Understanding Hypnic Jerks (or, Feeling Like You’re Falling While You Sleep)

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Dr. Dan Jensen
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Have you ever woken up just as you were about to fall asleep? Did you wake up with a jerk, or the feeling of falling? This is called hypnic jerks, hypnagogic jerks, or sleep starts. Hypnic jerks are quite common, and the condition isn’t a serious disorder.

What Are Hypnic Jerks?

Hypnic jerks are strong, involuntary contractions that usually happen just when you’re drifting into sleep. This jolt in the body can startle you awake when you’re in the period between being awake and being asleep. Lots of people experience hypnic jerks from time to time, and researchers think that around 70% of people will experience hypnic jerks. 

Hypnic jerks have a lot of names, including hypnagogic jerks, night starts and sleep twitches. All these terms describe the same thing. Hypnic jerks aren’t a serious disorder, they’re simply a natural contraction in the body that can happen to anyone.

Signs of Hypnic Jerks

Hypnic jerks are different for everyone. Sometimes the contractions will be enough to scare you awake, and other times you will drift off to sleep even after hypnic jerks. The signs of hypnic jerks include:

  • A jerk or contraction in a muscle, such as in your leg
  • A feeling of falling
  • A dream in which you fall or are startled
  • An increased heart rate as you wake up
  • A shallow breathing pattern as you wake up

If you’ve experienced these, you’ve had hypnic jerks!

What Causes Hypnic Jerks?

Researchers aren’t quite sure what causes hypnic jerks. They are a normal reaction in the body, and don’t cause any harm. We do know that some triggers can make hypnic jerks more frequent or more noticeable. 

  • Stimulants: One cause of hypnic jerks are stimulants. Caffeine, nicotine, and even alcohol can make it harder to fall asleep and can make you restless as you’re drifting off to sleep. Both coffee and smoking can increase hypnic jerks.
  • Anxiety: Have you been feeling anxious? Stress and anxiety can keep your mind active even as your body is falling asleep. This can cause hypnic jerks as you’re drifting into sleep.
  • Evening exercise: Getting enough exercise during the day will help you sleep soundly, but if you’ve been exercising in the evening you may experience hypnic jerks. Your body may be too active when you go to bed, making it harder for you to relax and fall asleep.
  • Sleep hygiene: If you’ve been experiencing sleep starts, take a look at your sleep hygiene. You’re more likely to have sleep starts if you don’t give yourself time to wind down before bed. It’s also important to sleep in a cool, dark room, and keep a consistent sleeping schedule
  • How to Treat Hypnic Jerks

Hypnic jerks are natural, and they don’t pose any health risks. Treating hypnic jerks isn’t necessary, but if you’re feeling anxious about hypnic jerks, or they’re making it harder for you to fall asleep, there are a few things you can do to reduce hypnic jerks.

Limit your caffeine intake – enjoy your coffee in the morning, but avoid drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks after lunch. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.

Get into a routine – if you’ve been having hypnic jerks, develop a consistent nighttime routine. Avoid using screens an hour before bed, turn off any bright lights, and do something that relaxes you, such as reading or doing breathing exercises. When you’re calm and relaxed before bed, you’ll reduce hypnic jerks. 

Exercise in the day – make sure you do your workout earlier in the day. Try to exercise in the morning or early afternoon, so your body will have lots of time to wind down and relax before you go to sleep. 

Sound Sleep Medical

If you’ve been experiencing hypnic jerks or feel like you’re falling while you sleep, you can make a few changes to your sleep habits to help you sleep more soundly. 

Looking for more tips on ways to relax in the evening, develop a good sleep routine, or talk about any sleep disorder you may have? Visit us at Sound Sleep Medical where our team of sleep experts will help you get a great night’s sleep.