Twitching in sleep is called a hypnic jerk or sleep start. This is caused by an involuntary muscle spasm that happen while you drift off to sleep.
A variety of external stimuli may be to blame for these movements, such as sound or light. Research suggests that 60 to 70 percent of people experience these jerks, many unknowingly. Intense physical activity, stress, anxiety, fatigue, caffeine, and sleep deprivation, may increase the frequency or severity of these twitches. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adults are more likely than children to complain about frequent or intense hypnic jerks.
Individuals may experience other symptoms alongside hypnic jerks, such as:
- experiencing a falling sensation
- rapid heartbeat
- rapid breathing
- dreaming about falling
Not to worry, these sensations are not signs of any underlying serious health conditions.
More research is needed to understand why hypnic jerks occur and what causes them to happen. One hypothesis theorizes that hypnic jerks are a natural part of the body’s transition from alertness to sleep, and occur when nerves “misfire” during the process. Another possible cause is more evolutionary— an ancient primate reflex is still present and the human brain misinterprets the relaxation of the muscles during sleep for potential danger— such as falling out of a tree— causing our muscles react.
Learn more about twitching in sleep below!
If these very natural twitches bother you, check out the tips below and consult your doctor if these movements are causing you not to get enough sleep.
- Avoid exercising before bed
- Cut down on caffeine (coffee, tea, and chocolate) late in the day
- Watch nicotine and alcohol use
- Follow a bedtime routine
- Turn down the lights before going to bed
- Take some time to relax or mediate before going to sleep