You have had a very long day and the moment you have been waiting for is happening now. You are all washed up for the night, you had your time to unwind. You are in your comfortable pajamas and under the cozy covers. As you lay your head onto the pillow you close your eyes and are ready to fall asleep – until you are suddenly jolted awake by a twitch that leaves you panic-stricken with your heart beating a mile a minute, and confused.
All you want to do is go and have a good night’s sleep after a long day. However, your body didn’t allow you to achieve that. And you can easily recall the previous times that you experienced a jolting twitch as you were falling asleep as well. Why does that happen and what is this phenomenon called? This phenomenon is known as the sleep start or the hypnic jerk.
What Exactly Is The Sleep Start Or The Hypnic Jerk?
As you fall asleep and as you are asleep, your muscles twitch and it is involuntary. In fact, your muscles will twitch every time you fall asleep but more often than not, it does not startle you awake. Especially if the twitches are not so intense. You will not even know you are twitching at all whether you are falling asleep during those times you are fortunate enough to not be woken up by it. You definitely will not know you are twitching when you are sleeping.
You only may be aware that you do if your partner tells you that you do. Sometimes you will make some noises when you are experiencing a sleep start and it may sound like brief moans. And you would also see it happen to your partner unless you are sleeping alone. If you have pets, you will see the same thing happen to them as well as they are sleeping and you may have thought it was strange when they twitch. And you may worry as well if they whimper a bit as well. However, they experience this phenomenon too.
What Is The Cause For This Phenomenon?
Even though there is no known cause for hypnic jerks. However, there is a ‘fight’ that is happening between the systems in your brain that keeps you awake, and the systems in your brain that helps you get to sleep. That only happens during this transitional period from wakefulness to sleep. And you will be twitching as this ‘fight’ is happening. More often than not, the area of your brain that encourages sleep will ‘defeat’ the area of your brain that keeps you awake. That is why you will not experience sleep start very often.
It is speculated that sleep starts occur when the area of your brain that encourages wakefulness temporarily ‘defeats’ the area of your brain that helps you to fall asleep. However, eventually, that side of the brain wins which is when you successfully fall asleep without being jolted awake.
During the time you are falling asleep, your muscles begin to relax. However, the wakefulness area of your brain is strong enough to keep your muscles from completely relaxing so when you have an intense twitch, then that causes you to jolt yourself awake. As distressing as they are when they occur, you never have to worry about them being harmful in any way. However, if they happen too often, there are things to be mindful of.
Are Sleep Starts Anything To Be Concerned About?
The answer is generally, no, they are not. However, if they are happening virtually all of the time, then you have to examine the underlying cause for it. If you have been experiencing sleep deprivation, that can worsen the intensity and frequency of strong twitches jolting you awake since you have been awake a lot more than asleep. If you are consuming too much caffeine, especially after 2 pm, that can increase your chances of experiencing them more often.
If you are consuming too much caffeine, then the easy thing to do is to cut it back and to not consume any past 2 pm. If you are struggling with sleep deprivation that is not caused by external stressors, then you need to have a sleep study done. If you have external stressors that are interfering with your sleep, then you need to address those as well and work with a professional to manage your stress.
As annoying as sleep starts or hypnic jerks really are, they are normal and harmless. However, if they happen more often than not, then you need to have yourself examined.