A hypnic jerk or a sleep start or night start is that sudden feeling of falling that jolts you out of your sleep. These involuntary twitches in our body, while we are drifting off to sleep, are quite common. In fact, 70% of the population experiences them occasionally. The actual medical term for this involuntary muscle movement is myoclonus or myoclonic jerk. Hypnic jerking is not a disorder or a medical condition but can be quite alarming for people who experience them. Let us answer a few common questions related to these involuntary muscle twitches.
What causes hypnic jerk?
Though there is no definitive answer to this question, there are numerous theories. Many experts point towards anxiety and stress as the plausible cause for these sleep starts. People who have irregular sleeping habits suffer from the hypnic jerk.
According to experts, sometimes when we are exhausted our brain does not shut down normally, and this causes sleep jerks. Some experts believe that our brain misinterprets the relaxing of muscles as a sign that you are falling and jolts you to wake you up.
According to another theory, these twitches happen when our nervous system downshifts for sleep. These twitches occur during the period when our breathing is slowing down, our temperature is falling, and our muscles are relaxing.
Though we all experience hypnic jerk occasionally, their incidence can rise if you are stressed, sleep deprived, drink a lot of coffee and have indulged in strenuous exercise.
Is it a sleep disorder?
No, hypnic jerk is not a sleep disorder. But frequent hypnic jerks can cause panic and anxiety that can lead to sleep deprivation. Some people confuse hypnic jerk with another much more serious sleep disorder called sleep apnea.
During sleep apnea, your air passage gets obstructed, and this can stop your breathing. You may wake up with a start when this happens. This sleep disorder can be quite dangerous and should be treated urgently. The hypnic jerk is different and not as harmful to our health.
What does hypnic jerk feel like?
Many people sleep through hypnic jerk. Others wake up with a start and describe the feeling as something like an electric shock. This feeling of falling jolts many people awake, and they have difficulty going back to sleep. Some people who experience hypnagogic jerk, also experience other symptoms like a racing heartbeat, sweating and quickened breathing.
How can we stop hypnic jerk?
You can stop hypnic jerk by eliminating the things that make the symptoms worse. Here are some of the ways to prevent or reduce the frequency of hypnic jerks.
When you exercise too close to your bedtime, your muscles become tense, and this can cause sleep starts. Exercise is essential for your health but should be done during the day and not when it is time to wind off and relax. Instead, try meditating or do some breathing exercises before your bedtime to help you sleep better.
2. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol is a stimulant and a depressant, which can alter the chemical makeup of the brain and make it difficult to fall asleep. Alcohol consumption can affect the quality of your sleep and make you more prone to hypnic jerks.
3. Reduce caffeine
The first step you can take to stop hypnic jerks is to avoid coffee. Even one cup of coffee in the afternoon can affect your sleep at night. Lack of sleep can lead to sleep starts. If you can’t live without your coffee, have a cup early in the morning.
4. Warm bath
A warm water bath before you get into bed can calm your nerves and relax your muscles and help you sleep better. Hypnic jerk is more common when you are tense, so any calming activity before bedtime will help you sleep without any disturbing twitches.
A relaxing sleep time routine is essential for a good night’s sleep. Try to switch off your mind from all the stresses and worries of the day. Turn off your television, put your phone and laptop away in another room at least half an hour before your bedtime. A more relaxing environment in your bedroom means you will be able to sleep without any hypnic jerk.
6. Relaxing oils and brews
A variety of herbs and essential oils claim to help you relax and sleep better. Chamomile tea is known for its relaxing properties. Eucalyptus oil produces a cooling and relaxing aroma. Try these herbs for more relaxing and uninterrupted sleep.
Calcium and magnesium supplements help your muscles relax and stop them from twitching. According to some experts, muscle spasms are caused by lack of electrolytes in the muscles. Magnesium is an essential electrolyte as it allows your muscles to relax and reduces spasms. You can also include food rich in magnesium like bananas, avocados and nuts. in your diet.
8. Stay hydrated
Our body is made up of 70 percent water. Drink at least eight glasses of water a day to stay hydrated and to avoid muscular twitches.
- Suggested read: How Much Water Should I Drink a Day?
9. Check your medications
Check your medications to see if they have muscular jerks as a side-effect. Certain sleeping pills, painkillers and antihistamines can trigger muscular spasms. Consult your doctor if you think your medications are causing hypnic jerk.
Occasional hypnic jerk is entirely normal and nothing to worry about. However, if these jerks are causing you anxiety and disturbing your sleep, talk to a sleep specialist.
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