Twitching in Your Sleep: Why Does It Happen?

There are you, peacefully dozing off, and then, whoa! Your body does a sudden jerk and you're awake again. For the most part, these body spasms are considered normal. But sometimes they're not.

Hypnic jerks, or sleep starts, are normal leg, arm, or full-body twitches that occur just as you're about to fall asleep. No one knows for sure why they happen, but some sleep researchers speculate that, as you're dozing off, your brain misinterprets your state of relaxation as a falling motion and, sensing danger, tries to jolt you upright. Emotional stress, fear of falling asleep, too much caffeine, and too much strenuous activity before going to bed can intensify hypnic jerks, according to the American Academy for Sleep Medicine (AASM).

Sometimes these nocturnal shudders are accompanied by hallucinations or a sense that you are actually falling. You may even cry out. These jerking motions can happen repeatedly and may also occur while you sleep. At times, you may not be aware of body jerks unless you have a partner who gets kicked or elbowed in the process and tells you about it.

Generally, hypnic jerks should be taken in stride because they don't occur often and don't normally interfere with getting a good night's sleep. But repeated, intense body jerks can be worrisome and worrying about them can keep you awake. If you are losing sleep, that's when something should be done about hypnic jerks.

To start, make sure you are following the basic rules of good sleep hygiene:

·  Leave enough time for you to get the right amount of sleep each night.
·  Get up and go to bed at the same time every day.
· Find ways to relax before sleeping. Take a warm bath, listen to soothing music, or read. Try to work out any problems earlier in the day.
· Don't watch television, use your computer or talk on the phone while in bed.
·   Avoid exercise, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco before going to bed.

If hypnic jerks continue to the degree that you are not getting enough sleep, speak with your physician to figure out what's causing the spasms and what else you can do to prevent or tame them. You may discover you have a sleep disorder or a medical condition, or that medication you are taking is causing the twitches. An underlying psychological problem, such as anxiety, could also be at the root of the problem.


American Academy of Sleep Medicine: Sleep Starts