Have you ever been almost asleep, only to jerk awake with all of your muscles seeming to fire at once? While these hypnic jerks can be uncomfortable and unsettling, they’re usually nothing to worry about. Here’s everything you need to know about what they are, why you have them, and what you can do to minimize your chances of experiencing them.
What Is a Hypnic Jerk?
A hypnic jerk occurs when you’re in the hypnagogic state, which is the state between waking and sleeping. You are resting peacefully, then your body has a massive muscle spasm. You may flail, though some people only twitch. Afterwards, you may go directly back to sleep or you may be awake for a while, unsettled by the whole experience. A few people scream involuntarily, so don’t be surprised if this happens to you.
Many people feel like they are falling when they experience hypnic jerks, while others feel like they are dreaming or hallucinating. A few feel like the jerk is preceded by a loud noise or a bright light that comes from inside their head.
Up to 70% of people experience hypnic jerks at some point in their lives, so they are fairly normal. Most people don’t find them too disturbing, though some can’t go back to sleep for quite a while after experiencing one.
Why Do We Experience Hypnic Jerks?
There hasn’t been a lot of research done on hypnic jerks. They seem to be exacerbated by the use of caffeine too close to bedtime, too much alcohol, exercise late at night, and stress. In addition, being fatigued or sleep-deprived seems to raise your chances of experiencing a jerk, too. However, scientists can’t say that any of these things definitely cause them.
There are various theories out there about why we experience this phenomenon. Some theorists say that the nerves simply misfire on their way from being awake to being asleep. This may happen more often in people who are overtired or whose brains are overstimulated.
Others say that the experience of hypnic jerks has evolutionary origins. They say that our body misinterprets our muscles relaxing as we fall asleep for what happens when we fall out of a tree. The whole body tightens in order to minimize the damage of the fall. This corresponds well with the falling sensation that often accompanies hypnic jerks. However, it doesn’t make sense of the sensations of light and noise that so often accompany the phenomenon.
In the end, there’s no definitive answer to why we experience hypnic jerks. Since they aren’t usually dangerous and they don’t disrupt sleep very much for the majority of people, they have often been deemed unworthy of further study.
How Can We Minimize or Stop Hypnic Jerks?
Since there’s no definitive answer as far as what causes hypnic jerks, it’s hard to know exactly what will stop them. Most people find that determining what causes the jerks, for them, and then eliminating that from their lives is the most helpful.
Look at the list above of things that correlate with hypnic jerks. See if any of them are present in your life. Are you anxious? Do you tend to lay in bed at night worrying about the day you had or the day to come? Do you consume caffeine or alcohol late at night? Maybe you have an unusual sleep schedule. Are you sleep deprived right now?
Continue through the list until you figure out which factors may be causing your hypnic jerks. Then do what you need to do to eliminate those things from your life. If your hypnic jerks get better, then you now know how to manage them for yourself. If they don’t get better, keep addressing your sleep until they do.
You may not be able to eliminate hypnic jerks entirely. However, you can usually do something to limit your experience with them. If they are especially disturbing for you, it will be worthwhile to make sure you’re getting enough sleep and have good sleep hygiene. Soon, you should experience fewer jerks and get better rest.