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    What Does It Mean if You Experience Hypnic Jerks?

    Hypnic jerks are sudden, involuntary muscle movements you may experience as you are falling asleep. Learn what may cause them and how to prevent them.

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    Hypnic Jerks

    Updated March 11, 2022

    Written by

    Austin Meadows, Sleep Product Tester

    Medically Reviewed by

    John DeBanto, Internal Medicine PhysicianFact Checked

    Our dedicated team rigorously evaluates every article, guide, and product to ensure the information is accurate and factual. Learn More

    Our dedicated team rigorously evaluates every article and guide to ensure the information is factual, up-to-date and free of bias.

    In This Article

    What Do Hypnic Jerks Feel Like?

    What Causes Hypnic Jerks?

    Are Hypnic Jerks Dangerous?

    How To Prevent Hypnic Jerks

    Listen to this article

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    Hypnic jerks — also called sleep starts — are sudden, involuntary muscle contractions you may experience as you are falling asleep1. Hypnic jerks are a type of myoclonus2, which is a category of rapid, involuntary muscle movements. Hiccups3 are another type of myoclonus. Hypnic is short for hypnagogic4, a word that describes the transition between wakefulness to sleep, which is when these jerks occur.

    What Do Hypnic Jerks Feel Like?

    Hypnic jerks occur seemingly at random as you’re falling asleep, and typically only affect one side of the body, such as your left arm and left leg. You may experience a single jerk, or multiple in succession, before your body relaxes again.

    In addition to the jerking movement, it’s common to experience other sensations or mental imagery along with a hypnic jerk, such as a dream or hallucination. People often report feeling like they’re falling, seeing flashing or blinding lights5, or hearing banging, crackling, or snapping sounds. For the most part, hypnic jerks are painless, although some people do report a tingling or painful sensation.

    Hypnic jerks can feel different at different times. Sometimes they’re strong enough to jolt a person awake and disrupt the process of falling asleep. Other times, they’re so mild that the affected person doesn’t notice them at all — although their sleep partner might.

    Hypnic jerks occur at any age, but they’re more common among adults. In part, this may be due to the fact that some of their potential causes, such as caffeine consumption and elevated stress levels, are also more common in adulthood.

    What Causes Hypnic Jerks?

    Researchers do not know for sure what causes hypnic jerks, but they have a few theories. Hypnic jerks and other types of myoclonus start in the same part of your brain that controls your startle response. When you fall asleep, researchers suspect that a misfire sometimes occurs between nerves in the reticular brainstem, creating a reaction that leads to a hypnic jerk.

    For example, it may be that when your muscles relax completely, even though that’s a normal part of falling asleep, your brain mistakenly assumes you are really falling and reacts by twitching your muscles. It’s also possible that hypnic jerks are a physical reaction to the dream-like imagery that accompanies them.

    Certain risk factors may increase your likelihood of experiencing a hypnic jerk, including excessive caffeine and stimulant consumption, vigorous exercise before sleep, emotional stress, and sleep deprivation.

    Excessive Caffeine or Nicotine Consumption

    Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine wake up your brain6. These substances can also stay in your system for several hours, disrupting sleep. In one study, people who stopped drinking coffee a full six hours before bed7 still had trouble falling asleep. Having too much caffeine or nicotine, or consuming these substances too close to bedtime, may lead to hypnic jerks.

    Vigorous Exercise at Night

    In general, exercise is almost always a good idea when it comes to sleep. Regular exercise8 has been consistently demonstrated to improve sleep quality. However, it’s important to recognize that exercise is an energizing activity that makes you feel more alert, rather than tired. For that reason, exercising too vigorously late in the evening may lead to hypnic jerks.

    Sleep Deprivation

    Trouble sleeping and lack of regular sleep overall, whether due to chronic insomnia or a poor night’s sleep, can both lead to sleep deprivation. Among other unwanted side effects, like poor mood and focus, sleep deprivation may increase your risk of hypnic jerks.

    Stress and Anxiety

    Both everyday stress9 and diagnosed anxiety disorders10 can contribute to insomnia, which leads to the kind of sleep deprivation that increases your risk of hypnic jerks. When you’re stressed or anxious, your cortisol levels remain elevated during sleep, which makes your sleep less restful. Anxious thoughts can also keep you up at night, making it hard for you to relax into sleep and disrupting the transition between wakefulness and sleep, potentially triggering a hypnic jerk.

    Some people who experience hypnic jerks frequently may even develop anxiety around sleep itself, which only increases their likelihood of experiencing sleep deprivation and more hypnic jerks.

    Are Hypnic Jerks Dangerous?

    Hypnic jerks can be unsettling, but they’re not dangerous. In fact, they’re considered a normal part of falling asleep. Up to 70% of people experience hypnic jerks.

    Hypnic jerks can be annoying and disrupt the sleep of you or your partner, but that’s typically the worst they can do. While it is possible that a particularly violent jerk could lead to a minor injury, it’s not common.

    Source : www.sleepfoundation.org

    Why does my body jerk when I'm falling asleep?

    Sometimes when I’m dozing off at night, something weird happens. I feel like I’m falling, and every now and then, I even dream that I’m stumbling backward off a curb. A second or two later, my body jerks, startling me awake. Sometimes, the…

    Why does my body jerk when I'm falling asleep?

    Roman Krykh / 500px/500Px Plus/Getty Images



    Sometimes when I’m dozing off at night, something weird happens. I feel like I’m falling, and every now and then, I even dream that I’m stumbling backward off a curb. A second or two later, my body jerks, startling me awake. Sometimes, the experience leaves me feeling so anxious that I have trouble drifting back asleep.

    But according to sleep experts, I have nothing to worry about. That falling sensation and sudden jolt is what’s called a hypnic jerk, which, though somewhat alarming, is a totally normal phenomenon, not a sign of a serious underlying problem. It’s also extremely common: As many as 60 to 70% of people have reported experiencing hypnic jerks, per the most recent edition of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, a manual used to diagnose sleep-related issues.


    Also known as a hypnagogic jerk or sleep start, a hypnic jerk is basically an involuntary movement, usually of a large muscle group, that occurs as you transition from wakefulness to sleep, Rafael Pelayo, a sleep specialist at the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, tells Mic. You might swing your arms, for instance, or kick your legs. If you’re sitting upright, you might snap your head back (I know — it's creepy).

    Because hypnic jerks are benign and don’t need to be treated, there hasn’t been a ton of research on them. As a result, “they’re not well-understood,” Pelayo says. They do tend to occur more often when you’re sleep-deprived, yet force your mind to be engaged in some activity — like when you’re lying in bed listening to a podcast, or at a work meeting. I usually experience hypnic jerks when I’m reading or watching Netflix, and haven’t slept much over the past few nights.

    When this happens, certain parts of your nervous system are asleep, while other parts are awake, Pelayo explains. It turns out that your nervous system’s control of your muscle movements during sleep is different than it is during wakefulness, which explains why your limbs twitch or flail. Basically, you can think of hypnic jerks as “misfires” triggered by your nervous system sending your body mixed messages.


    If you dream about falling during hypnic jerks, like I do, that could indicate that you’re severely sleep deprived, he says. Before delving into why, let’s back up and go over what happens to your mind and body when you sleep: As you nod off, you enter Stage 1 sleep, followed by Stages 2 and 3, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Altogether, these stages last around 90 to 120 minutes, and you cycle through them four or five times a night, Ramiz Fargo, a sleep medicine specialist at Loma Linda University Health, told Mic in a previous article.

    Hypnic jerks generally occur as you transition from wakefulness to Stage 1 sleep. Vivid dreaming takes place during deeper REM sleep, which you normally enter roughly 90 minutes after drifting off. But when you’re really sleep-deprived, you book it from Stage 1 straight to REM sleep. “You’re skipping over those bricks [Stages 2 and 3] and hugging REM,” Ralls says. That could explain why I occasionally dream that I’m falling from a curb, even after having just dozed off.

    A hypnic jerk is “a clear signal from the body, telling you it wants to sleep,” Pelayo says. “Nothing else is going to satisfy that urge.” If it’s nighttime, close Netflix, turn off the light, and go to bed.

    If you’re experiencing hypnic jerks, but sleep isn’t an option — like during a class lecture or a meeting at work — focus on something about that scenario that's more important than dozing off, Pelayo suggests. Make eye contact with the speaker. If you anticipate snoozing during the presentation, drink coffee beforehand, since it’ll take 15 or 20 minutes to take effect. And if you want to prevent hypnic jerks, make sure you clock in the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

    Hypnic jerks can feel scary, but reminding yourself that they don’t mean anything is wrong with you can help, Ralls says. Next time I experience one, I’ll try to practice this self-talk and honor that freaky falling sensation as a message from my body of what it really needs.

    This article was originally published on 11.23.2020

    Source : www.mic.com

    Hypnic jerk: Why you twitch before falling asleep

    Hypnic jerks are muscle twitches that many people experience as they are falling asleep. Learn more about why they happen and their possible triggers here.

    What is a hypnic jerk?

    Medically reviewed by Heidi Moawad, M.D. — Written by Jon Johnson — Updated on April 10, 2022

    Hypnic jerks, also known as hypnagogic jerks or “sleep starts,” are involuntary muscle contractions that some people experience as they fall asleep.

    Hypnic jerks are a type of sleep myoclonus. This is a scientific name for jerking movements the body makes during sleep or while falling asleep.

    Some hypnic jerks are mild and hardly noticeable. Others can be intense — anyone who has been close to falling asleep and then felt a sudden jerk that has woken them up has experienced them.

    Hypnic jerks are common and occur randomly. And while the exact cause of these twitches is unclear, some factors may increase their likelihood.

    Hypnic jerks are not dangerous. A person experiencing them does not need

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    to consult a doctor or seek medical treatment unless they cause distress or other symptoms, such as incontinence, injury, pain, or confusion.

    This article explores hypnic jerks, how common they are, and how to reduce their frequency.

    What is a hypnic jerk?

    A hypnic jerk is an involuntary twitch of one or more muscles that occurs as a person falls asleep. It tends to occur in stages 1 or 2 of sleep and disappear in stage 3, which refers to rapid eye movement sleep. In other words, they occur when a person transitions from a wakeful state to a sleeping state.

    Hypnic jerks are a type of involuntary muscle movement called myoclonus. Hiccups are another common form of myoclonus.

    The strength of a hypnic jerk may vary. Some people may not be aware of their body movements and only know that they have them if a partner or caregiver notices them. Other times, the spasms can be strong enough to startle the person and wake them up.

    People may experience other symptoms alongside hypnic jerks, such as:

    feeling as though they are falling or tripping

    a sensory flash, which may feel like an electric shock

    a hallucination or vivid dream, often about falling

    These sensations are not signs of any underlying health conditions. However, if they are intense, they may prevent the person from falling asleep, leading to insomnia.

    Sleep myoclonus is when people’s bodies twitch or jerk while sleeping or falling asleep. Learn more.


    The authors of a 2016 study noted that hypnic jerks occur randomly and affect people of all ages.

    Additionally, the researchers found that 60–70% of individuals experience hypnic jerks, usually just as they are about to fall asleep. However, people who experience them do not usually have them every time they sleep.


    In most cases, there is no clear cause of a hypnic jerk. They occur in most people without any underlying explanation.

    However, there are some ideas and theories about why these sleep starts occur.

    Possible reasons may include the below.

    Extreme tiredness and sleep deprivation

    Overtiredness is a common cause of hypnic jerks. They can also occur when someone goes to sleep in an uncomfortable position.


    Body and brain stimulants, such as caffeine, nicotine, or some drugs, may make falling asleep or staying asleep difficult. They may also increase the frequency of hypnic jerks.

    Stress and anxiety

    High levels of stress and anxiety can make it difficult to relax in preparation for sleep. An alert brain may be easier to startle, so a person may be more likely to wake up when these involuntary muscle twitches occur.

    Results from research using an EEG suggest specific brain activity occurs during a hypnic jerk, known as vertex sharp waves.


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    Hypnic jerks in children and babies

    Sleep starts can occur in people of all ages. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine notes that adults are more likely than children to complain about frequent or intense hypnic jerks.

    However, children can experience hypnic jerks from birth. The author of one older study from 2003

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    describes myoclonus, or uncontrollable body movements, as a developmental feature of the human nervous system, present from the early stages of fetal development.

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    Can hypnic jerks wake us up?

    Hypnic jerks can cause a person to wake up, but this does not always occur. It depends on the intensity of the muscle contraction.

    Smaller movements are unlikely to wake a person up. They may only be aware that they experience hypnic jerks if a partner or caregiver notices them.

    The other symptoms of a hypnic jerk may also wake someone up. Sometimes, a person may dream that they are falling out of bed, from a tree, or through a void. Although it is uncertain which sensation comes first, this can be enough to scare people awake.

    Preventing hypnic jerks

    While it may not be possible to avoid all instances of hypnic jerks, some people may notice that they have them less frequently when they make a few lifestyle changes.

    Source : www.medicalnewstoday.com

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