Hypnic Jerks – How To Avoid Waking With A Jolt

cartoon of a man having a hypnic jerkIf you’re unsure if you’ve ever experienced a hypnic jerk, ask yourself this question:

Have you ever woken up with a sudden jolt just as you’ve started falling asleep? Or maybe it felt like you were falling?

It could be that it felt like you were having a huge muscle spasm. You may have even felt a small shock sensation or a bouncing feeling.

Perhaps it was even your partner that was experiencing it, and this in itself startled you back to consciousness. It could be then (though not necessarily) that you experienced a hypnic jerk. And if so, you’re certainly not alone.

It’s estimated that around 70% of people experience hypnic jerks at some point in their lives. I know I definitely have.

Different names

The world of sleep can be confusing, and there’s no exception when it comes to hypnic jerks. It can be confusing because it’s also sometimes referred to by the following names:

  • Night starts.
  • Sleep starts.
  • Hypnagogic jerk – hypnagogic being a term used to describe the period of time when falling asleep.
  • Myoclonus, or myoclonic jerk – this is the medical term to describe an involuntary muscle twitch.

What is a hypnic jerk exactly?

A hypnic jerk is an involuntary twitching of a muscle, or muscles (the myoclonus as mentioned above). They usually occur just as you’re falling asleep, during what’s known scientifically as the hypnagogic state of consciousness.

That’s why they’re sometimes call hypnagogic jerks: you most commonly experience them when falling asleep.

Note that hypnic is also a shortened version of the word ‘hypnagogic’. So you can see why there various possible expressions to describe the same thing.

When you experience a hypnic jerk it often causes you to wake up suddenly. And when you wake up you may feel like you’re experiencing a sudden and dramatic falling or jolting sensation.

Interestingly, the muscle twitching you experience also occurs in other situations, for example hiccups are also muscle twitches.

That strange time of the night

It’s during the phase of falling asleep that several unusual phenomenon may take place. For example, I discussed in a previous article the various sleep paralysis experiences people have. Those often come with bizarre or frightening hallucinations and even out-of-body experiences.

Luckily there’s nothing to be worried about – hypnic jerks along with these other phenomenon aren’t dangerous. They may be unsettling or annoying, but you don’t need to fear going to sleep just because they may happen to you.

Polls

During 2015 I ran 3 polls for readers to share their experience of hypnic jerks. With thousands of people participating, the results provide an interesting look at how hypnic jerks affect people.

Poll 1

a graph showing the results of a poll about how frequently people experience hypnic jerksPoll 2

a graph showing the results of a poll about the impact hypnic jerks has on their sleepPoll 3

Poll 3 shows something very interesting: that many people feel stress or anxiety makes their hypnic jerks worse (7,437 out of 14,638 votes).

This is in fact something I’ve read many times in the hundreds of comments readers have left. So it seems that tackling stress or anxiety is definitely something worth considering trying to do if you’re struggling with hypnic jerks.

a graph showing the results of a poll about whether or not stress makes hypnic jerks worse

What causes the hypnic jerk?

So now you know that the hypnic jerk is a twitching of the muscles. But what causes the muscles to twitch in the first place?

As is often the case in the complex world of sleep, scientists still aren’t 100% certain about the cause. However, they do believe that the following factors can all contribute to hypnic jerks happening:

  • Anxiety.
  • Stress.
  • Alcohol.
  • Caffeine.
  • Heavy exercise late in the evening.
  • Sleeping in an uncomfortable position.
  • Being very tired or fatigued.

In addition to these factors which can contribute to the likelihood of a hypnic jerk occurring, there are some theories as to why they happen:

1. The first theory is that they happen as your nervous system relaxes and slows down when transitioning from wakefulness to sleep. Your breathing slows down, temperature drops and your muscles relax. So they might happen when nerves misfire during this slowing down process, resulting in the muscular spasm.

2. The second theory is that while relaxing as you fall asleep, your brain sometimes gets confused and thinks you’re falling. So it sends signals to the arms and legs to move to an upright position, resulting in the jerking sensation.

3. Following from the second idea, a popular evolutionary theory suggests that the ancient primate brain may have mistaken relaxation for falling out of a tree, and so the jerking is the brain waking you up quickly to take action.

4. Another evolutionary theory suggest that your brain wakes you up one last time so you can check that you’ve take the necessary steps to keep yourself safe at night.

Is it another sleep disorder?

If you’re experiencing what you think are hypnic jerks, for some people it could be something more serious like Sleep Apnea.

If you have breathing difficulties when sleeping, or wake up with a gasp or croak it may be wise to consult a medical professional to rule out Apnea.

A doctor would also be able to rule out the possibility of epilepsy. A small number of people with epilepsy only experience seizures during the sleeping hours.

If you also experience strange or uncomfortable sensations in your legs, or have regular twitching during the day or evening then it’s possible that you may have restless legs syndrome. Again this would need to be diagnosed by a medical professional or sleep expert.

And most rarely of all, is the possibility of exploding head syndrome. This sleep disorder is also harmless and is characterized by a very loud noise in your head. It could sound like a bang or any other loud noise, and will wake you up suddenly.

For the majority of people though, the hypnic jerk is a common and harmless phenomenon.

How can you stop hypnic jerks?

The hypnic jerk is such a common occurrence that it may not be possible to prevent it happening completely. However, you can take steps to address some of the factors thought to increase the likelihood:

  • Cut down on alcohol and caffeine, especially in the 3-4 hours before going to bed.
  • Try not to do heavy exercise late in the evening or night.
  • Ensure you’re getting sufficient magnesium and calcium in your diet – this can help with muscle and nerve spasms.
  • Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and bedding, and that you sleep in a comfortable position, even with a partner. Personally I’ve found that I often experience hypnic jerks when I’m cuddling my partner to fall asleep, but am not really in the most comfortable position.
  • If you suffer from anxiety or stress, this is an important issue to try and address. You may find some useful advice in the section about relaxation exercises for sleep and also the article about mindfulness exercises. These cover both practical short-term exercises and also ideas for more long-term techniques to tackle stress and anxiety.
  • Try not to allow yourself to get too tired or fatigued. Obviously this depends on your particular circumstances, as some people understandably have very busy and tiring lives. But it may be up to you to try to give more importance to how much sleep you get.

Avoid the vicious cycle of worry

Hypnic jerks can become cyclical if you start worrying about them. This is a very common thing that happens with many sleeping difficulties.

For example, people who have insomnia will often start worrying that they won’t be able to get to sleep. This worrying then becomes the thing that causes their insomnia, even if the original cause has long gone.

So in the same way if you worry about hypnic jerks you may start to get less sleep and become more fatigued. Being fatigued is thought to contribute to the frequency of hypnic jerks, and so it’s more likely you’ll experience them.

You now know that hypnic jerks aren’t dangerous and that many people experience them. So hopefully you can start to relax about them and not go to bed thinking about them.

Readers’ ideas, tips and techniques to cure hypnic jerks

If you look below you’ll see a vast number of comments from previous readers, many of whom have offered their own ideas on what can make hypnic jerks better or worse.

First of all, I’d like to acknowledge and thank everyone for such detailed comments and for sharing your thoughts.

Secondly, I’m going to start a list of ideas which people have provided. Please note that many of these have no evidence to back them up. It’s simply a list of some things which other people say can contribute to hypnic jerks or improve them.

  • Magnesium supplements have been helpful for many readers, as has rubbing magnesium oils or transdermal magnesium into the area where you most commonly twitch. One suggestion was to get a blood test to check if you have a deficiency. On reader reported that after several months of taking 2 x 500 mg magnesium citrate supplements every day, the hypnic jerks reduced significantly.
  • Continuing with the theme of hypnic jerks being made worse by a mineral deficiency, it’s important to assess your current diet. Try to have a healthy, balanced diet. Eat less sugary and salty foods, and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Don’t stress about it, as worrying about it makes it worse.
  • Try to deal with major stress in your life – many people say they’re worse when they feel stressed.
  • If you suffer from anxiety, take steps to tackle this in your daily life as it may help reduce the hypnic jerks.
  • Drink cayenne pepper tea (I suggest doing some research into this online first).
  • Try to see the funny side! Many readers have said that they just laugh them off.
  • Try acupuncture.
  • Make sure you get enough calcium in your normal diet, or take supplements.
  • Stop working out for a while if you’re doing strenuous exercise and see if it improves.
  • Don’t drink alcohol, coffee or energy drinks for a week and see if it improves.
  • Try to see them as a sign that you must be falling asleep, and that it’s a positive thing as you know you’ll soon be asleep.
  • Talk to your doctor about any medication you’re taking, including over the counter sleep aids to check if any could be increasing the frequency or strength of your hypnic jerks.
  • In addition to the above, check that medication you’re taking doesn’t have a side-effect of myoclonus – a surprising amount do.
  • Sleep aids and allergy medication containing the anti-histamine diphenhydramine can sometimes cause twitching. Try stopping them temporarily if you use them regularly.
  • Try taking electrolyte pills or solutions which athletes use and are also given for fluid loss.
  • Try to sleep in a different position from your back – one suggestion was that the fetal position can help.
  • Don’t go to bed late at night.
  • In terms of prescription medication, some people say clonazepam has helped them (benzodiazepines are not a long-term solution though).
  • Film yourself sleeping or use a sleep monitor. One reader said he discovered through doing this that he was snoring, and that the hypnic jerks occurred while he was snoring heavily.
  • Some female readers feel that it can be connected to hormonal changes.
  • Ask for a referral to a sleep clinic if you’re able to and it’s particularly troubling.
  • Ensure you have a quiet sleeping environment – it could be a sudden noise which startles you awake.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water during the day.
  • If you’re being bothered by them repeatedly, get up and do something relaxing for 10-20 minutes, then try to sleep again.
  • Have a light snack before bed. And if they’re occurring repeatedly, get up and have a light snack.
  • Have a warm shower before bed, then do relaxation exercises before getting into bed or even while in bed.
  • If you do exercise, it could be excess lactic acid contributing to hypnic jerks. So try looking into ways to reduce the lactic acid, and don’t do heavy exercise in the 3 to 4 hours before bed.
  • Try apple cider vinegar. It’s used as a hiccup remedy, so might help with hypnic jerks too.

Once again, a big thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute to this list of ideas to try. I know many future readers will appreciate having so many possible options to consider.

And hopefully it will inspire them to continue adding more ideas in the future. If you do have any other ideas, or found any of the above helpful, feel free to let us know in the comments below.

Your views

(please read before leaving a comment)

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your experience, and any tips you have for dealing with hypnic jerks.

Due to time constraints I won’t be able to respond personally to comments any more. However, I’ll leave the comments open so readers can share their views and communicate with others.

I know many people have found it helpful to have a space to describe their experience, and have found it useful talking to others about hypnic jerks other sleep disorders.

I will continue to read and moderate the comments before publishing them as always, but now it’s over to you to continue the conversation.

Thanks

Ethan

 

850 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I had this the other night. Chronic insomniac here. Life long sleep issues. Scared the crap out of me. It felt like when you miss the last step and land on the floor. I legit thought I had fallen.

  • thank you for putting a name to it i started to get woken up with this for about 12yrs now mine started after i had brain surgey (colloid cyst) but ive had restless leg syndrome my whole life my mom told me i destroyed my 1st crib shaking so bad when i was about 8 we meet a dr who said to try warm milk @ honey about half hr before going to bed 50yrs later still doing it but just take a tablespoon of honey it helps me

  • The hypnic jerk is a outcome of stress. The depression results many more complications. The best idea is keep yourself aloof from anxiety, try to find out some interesting thing to keep your brain busy. Be with your loved ones, friends or family members. Train your brain to not to stress any more. There may be many biologicaly physical reasons for this. But only the first remedy is to be happy, surround yourself with happy, creative and encouraging people. It is your heart which is to be cared for long life.

    Ravi Chhetry

  • I have good news to tell everyone. My hypnic jerks are down 80% and my doctor cut my dosage of gabapentin from 600mgs a day to just 300 mgs a day. Last year at this time I jerked all night and even felt the electricity go up and down my body. I told a Canadian pharmacist about my problem and he recommended I take wheat germ oil to soothe my nerves and rebuild them. I am allergic to gluten so I had to find gluten free wheat germ oil which is made. I have been on it for about 3 weeks now. Soon I will be off the the gaba. I wish you all the best of luck.

  • Thank you for gathering all of the helpful and informative info on hypnic jerks. Although I have suffered these on a few occasions, I had no idea why they occurred or what to do about avoiding a recurrence. I came across your article just now as I awoke with the symptom and became very anxious. I should say that I have just returned as a day patient from a general anaesthetic op and this may have some baring on the hypnic jerks I had? Thank you to all who gave advice as I now have a plan of actions to follow.

  • I drink half to one full glass of red wine and I fall asleep right away. It mellows me out and I stop stressing about things. It makes me feel warm and happy but I never exceed a full glass nor do I mix it with medications. Most nights all it takes is half a glass.

  • After 3 years of investigation, as a Therapist I can share the following thanks to my patients experiences:
    1) Don’t use electronic screens after 6pm. The led screens stop the brain from producing melatonin which is our natural sleep chemical.
    2) Don’t drink tea or coffee or fizzy sodas, ever if you suffer from anxiety.
    3) no sugary foods (bread contains a lot of sugar nowadays) after 6pm.
    4) Get to bed before 11pm (cell regeneration starts at 10pm and ends at 12pm).
    5) If you have something on your mind then write it down in a list and release your thoughts. You can relax knowing that you don’t have to remember details during the night.
    6) Change the direction that you sleep in (eg: put your head South instead of North).
    7) Don’t sleep with your head near plug sockets or lamps. (electric current interferes with sleep patterns)
    8) Never leave your cell phone on at night. (Microwaves from phone travel up to 3 metres even when not making calls).
    9) Look outside your house for natural signs of subterranean rivers (these cause radiation when the water flows over specific minerals). Typical signs are trees with fungus or nodes growing up the main trunk. The trees will also be leaning in the same direction. isolate these effects by putting a bamboo mat under the bed and a sheepskin (100%) wool matress cover.
    10) If you have recently been in a religious or spiritual group you should consider the possible interference of negative energy on your Bio magnetic field. (this can be measured in MHZ by a specific digital scanner). Many people who feel the presence of lost loved ones suffer from these spasms.
    11) How to detect if the spasms or jerks are produced by your own biology or they are interference from an exterior source: When you feel a spasm is about to be released hold on to a partner and see if the spasm passes through them as well (a shared spasm proves that your body is not generating the jerk if your partner also feels it entering and passing through their body too). If you do share the spasm simultaneously with your partner then you have an exterior interference and your body is acting as an antenna.
    12) Try sleeping in different rooms in your house. If the whole house is sitting on a geographic hot spot, everyone in the house will suffer in some way (kids normally get nose bleeds) Adults get headaches.

    Hope this helps. Insomnia kills and I take my work very seriously.

  • I don’t just jerk awake I am up out of bed and halfway downstairs convinced I am dying before I come to realise what is going on and it’s really scary. Started about a year ago when my best friend died. I find it happens if I fall asleep too quickly which I often do as after i have been woken that way I sleep badly . I go downstairs and get a drink then try relaxation by which time it’s 3 or 4am. Next night I am tired fall straight asleep and off we go again. Helps to know I am not alone though.

  • hello! few minutes into my sleep I jerk and wake up suddenly with a racing heartbeat. I also have panic attack.It all started when my ear started ringing(tinnitus). pls, is it caused by tinnusis?

  • I occasionally get these jerks too, have put on a memory foam mattress and started Nytol which seems to work. Afraid family aren’t very sympathetic and don’t understand. Would recommend Nytol :)

  • Hi my symptoms started about 5 days ago, I was fine sleeping like a baby and all of sudden I started experiencing these type of jolts called hypnic jerks. I went to see my pcp and assure me are hypnic jerks. I’m scared he prescribed xanax but I don’t want to keep taking them because I don’t want to get addicted to them. I am suffering from anxiety and panic attacks my dad recently passed about 6 month ago and I’m sure all of the stress I had in the past months trigger to this. Please help me I want to rest at night I have two little ones and worried something’s wrong. Liz

    • Hello Liz, I am going through the same things, you may be bi polar. I have been diagnosed with bi polar and I go through these episodes of depression that can last up to a month and every day I will have panic attacks and going to sleep I wake with a violent jolt gasping for breath. Did you know that if you are prone to panic attacks you can get them in your sleep as well? We sometimes don’t know what our dreams are and they can cause a panic attack causing you to wake up in this disturbing way. Find out if you are bi polar and that will at least be a start. Panic attacks are crippling and they run my life when I’m going through an episode of depression, i have a hard time working, I have two small children as well and I cannot afford to lose my marbles. I don’t want benzos as well because I’m on a medication that has dangerous effects with it, even though my dr says a little bit won’t hurt. It’s a hard battle but you will get through it, you need to see a therapist and see what else is going on because if you have bi polar you a chemical imbalance in your brain and you get depressed for no reason at all or anything can trigger it…

  • Hasn’t anybody noticed that this happens more when one uses technology like a cell phone or a laptop? I cut down my usage of technology recently and my jolts have also decreased. I would suggest people try magnesium oil instead of oral supplements. Oral supplements can result in diarrhea if overdone. Magnesium is absorbed better through the skin and the body only takes what it needs.
    I would like to thank the man for suggesting a low meat diet; that works as well.

  • Thanks alot. Many useful tip. 12/2016 i got this jerk and it really make me awake all night. I did some research and i found out i was doing abit of workout and playing soccer. I also have anxiety. The next day i eat 3 raw eggs before going to sleep. That night i was completely fine. If i don’t eat egg i feel like it coming back. I think i need to take a rest for a couple weeks before start doing workout or running.

  • Everytime i try an go to sleep i just jolt an my heart feels racing can any1 help or give me a tip to sleep ive had minimal sleep in a week an its getting worse been trying since 11.30pm an still cant sleep now close eyes for all of 2mins an bang i jolt

    • Hi Paul
      Thanks for your comment. There are lots of tips in the article which I recommend starting by trying out. If it continues for a few more days, then mention it to your doctor and see if they can offer any suggestions.
      Regards
      Ethan

    • Paul, ive been waking suddenly soon after I drop off to sleep for months now and it horrible. I recently found liquid Night Nurse and I take a cap full before I go to bed and i sleep right through now. The problem is that you can become dependent on it so be careful.

    • I am experiencing exactly the same thing as you. My doctor gave me sleeping pills, I took one last night and a huge jolt woke me just as I was going off..am trying to address anxieties, but this is the anxiety, so what can you do ?

  • I suffered from hypnic jerks about a year ago and it was one of the worst things I’ve ever been through. I’m happy to say I’m now “cured.” Here’s my story…

    I was going through a stressful time and my anxiety was getting the best of me. I started having panic attacks at random times during the day. Then I started fearing them, so naturally I developed panic disorder and life became a nightmare. I consulted Dr. Google which brought up a myriad of results which freaked me out even more and I became a complete wreck. Then I started having jerks when I was drifting off to sleep. I consulted Dr. Google again (always a mistake). That led me to this website. The stories of people’s suffering didn’t make me feel any better. I was scared of having jerks forever, getting hooked on addictive prescription drugs, and going crazy.

    I found a Doctor that would prescribe me Klonopin. It helped some, but wasn’t a silver bullet, and left me anxious during the day. I then found another Doctor, whom was much better than the first, that prescribed me Lexapro 10mg. He instructed me to take it every day and take the Klonopin only as needed, with the goal of eventually tapering off the Klonopin. The next few months were hell but I stuck with the plan. Slowly but surely my sleep started to improve, with inevitable setbacks along the way. Then I went to see a sleep doctor the specialized in CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia). She explained to me that the insomnia and sleep fragmentation were leading to jerks, and the jerks were leading to insomnia and sleep fragmentation. She put me on a sleep restriction plan and it was instantly beneficial. With time my sleep got better and better and the jerks got less and less frequent and intense. I started welcoming the jerks and not fearing them, which of course made them less frequent.

    It took about 4 months on Lexapro and the sleep restriction program to get my sleep habits to a satisfactory level. It may have taken less time but I was also trying to taper off the Klonopin slowly.

    Then I did something silly. I tried to taper off Lexapro, which was fine for a couple of months but then my anxiety and sleep issues started return. My doctor said to go back on it for a while. So here I am. Still on Lexapro 10mg daily, sleeping fine, meditating and enjoying life. I’m not worried about being on Lexapro. It’s a safe drug with minimal side effects (regardless of what Dr. Google tells you). I’ll try to taper off in another year or so.

    I hope someone reads this and gets on the road toward wellness again. My advice is to stay away from the negative forums. Read insomnia success stories. Trust medical professionals. Believe in yourself. You will find peace again and when you do you will be a better person for having gone through this.

    • Thanks your story has helped me not think I’m never going to sleep again. I have had the jerks slowly increase over the last couple of nights and tonight can’t sleep at all as every time I’ve started to fall asleep it happens. I use to be on Lexepro about 3 yrs ago but tapered off got pregnant and now have a 1 yo. Think the pressures of motherhood and the sleep deprivation that brings with it have not helped my situation but I now have hope that going back on the lexepro will help and I will get back to sleeping so thank you again!

  • yesterday i waked up with a high jerk and a so fast heart beats and so scared when i tried to catch the phone to call a friend for a help i felt dowen into the ground and i didnot felt my right leg
    i am from Egypt but now i am out side my country for work i am really affraid
    this is my fiest week here but everyday i feel not good and want to back home but wish to try to stand is it dangeourous
    help me for god sake

    • Hi ahmed
      Thanks for your comment. I think the best thing is to speak to a local doctor if you’re worried about your health. If it was just a hypnic jerk, then there’s nothing to worry about. But if you have more falls, or your leg numbness continued, or keeps happening, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
      Regards
      Ethan

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