Do you always feel like you’re falling in your sleep? This feeling can be scary especially if it always jerks you awake. So, why do you feel like you’re falling in your sleep, and is it preventable? This article provides you with all the answers.
Understanding “Hypnic Jerks”
Also referred to as a myoclonic jerk, or a “sleep start”, a hypnic jerk is the strange feeling of falling from an elevated point while you’re asleep. According to medical experts, this feeling is normal and it usually occurs when you’re just about to get into the deeper stages of your sleep.
Although it’s an ordinary occurrence, the feeling of falling down a flight of stairs while you’re lying flat on your bed can be startling.
Contrary to what many people believe, the falling or floating sensation can happen to anyone, even people who are considered to be generally healthy. It also occurs in people of all ages. Doctors estimate that at least 70 percent of the world’s population is likely to experience this feeling in one form or another.
What Causes Hypnic Jerk?
Doctors aren’t sure what causes the body to develop this feeling while asleep, but some scientists have come up with several theories. For instance, some believe that the floating or falling sensation usually occurs when your brain misinterprets the processes occurring in your body as your muscles relax just before you fall asleep.
As you fall asleep, your muscles relax, sending a signal to your brain so that it can begin the process of going to sleep.
Unfortunately, sometimes your brain misunderstands this signal, causing you to experience the hypnic jerk. For a moment, your brain may interpret the relaxed feeling as a free fall. When this happens, your brain will cause your muscles to jerk as a way of alerting you so that you can catch yourself before you hit the ground.
This causes your body to jolt, causing you to wake up. Fortunately, the body jerks aren’t dangerous, as long as they don’t cause you to fall off your bed or knock your body against hard objects like brick walls.
But it’s important to remove any hazardous objects from around your bed if you develop hypnic jerks regularly to avoid serious injuries.
Other scientists believe that certain situations and conditions can trigger hypnic jerks. Understanding these triggers will help you to find ways of preventing body jerks and improving the quality of your sleep. Here are the most common triggers of hypnic jerks.
When your mind is stressed, it’ll continue racing, even when your muscles are relaxed. This reduces your chances of falling asleep or even transitioning to the deeper stages in your sleep cycle. It’ll also affect your sleep cycle, increasing your chances of developing body jerks while asleep.
So, if you want to prevent or reduce the frequency of hypnic jerks, do whatever you can to bring your stress levels down before you go to sleep. You should also practice good sleeping habits before and after you go to bed every day.
2. Alcohol and Stimulants
Taking too much alcohol or stimulants before you go to bed can cause your brain to misinterpret signals from your muscles, causing your body to keep jerking in between your sleep. They can also prevent your body from transitioning fully to the next phase in your sleep cycle.
Alcohol is known to cause the floating sensation as well as parasomnia. Stimulants, on the other hand, are known to keep your brain and muscles alert, preventing you from transitioning to deeper phases in your sleep cycle. This feeling can also occur when you quit alcohol and stimulants, especially during the first few days of being sober.
If you drink too much coffee just before bedtime, it’ll cause your muscles to jerk when you’re asleep. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it can hinder you from getting a night of restful sleep or even prevent you from falling asleep completely.
If you manage to fall asleep, it might keep you in the lighter stages of your sleep for a long time, triggering involuntary muscle spasms.
Hypnic jerks are quite common in people who suffer from insomnia. If your body is unable to get the amount of sleep it needs to rest well, your entire sleep cycle will be affected. This increases your chances of developing sleep myoclonus (hypnic jerks).
Common Signs of Hypnic Jerks
Hypnagogic jerks usually involve a single strong jolt that causes the whole body, especially your legs and arms, to jump. In most instances, this jolt is so strong that it wakes you up.
Unfortunately, it occurs when you’re just about to transition from a lighter stage to a deeper stage in your sleep cycle. So, it becomes very difficult to fall asleep, especially if the jerk is recurrent.
Hypnic jerks are usually unpredictable. Sometimes they will occur without you even realizing what’s happening to you. You might even dismiss them as symptoms of insomnia. But insomnia and hypnic jerks are two completely different conditions.
When strong hypnic jerks occur, you’ll feel like you’re free falling and it becomes very difficult for you to doze off. Here are other common symptoms of hypnic jerks to help you differentiate them from other sleep disorders:
• Twitching sensation or jerking
• A startling feeling
• Strange dreams or hallucinations
• Tingling sensation
• Sensory flashes
• Higher heart rate
• Rapid breathing
How to Treat Hypnic Jerks
Although a hypnic jerk isn’t a disease, it can result in several serious conditions like insomnia, stress, and other complications caused by lack of enough sleep. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to avoid hypnic jerks altogether.
Also, there isn’t a specific treatment for this condition. But you can lessen their frequency and effect on your sleep by making the following lifestyle changes.
1. Avoid Caffeine at Bedtime
Caffeine is a very powerful stimulant that will keep you up all night. So, if you experience regular hypnic jerks, you’re better off not drinking coffee at night. It’s advisable to avoid coffee after midday if you experience hypnic jerks.
2. Minimize Your Intake of Alcohol and Stimulants
As noted above, alcohol and stimulants can harm your sleep cycle, especially if you’re experiencing hypnic jerks. These substances will exacerbate the problem if you take them at night.
Although alcohol is a depressant, sometimes it can act as a stimulant thus disrupting the normal performance of your brain and making it difficult for you to fall asleep. So, avoid it if you can.
3. Work Out
Exercise helps your body to relax thus improving the quality of your sleep. However, you shouldn’t work out right before going to sleep because it could make your hypnic jerks worse. Keep high-intensity exercises for your morning and afternoon routines. As you approach bedtime, engage in more relaxed activities like yoga and pilates.
4. Use Relaxing Herbs
There are many herbs and essential oils that can easily induce more peaceful and deeper sleep. For instance, lavender essential oils are known for their relaxing and soothing aroma that can calm your nerves and help you to transition from light to deep stages in your sleep cycle. It also reduces hypnic spasms or eliminates them completely.
5. Develop Better Bedtime Habits
Your bedtime habits could be the ones keeping you up all night. For instance, using your smartphone or tablet to chat with friends in bed can prevent you from falling asleep. So, develop a new habit of putting away your gadgets an hour or two before bed. Learn to relax and forget any stressful situations before going to bed.