What Is a Hypnagogic Jerk and Is There a serious Health Issue

A hypnic jerk is a common term for a sudden twitching that occurs as someone is falling asleep. The jarring sensation often causes the person to wake up and wander around for a moment before getting back to sleep. Sometimes an individual will experience this feeling while wide awake without falling asleep, such as when nodding off in class or at work.

*Sometimes, people hallucinate when falling asleep or waking up. These are called hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucinations. These are considered harmless episodes that affect your sleep quality.

*However, hypnic jerks may indicate a serious health issue if they happen frequently and during the day as well as at night. Hypnic jerks that feel like a mild seizure or an electric shock should be discussed with your doctor. 

*Hypnic jerks may indicate narcolepsy, seizures and other sleep disorders if they affect your daily life, such as affecting your job and ability to drive safely.

What Is a Hypnagogic Jerk and Is There a serious Health Issue

A hypnic jerk is that feeling of falling and then waking up just before you hit the ground. You wake yourself up with a sudden jolt, similar to when someone jumps on your bed and you almost fall off.

People also report hearing an audible pop at the moment of the shock. The jolts can be so jarring that they cause people to jump out of bed and wander around for a few minutes before getting back to sleep.

Hypnic jerks may also wake people up during their sleep, causing them to notice that they were starting to doze off or fall asleep. People describe these hypnic jerks as feeling like an electric shock or a mild seizure.

The sensation is most common in childhood, affecting up to 70% of children under 11 years old. It usually goes away by adolescence. But people who don’t experience it as children can start having hypnic jerks at any time during their life.

What Causes Hypnic Jerks

There are several possible explanations for hypnic jerks. They may be caused by the natural changes that take place in your muscles, nerves and brain as you fall asleep. But hypnic jerks can also occur in people who don’t have narcolepsy or other sleep disorders.

For example, when your body moves from a waking state to a sleeping state, your breathing may suddenly stop and restart. Your heart rate slows down 10 to 20 beats per minute and brain waves (also called EEG activity) slow from their waking patterns into sleep patterns.

If you’re relaxed but awake as you fall asleep – for example, if you’re not tired enough – you might notice hypnic jerks and other physical changes that take place as you enter sleep. You may also notice hypnic jerks or other symptoms if you’re abruptly awakened from a deep sleep.

If you have narcolepsy with cataplexy, your brain isn’t making enough of the chemical hypocretin, which regulates wakefulness and helps keep muscle activity steady. When you’re awake, your muscles are constantly contracting and relaxing without your control. Just before you fall asleep or when you wake up, those muscle contractions may cause a hypnic jerk as they relax all at once.

Hypnic jerks can also be caused by seizure disorders like epilepsy. Seizures often occur with abnormal EEG activity similar to sleep activity. Sleep deprivation may also cause hypnic jerks, along with other symptoms of sleep deprivation such as hallucinations and mental confusion.

In other cases, a person has no clear reason why they experience hypnic jerks. In infants, these twitches are normal and even necessary for development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be placed on their backs when they sleep to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Some people believe that hypnic jerks are just dreams or images from your subconscious. Some researchers note that hypnagogic hallucinations could come from the brain’s attempt to interpret the sensory information it receives during waking and sleeping states.

In other words, your brain doesn’t know the difference between things you see as you fall asleep and real things in front of you, so it may try to make sense of those sensory signals by creating images from memories. In some cases, hypnic jerks are simply an automatic response that has nothing to do with falling asleep or waking up.

In most cases, hypnic jerks aren’t a sign of a serious health issue. But they can be troubling and uncomfortable, at the least. If you’re not sleeping well or have other symptoms associated with hypnic jerks, such as fatigue during the day or vision problems, see your doctor for a sleep evaluation to see if you have narcolepsy with cataplexy.

The best way to prevent hypnic jerks is to get enough sleep each night and avoid sleeping too much during the day. You can also try relaxation techniques before bedtimes, such as yoga or meditation, that may help reduce your body’s sudden muscle contractions when falling asleep.

FAQ

Are hypnagogic jerks serious?

The only time to be concerned about hypnic jerks is when they are waking you up at night. Generally, waking up abruptly can cause some lightheadedness or dizziness. If that’s the case, it might mean that you are not sleeping on a proper mattress.

Are hypnagogic jerks seizures?

Hypnic jerks are a mild form of sleep disorder that may be related to epilepsy. In this sleep disorder, the person has abrupt muscle contractions or movements just as they fall asleep from being in a relaxed state. It is more common for people who have it to experience these hypnic jerks when they’re feeling very tired and about to fall asleep.

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