Doctor explains why you sometimes have a 'falling' sensation when you're asleep

Young woman sleeping with smart watch tracker at night
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A doctor has shed light on why you might suddenly jerk awake as you're falling asleep, and how to prevent it.

Doctor Youn, known as @doctoryoun shared on TikTok, shared with his nearly nine million followers about this common phenomenon. The medical professional explained that this is called a hypnic jerk, an involuntary muscle contraction that occurs as you're drifting off to sleep. He reassured viewers that while it can be startling, there's no need for alarm.

In his viral video, viewed over two million times, he elaborates: "This is called a hypnic jerk, which is involuntary muscle contractions when you are falling asleep. One explanation is that when your muscles relax as you are falling asleep, your body interprets it as if you are falling."

This could explain why it often feels like we're falling when this happens. Many people describe the sensation as feeling like they're falling from a great height or tripping over something.

He further advised: "One way to prevent it is to avoid caffeine or exercising several hours before you go to bed. According to sleepfoundation.org: "Hypnic is short for hypnagogic, a term that describes the transition from wakefulness to sleep, which is when these jerks occur."

These common sleep contractions typically only affect one side of the body, such as your left arm and left leg. Backing up what the expert says, the foundation also says that excess caffeine and too much exercise can contribute to this feeling. It also explained that a lack of sleep, as well as stress and anxiety, could all contribute towards it too.

It added: "Hypnic jerks can feel different at various times. They can be strong enough to jolt a person awake and disrupt the process of falling asleep. Other times, they may be so mild that the affected person does not notice them at all - although their sleep partner might."

"Hypnic jerks occur at any age, but are more common among adults. In part, this may be due to the fact that some of their potential causes, such as caffeine consumption and elevated stress levels, are also more common in adulthood."

Should I be concerned about hypnic jerk?

Whilst hypnic jerks can be startling, they are not dangerous with sleepfoundation.org reporting that up to 70 percent of people experience hypnic jerks. It added: "Hypnic jerks can be annoying and disrupt the sleep of you or your partner, but that is typically the extent of their negative effects. While it is possible that a particularly violent jerk could lead to a minor injury, this is not common."

Should I see my GP?

Hypnic jerks differ from other movements that may occur while awake or asleep. They take place during the transition from wakefulness to sleep, occur rapidly, and are typically deemed harmless.

If hypnic jerks are your sole experience, a doctor's visit is likely unnecessary. The foundation cautions that certain symptoms resembling hypnic jerks might necessitate a medical consultation. If you're experiencing frequent muscle spasms throughout the day that extend to other areas of the body, this could be a sign of a different type of myoclonus, not just the common hypnic jerks.

It states: "These types of myoclonus can be indicators of other medical conditions. If you experience other types of jerking movements during sleep beyond hypnic jerks as you fall asleep, they could be symptoms of periodic limb movement disorder. If you are concerned your muscle jerks are a symptom of another issue, speak to your doctor."