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.


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 500mg 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.

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

There isn’t much research published about hypnic jerks, mainly because it’s thought to be harmless, so I’m interested to know what your experience is.

How often do you have them? What seems to make them worse or more frequent? What do you find helps to reduce them?

Please share your experiences in the comments box below and help out other readers with your ideas and theories. And if you just want a place to express what you’ve been going through, then you’re most welcome to do so here.

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739 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Very helpful article
    I’ve suffered with anxiety for a long time and on sertraline for about a year and this has helped a lot.
    I’ve always had Jerks as I fall asleep but now it has changed into a shout as well, unsure why

    • Hi Jason
      Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you found the article helpful. That is quite unusual – have you spoken to anyone about it?

  • I’ve had these for one year and they caused havoc in the beginning. I would suggest listening to binaural sounds for calming and nerve regeneration. They are free on YouTube and are a great tool.

    • Hi Juan
      Thanks for your comment. That’a a good suggestion – anything which helps you stay calm. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I also have an article listing some music I think is good for relaxation, along with spotify playlists. You can find the article here.

  • I’m 53, I started experiencing the muscle twitches about a year ago, during a stressful period.They happen several times every night, its annoying but I know I’m falling asleep as they start. I don’t know if they’ll ever stop.

    • Hi Mandy
      Thanks for your comment. You could try some of the tips in the article and see if they help. And if you know stress could be a trigger, it might be good to do some relaxation exercises before going to sleep.

  • Hi Ethan. I am doing some research for my mum. She keeps having a reoccurring dream in which she falls. When she wakes she feels very shaken and unsettled. This falling sensation is after she has been asleep for awhile and not as she is falling asleep. Have you ever heard of anything like this?

    • Hi Karen
      Thanks for your comment. It could be then that it’s not hypnic jerks, but a nightmare. One theory about why we dream is that we se it to practice events in real life which concern us. That’s a reason people have so many dreams of being chased or attacked for example. Perhaps your mum is worried about falling in real life. If so, maybe it would be helpful to speak to a professional about this, to get some reassurance? Just an idea!

  • Hi Ethan, thank for the very informative article. I experience several jolts at once, and wake up gasping for breath. It feels as if my heart or breath kick-started. I did had hypnic jerks in the past, the ones that you feel that you are falling, but what I experience at the moment is quite different and very strong, especially the multiple jolts at once. I have it on and off for many years, and the last months it got worse, so I was referred to a sleep clinic to see if I have apnea. I am constantly tired, and I don’t sleep very well, especially the nights that it occurs frequently.

    In the past I have also experienced the exploding head syndrome that you describe.

    • Hi Maria
      Thanks for your comment. Hopefully the sleep study will be able to get to the bottom of whatever is disturbing your sleep so much. And you can try out some of the ideas in the article here – hopefully they will help a little.

  • I have many of the same experiences as others, however one added component is my mind has a “random generator,” and my mind will flash to something often very odd then I get the jerking etc. Some nights after having these I merely sleep just below the surface and dream all night. I know I my REM sleep suffers. A couple of products I tried that helps some are: (1) “Calm Tabs” sold by Puritans Prid(contains Valerian Root, Hops, Passion Flower and a few other ingredients that help relax, (2) Magnesium Citrite, and (3) GABA. Be careful with malatonin, as too large a dose can have an effect on you the next day or night, (1 mg tops). If you drink alcohol to fall asleep, you may be kind of “passing out,” and then you have to “learn” how to fall asleep. Anyone have advice on the restless mind random thoughts generated by the min?

    • Hi, I am 60 years old and for many years I have drunk enough that when my head hits the pillow I fall asleep immediately. Recently I have nearly stopped drinking and now have problems sleeping I lie wide awake in my bed for hours. As I drop off to sleep my whole body shakes me awake like it does not want me to sleep.Why is this. I am very tired but it is like my body does no want me to sleep. Its not a jerk that I have experienced before when I have started to fall asleep in a chair and suddenly bolt upright as if I was falling. My whole body shakes as if I am shivering. Any ideas please.

      • Hi John
        Thanks for your comment. It’s not certain, but it’s possible it’s a withdrawal symptom from the alcohol. You could ask your doctor about this if you’re worried. It will stop eventually, as it’s usually a short period of time that it happens. It’s normally a good idea to reduce the quantity slowly, or get medical help to stop drinking, because of the risk of withdrawal symptoms. But if you’ve already been doing it, then hopefully it will subside. If you can speak to a doctor about it though, it might be a good idea to get their guidance and support.

  • Hi Ethan

    As promised I said I would let you know how I have gotten on with trying some of the suggestions.

    It has been a little over 2 weeks now since this issue started for me and my initial post to this blog. At this stage I wouldn’t say that the jerks have completely subsided but they are less frequent and not anywhere near as violent as they were when they started.

    Here is what I have been doing.

    1. I have cut down my caffeine intake to just 1 cup of coffee in the morning and not drinking any other caffeinated drinks.

    2. Doubled my water consumption to around 3.5 liters of water per day.

    3. Started eating a lot more fresh produce that contains magnesium such as bananas and avocados.

    4. Almost completely cut out alcohol.

    5. Changed my bedtime routine to include a long relaxing bath.

    This has really worked for me so thought I would share this with everyone else on the forum. I also think that now knowing that these jerks are not serious has also played a part in me not being so anxious therefore not exacerbating things more.


    • Hi George
      Thanks for your comment, and it’s great to hear from you again! It’s also fascinating and encouraging to hear that you’ve had some success with these methods. You may be right about anxiety playing a role too, but there’s no doubt that the healthier lifestyle you’ve adopted and more relaxing and stable routine will have a positive effect on your sleep.
      Well done for making these changes and I hope you continue to sleep better and better.

  • My jerking during sleep started a month ago, when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease.
    Wondering if that is a ‘common’ symptom of Lyme?

    • Hi Judy
      Thanks for your comment. I know some people do complain of muscle spasms and twitches with Lyme disease. You could try the tips in the article, but I’d check with your doctor first before taking supplements like magnesium

  • I am 56 years old and I have hypnic jerks for more than 1 years. Everytime I am about to fall asleep, my body will jerk me up. Sometime it is either the hand or waist that will jerk. The more tired I am, the harder the jerk which will wake me up. If I sleep on my left side, my right hand will jerk and if I sleep on the right side, my left hand will jerk. If I sleep on my side with both hand grasp together, my waist will jerk.
    I have see a psychiatrist which prescribe stilnox 12.5g and it work for awhile. I also see a neurologist which prescribed clanozepam which only work for 1 day as the body seem to be able to adjust to the medication. I have see a specialised in sleep disorder and was prescribed gabapentin which also work for 1 day.
    Now I am taking Chlorphenamine (piriton) 4 mg every night to help me sleep. It does not stop the jerking but I am able to fall into deep sleep after about 3 hours. Before I fall asleep, I still have jerk but I just lie on the bed and wait for the Chlorphenamine to take effect.
    I also have panic attack every 3 to 4 months and my psychiatrist prescribed Lexaton 1.5 mg which I only take 1 pill when I have the attack and it work straight away.
    I know my problem is due to stress because when I have less stress, the jerking also become milder.
    I also drink and if I drink alot of alcohol, I can have a good sleep but I can not be drinking everyday so I alternated between Chlorphenamine and alcohol. So far, with this arrangement, my medical report is good and manage to have a good sleep.

    • Hi Desmond
      Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you’ve had quite a range of medications there to try and help with sleep and other issues. Have you investigated ways to try and reduce the stress through other non-drug means? Perhaps it might help, if you know stress is a cause, to tackle it more naturally. An approach I recommend to readers regularly is mindfulness. It’s very helpful for dealing with stress, anxiety, worry etc. You can find lots of info about it online, and also an article I wrote about using mindfulness techniques to sleep better.

  • This literally just happened to me, and I had no clue what it was called. Haven’t been getting the best sleep lately, and I have a bit of anxiety at work. I’ve had ranging feelings, anywhere from just a pulse behind my eyes, to making my whole body jump up into a sitting position. Thanks for posting this article. It has been very helpful.

    • Hi there
      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found the article helpful – that’s always good to know. Now you know what it is, perhaps you won’t find it easier to pass by and relax again afterwards.If you can, then best thing is to just stay calm, ignore it and go back to sleep.

  • I had pass out and pacemaker is inserted for the last 2 years. After hard work I use to watch TV after 8 hours hard work. after taking tea while watching YV I fall asleep and suddenly body jerk happens and balance my sitting position. Is this brain stroke problem or BP problems.

    • Hi H.L Mali
      Thanks for your comment. It could be a hypnic jerks from what you describe. But just to be on the safe side, you could talk to your doctor about it and ask their opinion.

  • My problem started about a year ago, when I was about 57. I sleep on my side and the upper leg jerks each time as I’m almost asleep. Then I roll over and try to use the now upper leg to, completely as possible, immobilize the lower leg so the jerking isn’t quite so bad. Sometimes it jerks intermittently for over an hour, each time as I’m almost asleep. No ‘I’m falling dreams’ and I can sometimes feel it building in the leg. Always just one leg. It use to happen here and there, but now it’s every night.

    • Hi David
      Thanks for your comment. Perhaps you could try the tips in the article and see if they help. Many readers have found that they can control it with a change in diet or supplements for example.

  • I’m 16 and I have been experiencing this for almost a year I think, it happens every few weeks. I can’t recall if I exercised those days or not. I go jogging in the morning or late at night so it’s not hot. When I experience these “hypnic jerks” It feels like I’m falling or tripping. My body twitches, like my back lifts up a little it’s almost like i was being shocked by those things that doctors use to bring patients back. I can fall asleep afterwards within minutes, but I would like to know or how to know why this is happening.

    • Hi Alfred
      Thanks for your comment. I think that really there isn’t much more of an explanation than in the article. It’s so common, that I think unless it’s severe and disrupting your sleep, the best thing is just to accept it as “one of those things” that happens to most people and is nothing to worry about and no need to try and work out the exact cause in your case. If you think of hiccups, for example, sure we can try and work out if we ate too quickly but really, we just laugh it off and wait for it to pass.

  • Hi There,
    Great website. I had the same issues & then went to a doctor who diagnosed me with Pyrolles Disorder. Really reduced the frequency of the jerks & is treated by natural vitamins which are made in a lab as body does not absorb zinc which is very important in functions of the brain/neurotransmitters to the brain. Hope this helps someone

    • Hi Joanne
      Thanks for your comment and the compliment – much appreciated! Your story is very interesting and perhaps it will help someone else. It’s great that you received the diagnosis and got help from your doctor.

  • I have a remedy, but I am afraid it can’t be used without a doctor’s prescription:

    Clonazepam 1mg tablet = 100% remedy

    Take 1/4th or half a tablet 1 hour before sleeping (only at night) . Sleep well! World Everytime… Without exceptions.

    I am now sure my hypnic jerks are related to my weight lifting sessions. 100% sure!

    They never happen other days. Just days with bodybuilding sessions or other heavy physical activity. The longer my weight lifting session, the worst they appear .

    • Hi Ham zed
      Thanks for your comment. You’re right in that that’s only a prescription medication and not the best to be taking if other things can be done. It’s interesting what you say about the gym work – others have said the same thing!

  • Hi Ethan. Laying in bed it’s nearly 3 in the morning and for me it’s day 2 of what almost definitely sounds like hypnic jerks. As I am just drifting off to sleep I am involuntary awakened by an almost electric shock followed by extreme anxiety. Have to say I have found this a really scary experience.

    I am going to try quite a few of your suggestions and will let you know how I get on.

    Thanks for an amazingly informative article which has somewhat put my mind at ease.

    • Hi George
      Thanks for your comment and your kind words. I’m very happy you found the article helpful. Let’s hope you have some luck with the suggestions – do let me know how it goes.

  • Hi. I’m posting a question. I have occasional hypnic jerks (they are less frequent now because of my accupuncture therapy). Even though I’m less affected by them now than previously, it still terrifies my the thought of needing to take anything chemichal, like antibiotics or shots (vaccines) and then have as a result frequent hypnic jerks again. Has anyone here had that experience of an increase in hypnic jerks due to antibiotics or shots? (My doctor says I need to take a tetanus vaccine and also hepatitis B vaccine, but I keep putting it off). Thank you.

    • Hi Ariana
      Thanks for your comment. I haven’t personally noticed this effect from taking antibiotics or shots. Perhaps another reader will also you as well with their thoughts. I think it’s important to get those shots though if the doctor advises it, scary as it may be.

  • I have been suffering from this torture for over 3 years now. When it first started, I didn’t get a single minute of sleep for 4 days straight. I was terrified. Saw about 4 doctors including a trip to the ER and nothing they gave me helped. Even the strong Zopiclone only put me out for 3 hours and then back at it with the jerks. Finally I saw my old family doctor in desperation and tears and he prescribed me Clonazepam. I wasn’t hopeful but he assured me it would help. The first night I took a 1mg pill I slept a whole 6 hours. I was in years I was so happy and relieved. Fast forward a few years…I am still on Clonazepam. A very low dosage but sometimes need to take more from time to time. It pretty much gave me my life back…to some extent. But it really bothers me that I have to take a strong drug in order to sleep-something your body should be able to do naturally. This is a very scary, frustrating and depressing thing to go through. I’ve even had thoughts that death would be so much easier. I would never wish this upon anyone. And I know there are many others dealing with the same torture. Check out the blog “The man who cannot sleep” All I can do is pray and hope that my voice will be heard.

    • Hi Kira
      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been struggling so long with sleep troubles, and the effect it’s had on your feelings. It sounds to me like you could do with some extra support. Have you spoken to your doctor about the low mood you’ve been feeling? It’s important to mention that you’ve been having such thoughts if you’re taking strong medication, because the doctor should think about whether or not it’s actually the best thing for you. They can also have a think about referring you to some kind of talking therapist. That’s always a positive step to take, and can help a lot with depressed moods. And if ultimately you feel bad about continuing to take the clonazepam, tell your doctor that! Maybe they can help you with alternatives and/or stop it and try some other approaches.
      Stay strong and don’t give up hope!

  • I’ve suffered with sleep jumping for the last 5years .. The best thing I’ve found is a 7.30pm bikram yoga class .. You will sleep like a new born. Try it ..

  • Is it possible that your body doesn’t twitch at all during hypnic jerks? Or is one usually not aware of twitching muscles? Last night I had these jolts over and over again, probably about 20 times. I kept changing my sleeping position thinking it won’t happen again but it did, although sometimes they were more mild. I’ve had them before but only maybe two times in my life and then it only happens once in a night, so this was really strange. It feels like some force of sorts rushes from the top of my head through my brain. Eventually I fell asleep and I have a bit of a headache now in the morning. I wonder if I could have had some awareness of falling asleep which then freaked me out and woke me up. It seems different from a feeling of falling (I’ve had those too) but perhaps it’s a different way of experiencing the same thing. For me they definitely seem to happen when I feel more awareness during the day. Anyway, thank you for the article, it makes it less scary :)

    • Hi Rush
      Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure I quite understand the initial question though as it sounds like you did have the twitching sensation. But I think that yes, it’s possible that sometimes the body has hypnic jerks but you don’t realise because they are mild and don’t startle you awake so much as other times. What you say later does seem to happen to some people – the awareness itself can be distressful and trigger the mind to wake up and start thinking about what just happened and the whole concept of falling asleep. That in itself can then keep people awake.

  • Wow!
    This is such a wonderful and informative article!
    Thank you. I think I finally know what is happening to me.
    It all started a year sho when I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like I am falling, I panicked and got scared that I was about to die. I ran to my husband and told him that I don’t understand what is happening, but I feel weird and shaky. I couldn’t fall asleep till the morning. As I was driving to work that day, I felt like my left hand was not mine. I got panicky again and took an exit to ER. My heart was racing as I made it to the ER. I felt embarrassed and started crying because I couldn’t even explain to the nurse why I came.
    The told me I was having a panic/ anxiety attack and gave me Xanax
    I went home and it all went away.
    I started acupuncture and chiropractic appointments as I refuse to be on Xanax every time it happens.
    I did good for a while. Dec. 30th of last year was when I was driving back from work when a full blown panic/ anxiety happened with me while driving. I drive myself to ER once again. I explained to them I am fully aware that it is most likely a panic attack, but couldn’t stop feeling the urgency to reassure myself I am not diying to see a doctor.
    I refused medication. Doctor did EKG on my heart and said it was perfect. I continued my weekly acupuncture which I think helps me tremendously. No major set backs. I had a few sleep starts , but was able to go back to sleep right away.
    Recently, it was June 4th, my cousin’s huge BBQ party. I had drinks and lots of food , that night I had a huge indigestion and couldn’t sleep for the most part of the night.
    The next few days felt weird, but manageable and than I started having non stop panic: day, night. I am afraid to go to bad, and I am not happy to drive to work or be at work as I am always anticipating that another attack is about to happen.
    My doctor prescribed Paxil I refuse to take as I am trying to find an answer why and what is exactly happening with my mind and my body.
    It’s almost 3 am now, I couldn’t fall asleep as I felt needles and picks in my fingers and shaky feeling ( I did have a drink with my girlfriend last night).
    So I got up and googled ” what wakes me up as I am falling asleep” and found this article.
    I am very great full I did because now I will suggest this to my doctor and acupuncturist and see if maybe it all started because of this hypnic jerks and if some one ( like docs in ER or my regular physician) would explain it to me, I wouldn’t have had developed this crazy panic attacks and anxiety due to the weird feeling while falling asleep.
    My mom has been experiencing something similar, but described it as heart pounding and anxiousness waking up in the middle of the night that sets her off for a sleepless night of full blown anxiety and diarrhea because she thinks she is about to die.
    I wish doctors knew more about it and listened to my when it first happened t night. I strongly believe it is exactly hypnic jerks that woke me up the first time and gave me the scare of my life and set me off to develop anxiety and panic. I am a control freak and it is very unsettling to go to doctors and realize they know less than one does when it comes to such a common occurrence ( according to your survey)
    Thank you for this article, I know for sure I will be more at peace now going to sleep knowing that what is happening is normal for some.
    In the meantime I did my blood work last week and waiting for results to see maybe there is some sort of misbalance in my system. When I did it a year ago when it all started, blood was normal for all the things that my doctor suggested could have triggered anxiety.

    Thank you again for a great, detailed article!

    • Hi Irene
      Thanks for your comment and kind words about the article. Sorry to hear you’ve been having such a horrible time with panic attacks and anxiety. Panic attacks truly are an unpleasant thing to deal with.
      It does sound like you probably had a hypnic jerks in the beginning which then set you into a vicious circle of worrying about sleep etc. Hopefully knowing this now will help you relax about sleep, and if it does happen again, be able to to shrug it off as something harmless.

  • I just go out of bed after trying since midnight to fall asleep. These “shocks” are annoying, but I am not worried about it. I get it every now and again and can’t seem to pinpoint why. This article is, by far, the most thorough one I’ve read on the subject. (I hate forums; a bunch of people talking about the problem and not the solution.) This piece has given me some ideas as to how to approach this problem. Very good article, thanks.

    • Hi Lii
      Thanks for your comment and your kind words. I’m very glad you found the article so helpful and that you have some new ideas to tackle the hypnic jerks. Hopefully they will help you get some peaceful sleep again.

  • I’m 51 and have been struggling with some kind of sleep disorder since I was ten. I’ve had several sleep studies and the doctors are baffled. Just as I’m falling asleep I wake up gasping for air. Sometimes I scream help at the top of my lungs. Many times I wake up with my hand and arm feeling like pins and needles. I feel like I’m dying. Are these symptoms common with hypnic jerks? I’ve done some research and it sounds like another possibility could be nocturnal seizures which my sleep doctor highly doubts because nothing showed up on the EEG during my sleep studies but of course the gasping didn’t happen during the sleep study. I do have sleep apnea but this is something different. During my most recent sleep study, using my CPAP, it showed that the apnea is 100% controlled. I had a doctor mention hypnic jerks, sleep terrors and nocturnal panic attacks. Another one wants to look into laryngical spasms or a tic. None of these things seem to match most of the symptoms I have. I’m sick of feeling tired all the time and just want to know what it is.

    • Hi Cheryl
      Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you’ve had such a terrible time sleeping and that the doctors haven’t yet managed to pinpoint the cause. What you describe doesn’t exactly sounds like hypnic jerks to be honest. But perhaps there could be an element of it mixing in with other things. I think the main thing is to keep working with your doctors. They are the real experts and eventually will hopefully be able to give you the answers and support you need – far more than I could in the comments here!
      It’s well known that sleep clinics often don’t bring out normal sleep patterns in people due to all the wires and the general clinical setting. It’s not the easiest thing to get around unfortunately. I’d say don’t give up hope that they’ll get to the bottom of it.

    • Cheryl, Firstly, sorry to hear about your experiences. Secondly….you’ve just described exactly what I have been experiencing. I’m 46 years old. The trigger for me to enter periods of time when i have these night time experiences is stress. I run my own business and in 2009 (post crash) and at other times of life being highly stressful. , I had several months of going to bed; then, just as I’m dropping off to sleep i jerk back awake, feeling as though I’ve stopped breathing and that my heart has stopped, including the pins and needles in my arms and hands. I generally shout “no, no, no” and gasp for air. I’ve even gone so far as to beat my own chest, as at that moment i feel like I need to get my heart beating again. Sometimes it feels like “I’ve forgotten how to breath” or that my body won’t let me breath. As soon as I become awake everything settles down again, more or less immediately. On a bad night this cycle might happen 7 to 10 times before I go to sleep properly. After falling asleep I generally have a normal and half decent nights sleep. Experiencing this is extremely draining and upsetting and I have gone through phases where going to bed has felt like an “unsafe” thing to do, which is a horrible feeling. The longer it goes on the more tired i become and the more depressing the experience becomes. Barring some hideous illness I’m unaware of, I’m very convinced that stress coupled with anxiety is the cause. Do you have a very stressful time? Is there any underlying or historical traumas which might contribute to you being highly stressed? I’m not a qualified therapist or anything like that but what you describe is exactly what happens to me and I’m as sure as I can reasonably be that stress is the cause.

      I don’t want to share too much but suffice to say that childhood trauma and the legacy of that (which I’ve had years of therapy for) had lead me to be an extremely stressed out and anxious person in general, so that when the “normal stresses and strains” of adult life descended upon me I was not able to manage them or find a “mature” perspective for them. The result of this was (and sometimes still is) getting ridiculously stressed and anxious, and losing a reasonable perspective on events. It’s at these times this sleep “thing” hits me worst.

      So how do i manage it and what do I do to try and get out of the cycle? Take a holiday, lie on a beach, play with the children and try and get a more realistic perspective on my life is one way, de-stress myself as best I can. I hate to say this because no doubt this flies in the face of everything a properly trained doctor (which i’m most definitely not) would say…. a couple of glasses of decent red wine during the course of the evening can stop it happening completely. Obviously I’m not saying that self medicating with alcohol is a great Idea, clearly it isn’t….but the truth of my experience is that it does help. I don’t drink every night and have never been a big drinker but when I’m having these times I will open the odd bottle of wine midweek and have a couple of glasses.

      Incidentally, I did go to the doctors about it as I was getting scared about how often it was happening. After I’d explained my current life circumstances, and she’d taken my blood pressure and heart rate, all of which was fine, she just looked at me and said” you’re stressed….who wouldn’t be”.

      Thats about it, suffice to say that I’m sorry you’re experiencing this as I know how horrible it can be. I hope you find a “cure”. If you do let me know!!

      • Hi Andrew
        I know you addressed your comment to another reader specifically, so I won’t jump in too much. However, I did want to ask if you’ve been tested for sleep apnea? When you mention waking up feeling like you can’t breathe, it made me wonder if that’s something you’ve ruled out.
        And on another note, in case you’re interested, as well as wine (which does help, I know!) have you ever heard of mindfulness? It’s fantastic for coping with stress and anxiety in my experience. Have a look online about it, or check out this article I wrote if you’re interested.

  • I started getting them after my 2 year old gave me a concussion. I thought it was head trauma since i didnt get an mri of my noggin. Then i thought it was my heart or my anxiety and last resort was an over active thyroid and kidney tumor… I did a whole lot of searching and worrying about this until one comment mentioned sleep starts. When i looked it up i seen how many people suffer from this as well i felt a little better knowing i wasnt going to die in my sleep. I decided to try an app its called Relax Meditation. It helps me relax and de-stress. Now i still get them and i can feel when an attack is about to happen i start to feel scared or on edge and it builds but as long as i ride it out, without over thinking it and put my relaxing sounds on, i usually only end up having one mild attack instead of all night. as far as medical i have a drs appointment thursday and he will tell me the results of blood work but so far i know my horomones have changed, and fingers crossed, hopefully when they resolve that these awful nights stop. But anyone looking to try it i highly recommend trying this app. its free for most of the sounds and three or four meditations. Relax Melodies.

    • Hi Renee
      Thanks for your comment. Wow, your 2 year old gave you a concussion! That must have been quite something!
      I’ glad you managed to find something which helps you sleep better. I think relaxation and meditation techniques are a very effective tool for dealing with many different sleep problems. Thanks for the idea of the App you like.

  • I get something like this where my heart starts pounding what appears like a few moments after falling asleep. I the start sweating and start the process all over again which can happen basically all night and appears I get no sleep and am literally physically exhausted. Sounds like I am doing a fair bit of worrying and that this may be partially cause of this insane cycle. It comes and goes and need to work on the techniques here. In a way doing a technique is sort of admitting you’ll have an issue and feeds into the worry cycle. Benzo’s kill this cycle but try not to use them to frequently.

    • Hi Tony
      Thanks for your comment. It sounds like you’ve been having a pretty awful time trying to sleep. I can understand what you mean about avoiding admitting there’s an issue. But it seems quite clear to me that you’ve already admitted to yourself that there’s an issue. So there’s absolutely no harm in trying things to improve it – after all, those things are there to help.
      I’m thinking from what you say that anxiety, stress, an over-active mind or whatever it may be is playing a big part here. My advice would be to try going down the nighttime relaxation techniques route, as well as trying some of the other techniques in the article. But I suspect from what you say that working on your anxiety levels at night may have a positive effect.

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