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

 

893 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I was only 4years old when hypnic jerks started until now and i am 43, i didnt know what they called it until i research it recently, i always thought it was an evil spirit that was standing at my bedside and because of its powerful presents i could not move just jerking its very difficult to get me out of it i must hawl like a dog so my children can hear me so that they can come and pull me out of bed because i cant get myself out of it it is so EMBARRESS

  • I started suffering from hypnic jerks (in the form of chest spasms and arm movement) back in November of 2016 which initially cause 5 nights of no sleep. My doctor prescribed Ambien which worked for about a month and then resulted in me waking up after 4 hours. Going off the Ambien caused the jerks to return instantly. My doctor prescribed Xanax, which I took for 7 months and had relief. My doctor wanted me to wean of the Xanax and the jerks returned with a vengeance causing insomnia again. Oddly, my blood pressure has always been slightly high (top number at 131 consistanly) and my doctor prescribed a low dose blood pressure med prior to giving me a new sleeping pill After just 4 days on the blood pressure med the hypnic jerks were gone and a weeks later I’m sleeping 7-8 hours per night again. I know this is not the same cure for everyone, but if you have an elevated blood pressure it might be worth talking to your doctor.

    PS – I also tried every natural remedy and sleep hygene cure prescribed. None of it worked.

    • Eric G,
      Thanks for posting! I’m glad that you found something that finally helped you. My blood pressure was in the 130’s also and I also suffer from hypnic jerks. I’m just curious, what is the name of the blood pressure medication that you are currently using that has stopped the hypnic jerks for you?

  • I started having the jerks back in feb 2017. at first i was startled about what it was at first. i learned to deal with them. i sort of learned to block them by placing a heavy wool blanket over me. that actually worked 90% of the time. until a week or so ago. now last week to now, they came back with a terrible vengeance. 3 days of all night jerks whenever i would try to sleep. no sleep during those 3 days. i was crying cringing and the like. my depression,anxiety, and panic disorders were rapidly worsening and i was lashing out at ppl. lately this has spooked me so much to a point that im afraid to go to sleep.

  • I remember reading or hearing that “falling dreams” were caused by falling asleep with a limb partially off the bed, like having your hand or foot dangling off the side or end of the bed. This disrupts the blood flow to the limb causing the hypnic jerk. Ever since learning this (probably 10 or more years ago) I’m very careful not to fall asleep with my arm over the side of the bed, and ever since then, I don’t recall a single falling dream.

  • I have had these for many yrs. The big one hit lat august and I thought it was a heart attack. I was admitted for testing and everything was normal. The jerks stopped, but in the last week they reappeared. I started to look what had changed.
    Stress and anxiety have been a problem for me always. I have I insomnia as well. I rotate between klonopin and Valium usually every 60 days to avoid physical dependence. So I am coming off klonopin and have been off 2 weeks now while going back on Valium. My research showed me that klonopin affects the motor part of the brain, while Valium does not. I will be moving back to klonopin much quicker now. Meanwhile I will see a neurologist to find a medicine that can duplicate this effect.

  • After two months of 4 hours/night sleep due to change in mania at start of year, worse sleep deprivation from stress ended in 9 day with 8 hours total sleep (legal paperwork.) July 2012, with other health issues, hypnic spasms *any time I relaxed,* including meditation and sleep, started.

    Enough sleep and less stress, start of 2014 they were down to almost normal, once in a while before sleep, start of meditation but gone before end. Meditation was very helpful, reduces stress /cortisol that depletes nutrients and interfere with liver etc. functioning.

    Then my thyroid started improving sending TSH low, thyroid high, but main doc would NOT send me to endocrinologist. Hot summer, hostile move (renovations), a fire, unable to think straight, overheating, loss of money, of things in family (avoidable if thyroid normal) . . .

    TSH went to 0.02, 5 months of heart pounding even in the 2-3 hours daily of sleep.

    When I stopped thyroid, damage had me twitching at any relaxations. Puss un gall bladder, even in public just saying words like love, prayer, meditation, etc. Instead of calling my neurologist, one doctor called security, putting off GB surgery by 2 months.

    Now GB out, started zinc, spasm free 20 hours, and 51 other symptoms improved, then got weird.

    Also on sodium citrate/citric acid, due to 5 low bicarbonate labs I was told were normal. Then told I was psych to think they related to certain foods causing bilateral sciatica, then to avoid this foods (all protein, dairy, oils, plums, Brussels sprouts.)

    Suddenly on “Bicitrate,” light sensitivity, side effects to anesthesia, ammonia in urine as well as shortness of breath *also* reduced. May be helping hypnic spasms too, if only through less stress, less nutritional depletion, less body-induced stress and cortisol, as well as having prop it wasn’t just psych.

    I’m also on depakote. It depletes l-carnatine (which is how it controls epilepsy – check the PDR – vitamin E, folate, selenium (be ware of overdosing; if you eat meat or Brazil nuts, you may not ever need supplementation beyond vitamin) and Chromium.

    Stress depletes calcium, and low calcium in nerves leads to grinding teeth, insomnia and irritation. Irritation can happen when your body is short of one of the complex of calcium input nutrients, including major players: Ca, Mg, Zn, MN (manganese is strong in Basil, which cures an odd non-illness scratch throat I get; I carry it with me) and Vitamin D, for me.

    Any shortage can cause issues: low B5 causes low stomach acid, so many calciums won’t absorb. (My Mom took pre-acidified calcium to deal with this.) All nutrients must be available.

    I also ate cooked brain. I started dreaming again immediately, and processing my losses from the move, etc. Lots of crying, but less stress. I find cycling types of foods with a baseline of vitamins and nutrients helps, with exercise to slow my hyper-healing, sleeping as well as I can.

    Along with sleep, one’s specific nutrition needs and exercise, meditation and Chinese exercises, probably yoga (somewhat similar) are what had them almost gone for me, and going away again. Mine almost busted the recliner I was in. Now I can at least safely go in public without fear of having security called on me.

  • Possible Help for Hypnic Jerks From Personal Experience

    I started getting hypnic jerks over four years ago. Tried everything from western medicine to alternative treatments, including acupuncture, somatic experience, brain spotting, emotional freedom technique, massages, chiropractors, ericksonian hypnosis, neurological medicines.

    Recently the following three things together seems to be making a huge difference so far and very quickly.

    1)Drinking a lot of water everyday
    2)Taking electrolyte pills as well as also taking magnesium separately
    3)Using the Ondamed machine which is a biofeedback machine.

    Not sure if they are really helping me or just a good stretch for me but I feel fairly confident it is the above but not sure which of the three is the most important. But will keep you updated if I continue doing better.

    No harm in trying at least the first two.

  • Mine happens when I try to fight falling asleep to stay awake few hours before bedtime. When I do go to bed and go to sleep my body jerks to wake up because I did not relax and knowing that it is ok time to go to sleep, I don’t need to fight to stay awake.

  • Jerking is the most embarrassing thing especially in school. Now I don’t always sleep in school but I do during a long test that I finished before the time, or a field trip on the bus.
    I think the worst one that i’v had was when I jerked myself awake in the silent classroom. Resulting in me loudly passing gas and kicking my leg into the person’s chair in front of me..
    I don’t think anyone could top that.

  • i get soo scared when my husband cuddles up to me at night because in less than a few minutes into sleep, his body twitches or moves so rapidly fast, that for example, if his hand or arms is near my faces, i feel like im being boxed … soo i get really hurt in the process of this unbearable situation… and it happens almost every single night..
    i feel very bad telling him to sleep on his side of the bed , but this is a worrying factor for me… and really want to know, if his not suffering from anything else other than whats been mentioned from other comments… im really concerned, any help?

  • I take a product called CALM about 30 minutes before my bedtime. It is powdered magnesium. I use just a tiny bit because it knocks me out cold if I use too much. It’s sour tasting so I just use a small amount of water, let the powder dissolve and gulp it down. I hate being jerked awake when I am on the brink of sleep. It’s scary and it really makes me afraid to go to bed. My arms also feel tingly and weird. I wonder if these things are related.

  • suffering of jerk … its so annoying, it scares me a lot .. i feel so helpless at the point when i face it .. i just went through one and woke up where i ended googling for the solution to get ‘sound sleep’.. lets discuss more on how we can knock them outta life..

  • I dnno how i can help myself getting rid from this serious problem .. i hate this as I am getting almost evry night these days. I have been doing intense exercise since a month and from that time I have this jerk awaking nights .. I just had one worst jerk and i felt like i will die and woke up .. This is bringing stress in my life .. HELP !

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