Have you ever been relaxing in bed, just about to fall asleep, when all of a sudden your whole body twitches and you feel as though you’ve just tripped over something and you’re falling through mid air? Your whole body twitches as you’re jolted awake to save yourself from falling, even though you’ve been lying down in bed the whole time.
They’re called hypnic jerks. You might also hear them being called sleep starts or hypnagogic jerks. It can be pretty scary being jolted awake by one!
Why Do We Get Hypnic Jerks?
You get them because your brain gets confused and thinks you’ve fallen asleep sitting up. It happens just as your muscles begin to relax, right on the edge of sleep.
Have you ever fallen asleep upright in a chair, and just before your head droops too much forward, your body jolts you back awake?
That’s what hypnic jerks are there for. To jolt you back awake if you fall asleep when sitting or standing so you don’t fall over and hurt yourself.
Some scientists think that it’s a survival mechanism that comes from the time we were apes before we evolved into humans. They think that hypnic jerks are there to stop us from falling asleep whilst sitting on a tree branch high above the ground.
What Causes Hypnic Jerks?
You get them when your body has fallen asleep, but your brain is still active.
This can be caused by anything that blocks you from falling asleep, such as:
- Excessive sleep deprivation, such as that caused by insomnia
- Heavy exercise too close to bed
- Too much caffeine late in the day
- Any situation that causes stress and anxiety during the day
Can Hypnic Jerks Ever be a Problem?
Although they feel very strange, they’re totally normal. They’re really common too. It’s estimated that up to 70% of us get them.
For most of us, they’re just a bit of a nuisance. But if you’re getting them multiple times a night, then they can definitely make it much harder to fall asleep.
If you find that you’re getting them so often that it’s preventing you from sleeping, they can definitely become an issue.
How can you Stop Hypnic Jerks?
Here are 4 tips to reduce the occurrence of hypnic jerks or even cut them out entirely:
1. Get Plenty of Sleep
You’re more likely to get hypnic jerks if you’re sleep deprived, so make sure you’re getting at least 7 to 8 hours of good quality sleep per night.
As your sleep improves, hypnic jerks will become less and less. Back when I had insomnia, I used to get them at least once a week. But since ditching insomnia, I think the last had one I had was about 6 months ago. I can’t remember the time I had one before that.
2. Sleep in a Comfortable Bed
The more comfortable and relaxed you are, the less chance your mind has of getting confused and thinking you’ve fallen asleep whilst sitting up.
Sleep in a comfortable position. If you can’t get comfy, make sure your pillow and mattress is up to scratch. If it isn’t, head over to the bedding reviews to discover which pillow or mattress would be best suited for you.
3. Relax before Bed
Have a wind down period before bed. 20 minutes before bed, stop what you’re doing and do something you find relaxing. This will help you disconnect from the day and wind down your body. When you go to bed after your wind down period, you’ll be relaxed and ready to fall asleep quickly and easily.
If you don’t usually feel sleepy just before you go to bed, even after a wind down period, then follow these steps to gain a good sleep schedule.
4. Don’t Panic if you get one
You’re more likely to get a hypnic jerk if you’re anxious and sleep deprived.
For some people, having a hypnic jerk makes them feel even more anxious. And because they’ve just been jolted awake, they feel more sleep deprived.
This makes them more likely to have another. It causes a cycle:
- Feel anxious and sleep deprived
- Feel more anxious and sleep deprived
- Have a hypnic jerk
- Have another hypnic jerk
The only way to escape is to break out of the cycle. If you have a hypnic jerk – relax. Understand that it’s totally normal. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. The more you relax, the less likely you’ll get another one.