Home / Blog April 01, 2020 Updated on January 04, 2024

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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.

Why Do I Twitch as I'm Falling Asleep?


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.

Did you know?
Hiccups are another form of involuntary muscle spasms, which affect not only humans but all mammals. Kittens, horses, and otters have all been caught on video hiccuping - we can’t with the cuteness.

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: Why are you Twitching in Sleep?

The technical name being ‘hypnagogic jerks', hypnic jerks have many potential causes that researchers are still trying to uncover. The main mechanism has to do with involuntary muscle contractions. You may even have multiple hypnic jerks per night, but low severity ones may go unnoticed while you sleep.

Hypnagogic jerks 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 muscle movement.

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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What Causes Twitching in Your Sleep?

Lack of deep sleep

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 causes twitching when falling asleep

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, the sleep deprivation resulting in your brain not fully realizing it should be in the sleep state rather than the wakeful state.

caffeinated can also lead to an increase in hypnic jerks - twitching when falling asleep anxiety

Lastly, it is possible for hypnic jerks possibly induced by exercise close to bedtime, especially of high intensity. 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.

Does twitching in your sleep mean anything?

Yes, twitching or jerking movements during sleep can signify various things. Here are a few possible explanations for sleep twitches:

Muscle Contractions: These are involuntary muscle contractions that can occur as you transition from wakefulness to sleep. They are thought to be a result of the brain and body relaxing.

Dream Activity: Sometimes, sleep twitches are associated with dream activity. Your muscles may react to something happening in your dream.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS): In some cases, leg twitches during sleep can be a sign of RLS, a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs, often due to uncomfortable sensations.

Sleep Disorders: Sleep disorders like periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) can cause repetitive leg movements during sleep. These movements are usually more rhythmic and purposeful than the occasional sleep twitch.

For most people, occasional sleep twitches are harmless and do not require medical attention. However, if these movements become frequent, intense, or are associated with other sleep disturbances or daytime symptoms, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional or a sleep specialist. They can help determine if there's an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

How to Stop Twitching in Sleep

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, helping you get more restful sleep.

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.

man yoga - muscle twitching sleep deprivation

Photo by Yogi Madhav on Unsplash

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 jerks 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!

Why do babies twitch in their sleep?

Newborns and infants often twitch or make sudden movements during sleep. These movements are usually considered normal and are part of the baby's development and sleep cycles. Here are some reasons why babies twitch in their sleep:

Developmental Movements: Babies are rapidly growing and developing, even while they sleep. These twitches and movements can be a sign of their developing nervous system and muscles. As they grow, their brains send signals to their muscles, causing these movements.

Digestive Movements: Babies may also twitch or make movements related to their digestive system. These movements can include leg cycling or abdominal contractions, especially after feeding. These motions help with digestion and may occur during sleep.

Sensory Experiences: Babies are highly sensitive to their environment, and even subtle changes or sensations can trigger movements during sleep. For example, a change in room temperature or a gentle touch can lead to twitches or shifts in position.

It's important to note that these sleep twitches and movements are usually a sign of healthy development, and they typically decrease as a baby grows older and their nervous system matures. However, if you notice excessive or unusual movements during your baby's sleep, it's a good idea to discuss them with your pediatrician.

Why do dogs twitch in their sleep?

Dogs twitch in their sleep involuntarily as well, commonly in their legs, tail, or head. Dogs sleep on average 12-14 hours a day, and their brain is processing the day’s events when they are dreaming, which is when they twitch in their sleep.