: "If you lose sleep because you constantly jerk awake, you will become fatigued and may develop anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...
or worry about falling asleep. The more worried and tired you are, the more likely you are to jerk awake. The more you jerk awake, the more sleep you lose."
In Popular Culture
In the movie Inception
Inception: The Subconscious Jams 1994-1995 is a compilation of unreleased tracks by the band Download.-Track listing:# "Primitive Tekno Jam" – 3:23# "Bee Sting Sickness" – 8:04# "Weed Acid Techno" – 8:19...
, rather than being internal phenomena, hypnic jerks are external stimuli applied to others for the purpose of managing their dream state.
- What is a Hypnic Jerk? at WiseGEEK
wiseGEEK is an informational website founded in 2003 by Denis Grosz which attempts to provide short answers to a wide variety of questions , such as "What is fraud?" and "What is a subprime loan?". The information on a wiseGEEK page is interspersed with advertising links.The website encourages its...
- Jolt on the way to Dreamland: Hypnic Jerk at Go Ask Alice!
Go Ask Alice! is a Q&A service provided by Columbia University for both students and the general public with questions or curiosity about health topics. The site has no affiliation with the book Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks....
- Jolted Awake by Hypnic Jerks? - Q & A library of Dr. Andrew Weil
Andrew Thomas Weil is an American author and physician, who established the field of integrative medicine which attempts to integrate alternative and conventional medicine. Weil is the author of several best-selling books and operates a website and monthly newsletter promoting general health and...