Why Do I Twitch as I'm Falling Asleep?
Let’s dive into the science behind what causes these jumpy sleep starts - also called hypnic jerks - and how we can prevent them.
Most people experience the sensation of twitching and jerking awake at times when you’re trying to fall asleep; the twitch is also called hypnic jerking.
While there isn’t one specific cause of hypnic jerking, it may happen more often if you are sleep deprived, overly caffeinated, highly stressed, or did an intense workout close to bedtime.
Good ways to prevent or reduce hypnic jerking involve stress and anxiety relief, using a weighted blanket, and avoiding stimulating activities before bedtime.
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We’ve all experienced this before - imagine it’s been one of those days that never seem to end, and all you want to do when you get home is unwind and get to sleep. As you crawl into bed and start to doze off, you suddenly jolt yourself awake with a twitch - the kind that makes your heart start pounding and you feel like you’re falling out of bed.
While this scenario is totally normal, you may be wondering what exactly these twitches are and what they mean. Let’s dive into the science behind what causes these jumpy sleep starts - also called hypnic jerks - and how we can prevent them.
The Basics: What Are Hypnic Jerks?
The technical name being ‘hypnagogic jerks’, or hypnic jerks for short, these twitches have many potential causes that researchers are still trying to uncover, but the main mechanism has to do with involuntary muscle spasms. You may even have multiple hypnic jerks per night, but low severity ones may go unnoticed while you sleep.
They most commonly occur when your body and brain are in the transition period between wake and sleep. As your nervous system slows things down, like your breathing and heart rate, sometimes one part of your brain shuts down before the other, leading to this involuntary jolt.
Although these hypnic jerks are common (about 70% of people experience them regularly), there are many things that can make them happen even more often.
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The Causes: Why Do I Twitch While Falling Asleep?
People who are sleep deprived tend to have more hypnic jerks. In a normal night of sleep, our brains would enter into the deepest sleep stage about 30 minutes into the snooze. During deep sleep, hypnic jerks would likely not be happening, as our bodies are relaxed in this stage.
However, when we are lacking in sleep, we can jump right past the beginning stages of sleep, leading to the brain misinterpreting if we’re asleep or awake, causing that jumpy twitch.
Anxiety and stress are two big causes of hypnic jerks because your mind and body will be in two different states. When the mind is over-anxious and can’t shut off, but your body has relaxed into a sleep state, the misfiring of the brain occurs and you are more likely to get twitchy. Many times, anxiety and sleep deprivation go hand in hand.
Being overly caffeinated can also lead to an increase in hypnic jerks. The increased chemical stimulation can prevent you from reaching deep sleep, as well as keep your brain from fully realizing it should be in the sleep state rather than the wakeful state.
Lastly, exercise close to bedtime, especially of high intensity, can lead to an increase in twitching. Again, this is due to the body and brain not syncing up with which state they are in. If your muscles are still firing from your workout, but your brain is ready for snoozing, a hypnic jerk may occur.
The Cures: How To Prevent Hypnic Jerks
Although you might not be able to prevent hypnic jerks from ever happening again, there are many things you can do to reduce the likelihood of having them regularly. The main way to prevent them is by getting your sleep habits and stress levels under control.
Work on stress relief
Some ideas for stress and anxiety relief include spending time in nature, using calming essential oils like lavender, getting a massage, and utilizing deep breathing techniques. Deep breathing can work well right before bedtime to help you wind down and get relaxed.
Get a weighted blanket
Another tip for reducing stress and anxiety is to use a weighted blanket for sleeping. The pressure that comes from the extra weight helps your body regulate stress better by lowering cortisol.
Not only that, but a weighted blanket can help to physically prevent the effects of the hypnic jerk, so you may not notice or wake up from a twitch if it does occur.
Switch up your routines
If you experience hypnic jerks when you exercise close to bedtime, try moving your workout to earlier in the day, or doing a more gentle activity at night, like yoga.
Along the same lines, try to avoid stimulating activities before bed, like watching an action movie or having the lights too bright.
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Cut back on caffeine and alcohol
Internal forms of stimulation include drinking a lot of caffeine. While we all have different thresholds of how fast we metabolize caffeine, in general, the half-life of caffeine is 4-6 hours. This means that half of the caffeine from a late afternoon latte may still be in your body by bedtime.
Try to have a caffeine cut-off time in the early afternoon, especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine. You can also consider not having alcohol before bed, as it’s both a stimulant and a depressant which can lead to an increase in hypnic jerks. Pour out the nightcap in favor of some warm chamomile tea and you’ll be sleeping soundly and twitch-free in no time.
Practice good sleep hygiene
You’ll want to have a relaxing routine in the few hours leading up to bedtime. An ideal night to prevent hypnic jerking might look like shutting down your screens 2 hours before you want to go to sleep, taking a warm bath with lavender oil diffusing nearby, listening to calming music, and reading a book in bed while underneath your Bearaby blanket. Ahh, sounds perfect!