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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  • i sometimes get these. One time, i was falling asleep when out of nowhere i dreamt that i fell and woke up with my heart beating and i felt that my right foot just kicked. It really annoys me since overtime, it happens when i am already falling asleep and really sleepy, it just makes my wake up with a shock

    • Hi Lisa
      Thanks for your comment. The best thing you can do is not allow yourself to react negatively to it, but just to shrug it off and accept that it’s a natural thing. And even better, a sign that you’re about to fall asleep – and will do again.

  • I usually get these once or twice a week, sometimes three times.
    Typically one of my legs will suddenly jolt or kick and I’ll awaken a bit disoriented and of course annoyed. Rarely it’ll be my arm will swing out, and even rarer, my head will snap to one side or the other. I do think with my anxiety they are worse than other times. They do also sometimes mess with my sleep and it takes a while to get back on my sleep track as I’ll be laying down thinking about what just happened. All in all, these things suck.

    • Hi Anna
      Thanks for your comment. I think a positive step would be to try not to spend time thinking about it when it happens. As myself, and many readers do, it’s a good thing to shrug it off and see it as a sign that you’re definitely tired and sleep should come soon. Ruminating on it won’t help in any way, and just keep you awake longer.

  • I get this when i am sleep deprived for some time. I am a horrible insomniac, and sometimes do not sleep for days. It is at this time that i experience hypnic jerks. When stressed with no sleep for maybe 3 days. This last bout, from last week, lasted 3 days when i would try to sleep and nearly jump out of bed every time i was about to fall asleep. Maybe the worst i’ve had, but i have had other episodes of the same thing. Lose sleep for a few days, then can’t fall asleep because of the hypnic jerks. What i have found is that if i catch up on a couple hours of sleep a day, they will go away in a few days. Not fun!

    • Hi Jerry
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, hypnic jerks are known to occur more regularly due to sleep deprivation. I guess it’s a good reason in your case to try your best to make sure you always get enough sleep at night. Hopefully you can keep them at bay if you stay on top of your sleep schedule.

  • Been experiencing this almost every night for the last few weeks and as I wake, most of the time I see something, not necessarily scary as such, but scary because it shouldn’t be there. I have come to dread sleep time.

  • Im being shocked while I sleep at the exact same time (around 3:30am). My fan in my room slows down and my night light gets very dim and I am paralyzed and can’t even think. Then very suddenly, everything returns to normal. I called my electric company and they told me about other complaints and that it is an electrical issue. How can I stop this power surge that is shocking me at night? the headaches are so bad that I can’t find an appropriate word for them. It’s really driving me nuts.

    • Hi Steve
      Thanks for your comment. Are you sure it’s a real electrical shock? It could be something happening in your sleep, such as sleep paralysis or sleep hallucinations.

      • Yes it is a real paralyzing electrical shock that dims my lights and slows my fan to almost a stop for about 15 seconds then everything returns to normal. It is causing the paralysis. It is between 3:30 and 3:45 every night for 4 nights now. I unplug my computer and wifi modem and turn off all devices. I have had an electrician out and spent $240 for him to test everything and check for breaks in the protective coating in the wiring. Everything came back fine. My room is very close to the outdoor power lines (approx. 10 feet) and I think it’s due to atmospheric charging. But this is only my best guess. Last night was worse because even after I stood up, I would keep pausing and getting paralyzed for a few seconds and once again the fan slows down and the lights dim. WHILE STANDING UP! The strange part is that my IR camera is completely white and is so bright during these times. I cant see anything on my security cameras when it occurs.

        • Hi Steve
          In that case I’m not sure I can provide any answers for you. I’m not sure what kind of professional you’d need to make further tests to put your mind at ease.

      • Yes it is electric. Even after I wake up and stand up, it happens again and again. Same effects ie. lights dim, fan slows down to almost a stop and I can’t move or thing. But the last 2 nights have been fine. I am thinking it’s related to something electromagnetic. Least that was what I got from some people I consider to be professionals. I told my doctor all of this and he said the same thing as you, that it was sleep paralysis and wanted to give me pills until I asked him why my lights and fan were getting sleep paralysis.

        • Hi Steve
          Have you considered leaving a camera filming your bedroom – pointed at a fan or light? Then if you wake up and find this happening, if you see it happened on the film, you’ll know it was electrical and not sleep paralysis or other hallucination. If nothing shows up, then you can perhaps consider sleep disorders.

  • Hi there when I get them I am sometimes gasping for breath,also I never get them if I doze off on the settee in the evening.They seem to happen more often when going to sleep on my side,Mike.

  • Dear Ethan Green,

    I have read your article with great interest. I’m a master student at the university of Amsterdam studying Brain and Cognition and following the current course, sleep and cognition. Since both my girlfriend and my mother seem to experience hypnic jerks I was motivated to further research this topic. I have found a lot of articles regarding this topic (Hypnagogic state, e.a transitional state or rhythmic sleep disorders) but I wanted to ask if you mind sharing your scientific literature with me if available.

    Secondly, a different but more specific question do you have any idea if the hypnic jerk only appears during the onset of sleep, or is it also possible to occur in the transitional state between the early sleep stages?
    To me, it seems possible that it could also happen between the transition of the REM stage and stage 1sleep related to the (de)activation of many processes.

    Hopefully, can you provide me with some extra information and literature on this topic.

    Kind regards, and keep on writing!
    – Jimmy

    • Hi Jimmy
      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found the article interesting. Unfortunately, I first wrote this article a long time ago, and no longer have the literature to hand that I referred to. It’s due an update though, so will receive the usual links to journals etc. that I do nowadays when I get round to updating it.

      In answer to your question, I just took a look at the ICSD-3 which may have some answers for you. Here’s a quote which I think you might find helpful:

      “Polysomnographic monitoring shows that hypnic jerks occur during transitions from wakefulness to sleep, mainly at the beginning of the sleep episode.”

      Furthermore, this next section also goes on to explain how there are similar movements which aren’t hypnic jerks, but occur at other stages:

      “Hypnic jerks must be differentiated from a number of physiological or pathologic movements that occur at sleep onset or during sleep.”

      I don’t want to copy and paste a massive section of the manual, but if you can access the ICSD-3, you’ll find more information about the different movements it refers to in that quote, including partial hypnic myoclonus, Fragmentary myoclonus, PSM, benign sleep myoclonus of infancy, hyperekplexia syndrome, epileptic myoclonus, PLMD and RLS.


    • Solar charging may also be related to this. The electric company claims they get the most complaints between 3-5am due to the solar charging of the electrical wires. I have no solution for anyone of these effects, if indeed this is the problem. but at least you have some idea of what the problem might be.

  • I’m only fourteen and I often get these hypnic jerks. I don’t think I have anxiety or anything like that, nor do i drink or smoke. But when i get a hypnic jerk, I’m having some pain in the back of my neck. I was starting to get a little worried so i asked my parents if something like that ever happened to them and they said no… should i be worried?

    • Hi Mina
      Thanks for your comment. Hypnic jerks are usually nothing to worry about – most people get them at some point. If you have physical pain in the neck and you’re worried, I’d ask your parents if you can speak to your doctor about it. They can set your mind at ease. It may be totally unconnected though – maybe try a different style/thickness/height of pillow and see if that helps?

  • Thanks so much for this article. I have been researching for a while and finally found the term. I quit smoking a few weeks ago which resulted in a bit of chest congestion and insomnia. I think the combination of the two have brought on hypnic jerks. These jerks really are jerks. I appreciate the information.

    • Hi Steven
      Thanks for your comment. I’m pleased you found the article helpful. It could be that the change and illness contributed to it. Hopefully you’ll get back to normal sleep soon. Good luck with the quitting smoking!

  • I am 46 and started having this body jerking sensations only a few months ago. At first it was once every couple of weeks, then more frequently and now several times a night. Last night I was woken constantly by these jerking movements. This only happens in sleep. Scares the life out of me because I haven’t been having a dream where I’m falling to tripping or anything… just these awful jerking movements. I drink coffee only in the morning, about 1 cup. I like my G&T, but not daily. Am on an anti-anxiety med and could be perimenopausal. Anyway. Scary. And I’m exhausted.

    • Hi Daniella
      Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you’re struggling with your sleep. I’d mention it to your doctor and see if they think it could be the meds. And do try the techniques in the article too and see if they help.

  • I find them
    Stress full and I get a really bad fright from them, sometimes I think I’m going to get a heart attack from the fright of falling and my whole body jerks, I find if I’m really tired they are worse.

    • Hi Mary
      Thanks for your comment. I know they can be stressful, but it’s good to try and stay calm about them. You can try some of the techniques in the article and see if they help. But do remind yourself that they are harmless – if you can, remind yourself that they mean you’re tired and sleep shouldn’t be too far away.

  • I had severe “jolts” at night for many years, really scary, but it stopped not long after I quit drinking coffee. I used to drink 3 to 5 cups a day.

    • Hi Johan
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, coffee can be a real problem when it comes to sleep. It’s great you worked that out and had success with stopping drinking it.

  • Mine is a bang behind my eyeballs, sometimes I can feel it coming on and wake myself up before it happens. When It does happen it is like I am lethargic for the rest of the day.

  • The excessive body jerks don’t wake me, they do however wake my wife who in turn wakes me (grumbling or loudly sighing).
    The jerks that bother me are the occasional ones which happen very randomly at least 1 or 2 times a day. No warning, no way to stop it, yet very noticeable by others.
    Around the time it started, I noticed I am very sensitive to touch (I’ll react with a jerk when someone taps my shoulder to ask a question).
    I’m a personal trainer and I drink enough fluid, I also take a Calcium Magnesium +D3 complex daily. If I could get rid of stress without giving up my job or family, I would.
    Is there any recommendations to stop them from happening?

    • Hi Mike
      Thanks for your comment. Other than the ideas in the article, there’s not much more I can add. The only thing I wonder is if you’re doing a lot of physical exercise yourself? Some other readers have commented that they think it only happens when they train hard. Perhaps this is something to experiment with and see if it happens less on days you train less harder yourself.

  • I am 63 years old and I started having “body jerks” a few months ago…..I went to the doctors and she said to try and alleviate my stress and anxiety, Only my torso jerks, not my legs or arms…it’s like someone is jump starting my whole body…..I have been a caregiver for my mother for seven years now without a break and it is starting to wear on me………I believe that I need to find something to take my mind off my situation and probably this will help with my jerks. The jerks don’t scare me, they are just a nuisance and cause me the much needed sleep that I need in order to make sure my mom has the best care. I think I need to learn to cope better. NMN

    • Hi Nancy
      Thanks for your comment. I can understand the stress it causes you, but as you say, it might be good to try and deal with them in a different way. You can try some of the ideas in the article, but as your doctor says, dealing with anxiety might be good. I think you might benefit from doing breathing exercises in bed. They can help by both reducing anxiety and focusing your mind on something else.

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