We’ve all experienced the sensation before – you’re just about to fall asleep and your body suddenly jerks, often accompanied by a vivid feeling or dream about falling. Often, these nocturnal ‘jumps’ are enough to wake you up, at least for a few minutes.
These are called hypnic jerks. What causes them, and should you be concerned?
Hypnic jerks are actually very common – most people will experience them during their lives, usually when falling asleep when over-tired, or when lying on an uncomfortable bed. However, scientists are not sure as to the underlying cause of hypnic jerks. A leading theory is that they are simply a natural part of the nervous system slowing down in preparation for sleep.
Another theory states that hypnic jerks are due to a misinterpretation by the brain. The brain perceives drifting off to sleep as falling, and jerks you awake to help prevent you from falling over. The medical community considers hypnic jerks to be harmless, but that does not make them any less annoying.
If you are suffering from excessive or sleep-disrupting hypnic jerks, then there are a few things that you can try to help. One option is to change your pillows if they are uncomfortable. You might also consider checking your mattress to see if it needs to be replaced, or at least turned over (which you should do every six months). Meditation before sleep can also help to calm the mind and banish those jerks and twitches.
Finally, eliminating caffeine and alcohol before bedtime might also help you get rid of these jerks, though there is no single proven method that works for everyone. If the problem persists, you might consider seeing a sleep therapist.