Twitching in sleep is something nearly every person has experienced at least once in their lifetime. Twitching in sleep is an incredible occurrence, in which there is muscle movement even during and after we’ve fallen asleep. Such occurrence has been characterized as a body’s response to the transitional period between being awake and falling asleep. But, what happens to our body and how can we explain these sudden jerks and twitches? In the following paragraphs, we’re going to take a brief look at the reasons and causes of sleep twitching, also known as hypnic jerks.
What are hypnic jerks, or twitching in sleep?
Hypnic jerks, or twitching in sleep, are spontaneous, sudden jerking movements that usually occur right before we fall asleep. At sleep onset, brief muscle jerks occur due to the sense of falling asleep and other sensory phenomena we experience in this transition period. It is believed that twitching in sleep occurs during sleep deprivation, stress, fatigue or sleeping problems like insomnia. The triggers of hypnic jerks can vary from person to person.
How do hypnic jerks occur?
It is believed that the occurrence of hypnic jerks is closely associated with sensory phenomena. This means that people experience some kind of fear, a familiar feeling of falling or other unusual and unexplained sensations or feelings. Moreover, an inner shock or light flash can also be considered as direct triggers of these twitches. Other than these possible triggers, twitching in sleep can also occur due to irregular breathing, sudden and uncontrolled reflexes, and tachycardia.
What do hypnic jerks consist of?
Hypnic jerks or twitching in sleep consist of two phases. During the first phase, the jerks are prominent and frequent, as the brain and muscle activity is transferring from the waking state to the state of sleep. This phase is characterized by abrupt and brief flexion and extension movements. The movements are generally characterized by the abrupt arm and leg movement, which can vary from light jerks to strong and more prominent twitches and jerks, that can even wake a person up. People usually describe this phase as having a terrifying, loud bang that wakes them up.
The second phase of the hypnic jerks occurrence is characterized by a significant decrease in the twitching occurrence. The jerks are becoming more segmental and occur randomly in limbs or the neck area. During this phase, a person is already deep into the transition from wakefulness to sleep. Abrupt leg and arm movement, as well as sudden waking up decreases during this phase, and the person is more likely to continue the regular sleep cycle without waking up.
Can twitching in sleep indicate a disease?
Twitching in sleep can indicate sleep or movement disorders in some people. These disorders are generally characterized by twitching and jerks at the sleep onset. Cases with such disorders are pretty rare, so if you believe they can be an indicator of a more complex situation, make sure to discuss it with a medical professional.
- Sleep-Related Rhythmic Movement Disorder – this disorder is typically characterized by occurring during sleep onset and during sleep as well. It is also characterized by an abrupt and sudden movement of large muscle groups in different areas of the body. Some of the most common manifestations of the SRMD include head banging, body or leg rocking to either fall asleep or during sleep. The disorder usually occurs in children, but if left untreated, it can occur in adults as well.
- Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep – this disorder is characterized by repetitive limb movement during the onset of the sleep, as well as during sleep. The movement usually starts with fingers and toes, ankles, flexion and extension of legs, knees, and muscles in general. The disorder can occur in various age groups, but it has become more common in older people. PLMS can also cause other conditions, like sleep problems (insomnia or disrupted sleep), parasomnias episodes (nocturnal skeletal and muscle disturbances), as well as fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Sleep-Related Bruxism – another sleep-related movement disorder is sleep-related bruxism. Sleep-related bruxism is a movement disorder characterized by jaw clenching and teeth grinding during sleep, as well as sleep onset. Bruxism can occur in children as well as in adults. It may lead to deterioration of teeth, joint dysfunction, and jaw damage. Sleep-related bruxism can be easily diagnosed and treated.
How to treat hypnic jerks?
Here are few recommendations on how you can help reduce and eventually stop hypnic jerks from occurring;
- Cut down on caffeine – drinking too much coffee or caffeine-containing teas can increase the frequency, length, and severity of the hypnic jerks you experience. It is important to avoid caffeinated beverages several hours before bedtime.
- Cut down on excessive exercising – exercise is usually known to be good for sleep regulation. However, too much exercising and working out can cause harm to your muscles and nerves, causing them to jitter and jerk during sleep as they try to relax and recover. Therefore, make sure to cut down on heavy exercising, and make sure not to exercise every day.
- Change your diet – eating a healthy, balanced diet can help you fall and stay asleep without experiencing twitching and jerks. Certain types of food make you fall asleep easier and faster, as well as prolong the length of deep sleep.
- Avoid stressing out or getting too tired – anxiety, stress, and tiredness generally cause sleeping disorders or sleep-related movement disorders. Therefore, it is important to focus on relaxation before going to bed. It is also essential to avoid getting too tired and enjoy some rest as well. Before bedtime, do some yoga, inhale exercises or anything else that helps you relax and calm down.
- Take care of your sleeping environment – before bedtime, make sure not to look at screens (this way you’ll let melatonin do its thing). Moreover, make sure to turn all the lights off and cut down all noises. Take care of your sheets; make sure they’re always clean. Also, use a comfortable mattress and pillows. All of this will help your body relax and get in a state of sleepiness.