sheff /Shutterstock You may already have difficulty getting six to eight hours of sleep each night. But even when you have managed to get to bed at a decent hour, something inexplicable brings you back to consciousness from the brink of slumber: an ineffable sensation of falling takes over your body and hijacks your attempt at catching some shuteye.
That feeling of falling goes by several names: a “hypnic jerk,” “hypnagogic jerk” a “sleep start,” or a “sleep twitch.” According to Sleep.org, they’re incredibly common; 70 percent of people have experienced the sensation at some point in their lives. And although usually harmless, their origins are still a bit cloudy.
Certain factors play a role in the likelihood of experiencing hypnic jerk. People who are consuming a lot of caffeine, undergoing significant emotional stress, experiencing sleep deprivation, or taking part in demanding physical activities in the evening are more likely to experience this phenomenon. There is also evidence pointing to a link between the common depression and anxiety medication escitalopram and an increased risk of experiencing hypnic jerks.
Beyond the risk factors, sleep experts have some theories about how the jerks start. Michael Breus, PH.D., spoke to Women’s Health about the topic and believes that the jerks can be the result of one of two things. Your brain, as it begins to fall asleep, may misconstrue the meaning of your muscle relaxation, attributing the sensation to falling. In order to protect you from hurting yourself on impact, your muscles tense up. The other theory is that as your nervous system shifts into sleep mode, and the twitches are needed for your muscles’ transition from an active state to a dormant state.
The jerks shouldn’t really be a cause for concern unless they begin to really cut into your sleep schedule. If that’s the case, go see a doctor, and be sure to mind your P’s and Q’s when it comes to sleep hygiene—here are some sleep hygiene habits good sleepers all have in common.
Looking for more ways to get a restful night’s sleep? Be sure to check out these secrets for better sleep directly from sleep doctors to guarantee some sound zzz’s.