Hypnic Jerks Are The Sleep Habit You Might Have Without Knowing It

You’re in bed, you’ve closed your eyes and you’re ready to drift into dreamland. As you catch yourself falling asleep, you suddenly bolt out of your slumber. It feels like an out of body experience even though you’re very much in bed.

Well, if you’ve ever experienced this, the jolt has got a name: hypnic jerk.

As Martin Seeley, sleep expert and CEO of MattressNextDay says: “Hypnic jerks are the sudden, involuntary body movements that some people experience just before falling asleep. They can occur at any time during the night, but they’re most common in the very early morning hours.”

What are hypnic jerks?

Hypnic jerks may involve smaller muscle twitches or more complex actions such as a head jerk, arm jerk or leg jerk.

“The movements can be minor but sometimes, they’re violent enough to wake you up. These sudden movements typically last only a second or two, but they can be quite startling if you’re not expecting them,” Seeley explains.

Hypnic jerks are common in children and adults, he adds. Because they’re not considered dangerous or harmful, they’re rarely discussed. “But it may make you feel alarmed when you suddenly jolt awake with a sudden jerk of your body like you’ve been hit by electricity!”

Why do hypnic jerks happen?

Though they can feel a bit weird, hypnic jerks are completely normal, says Seeley.

“They are caused by the brain’s attempt to regulate its level of alertness during sleep,” he explains. “During REM sleep (the phase of sleep when dreaming occurs), your body is paralysed except for your eyes and muscles involved in breathing. This paralysis keeps you from acting out your dreams while you’re sleeping. If you were able to move freely during this time, you might injure yourself or others around you – not exactly an ideal situation!”

“In order to enter into deeper stages of sleep without waking up fully, your brain sends signals down through your spinal cord to relax muscles throughout your body – including those that would normally be active during wakefulness but aren’t needed at this time (such as muscles used for speech). This process allows your body to enter into a deeper state of sleep.”

Should you ever worry about hypnic jerks?

In most cases, hypnic jerks won’t cause you any pain or harm. However they can be disruptive if they occur regularly and keep waking up in the middle of the night. If this happens to you, here are two handy tips Seeley has for getting yourself back off to sleep.

Stay off your phone

“Bright lights can interfere with your body’s production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, therefore, making you feel more awake which is not what you want in the middle of the night,” he says.

“What’s more, seeing the time on your phone will lead to you subconsciously working out how many hours until you need to be awake, which will make you more anxious and keep you awake for longer.”

Try a full body scan

If you’re struggling to sleep, try this meditative technique, otherwise known as a full-body scan.

“Simply close your eyes and breathe slowly. Next, focus on your face and think about relaxing each of the muscles in your face,” says Seeley.

“After 30 seconds to a minute, move onto your neck and do the same thing for 30 seconds. Then your shoulders, and then your arms. Essentially, you want to relax every muscle until you make your way down to your feet.”