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What are Hypnic jerks and how can you deal with it?

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Have you ever experienced waking up with a jerk like somebody threw you into your bed? Or perhaps you have tried to snooze and minutes after you felt like you are falling backwards from an enormous height towards your death. If all these sounds familiar, then you have experienced a hypnic jerk, also known as Sleep Twitch or Seep Start.

Hypnic jerk is a phenomenon occurring in many people and refers to the state of jerking during sleep, as it is a muscle twitch which happens involuntarily while you are falling asleep, in particular during the “hypnagogic state of consciousness”. The person who experiences a hypnic jerk feels like at the rock bottom of a free-fall.

The hypnic jerk can last somewhere between a few seconds and a few minutes, however the experience varies based on the individual’s lifestyle, and medical history. In mild cases, the person doesn’t even feel or remembers the incident, and a partner usually lets them know of the problem, whereas in more serious forms, the person can wake up shaken and startled so much so that he/she cannot sleep again. In certain severe instances, the phenomenon can persist every night which disrupts with a normal sleep schedule and consequently the individual’s life and productivity.

What are the causes of hypnic jerk?

Hypnic jerk is a condition which does not happen as a result of a person’s actions and sometimes the individual is even unware that it happens. However, there has been some scientifically proven explanation of the causes for this phenomenon. Although not 100% certain, researchers from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AAOM) conclude that among others, hypnic jerk occurs when:

Due to a wrong and neglected sleep posture

If you tend to sleep uncomfortably for 6-8 hours, then this position may lead to a confusing state of mind in which the brain conceives this relaxing situation before going to bed, as similar to unsupported free-fall. Therefore, you are inclined to roll up your limbs to twitch awake with this sense of jerk shortly following this.

Taking medication

It is likely that if you have suffered a trauma, injury or undergone surgery or drug use, then you may be prone to hormonal imbalances and stress. It is also possible that the toxicity levels rise due to drugs and even sleeping pills, antidepressants and painkillers could cause hypnic jerks. So, avoid exceeding the allowed intake of medications if you want to keep recurring incidents of hypnic jerk.

Sleeping disorders

If you suffer from any other type of sleeping disorder or somnipathy as it is called, then it is highly likely that you may experience hypnic jerks. Conditions like sleep apnoea or sleep paralysis, are commonly diagnosed as co-existing with hypnic jerks. What is more, epilepsy is another disease which may lead to hypnic jerks alongside seizures. In this case, it is recommended that you ask for a doctor’s advice. Your sleep cycle is definitive to determine the route of the problem and act accordingly. 

Anxiety and stress

A commonly reported cause of hypnic jerks, is stress and anxiety. If you are frequently exposed to undue stress, this could in turn lead to paranoia, delusions, and insomnia, in a way that chronic anxiety takes over your life and you have recurrences of hypnagogic jerks. It is a fact that these episodes of hypnic jerks reduce or increase according to how you succeed to manage stressful situations and your overall state of mind.

Chronic fatigue or exhaustion

Being stressed, experiencing tension, anxiety and fear, is possibly a cause of disruptions in your circadian rhythms. However, these are not the only reasons to be tired. Exercising just before you go to bed, increases the possibility to experience hypnic jerks.  Generally speaking, it is best to avoid all strenuous activities before bedtime.

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What are some common symptoms of hypnic jerks?

Sensing a sudden jolt of freefall into blank, is not exactly a pleasant feeling. In fact, experiencing an episode of hypnic jerk is quite traumatic and can shake your mental state for good. The first step to relieve from this rather painful situation is to identify the symptoms and your personal experience of the twitch, so as to treat it in the best manner possible.

So, taking a closer look into each episode of hypnic jerk, you must be certain that this is actually what you have experienced and not another somnipathy. The best way to do that is by keeping a diary yourself, including the frequency and symptoms you have.

If you do identify a pattern of sleep disruptions, then it is definitely a necessity to pay a visit to your doctor and have a polysomnogram. This medical exam examines the brain wave patterns of the patient in a controlled room which means you may have to sleep at the clinic overnight.

To know if there is really a need to visit your doctor because you speculate that you suffer from hypnic jerks, be aware that a typical episode of hypnic jerk commonly shows signs of the following:

  • Sudden feeling of freefall: this is a sudden muscle twitch which resembles a feel like falling from the sky, a result of the contraction of the myoclonus, medically called positive myoclonus.
  • Racing heartbeat: It is likely that while sleeping you wake up with a racing heartbeat and a shred of memory of it or none at all and only flashes of a nightmare. In this case, hypnic jerk might be the reason behind this confusing situation.
  • Excessive sweat: Perspiration, which means excessive sweatiness when you wake up, is probably the result of a hypnic jerk or paralysis experienced during sleep.
  • Shock: Despite this differs for each person, the hallucinations and their perceptions can be a truly shocking experience and when you feel this sort of extreme negative sensation, it is likely you have experienced a hypnic jerk.
  • Sensory flash: Missing memory of sensory flashes, is the second most commonly reported symptom of hypnic jerk, so do take notice and jog this in your diary as it is important for your condition.
  • Sensory hallucination: Experiencing hallucinations during a dream state is one other symptom of a hypnic jerk.

How can you treat hypnic jerks?

If hypnic jerks persist and you have been properly diagnosed with this condition, you must not get overly worried as it is not something you cannot heal. Instead, it takes some adequate guidance from your doctor or a sleep expert, in order to sufficiently treat the mind and body to heal naturally.

Based on research, the following ways are scientifically proven as being effective hypnic jerk cure. Hence, if you are eager to get rid of the problem, try one or all of the below:

Don’t get caught into a vicious sleep cycle

Being overly concerned about your hypnic jerks, will only result in more sleep disruption and a cyclic pattern which will wrongfully make you misinterpret your twitching. Anxiety is the worst alley you can get in this situation, as you don’t want to interrupt a smooth sleep flow and constantly worry which may cause you to be fatigued and sleep deprived.

Try to be reasonable about the issue and see how irrational the hallucination you experienced during your hypnic jerk was. This is the best step towards treating the issue.

Follow a healthy sleep routine

Hypnagogic jerks are closely related to a confused, fatigued and stressful state of mind. This paranoia is frequently treated if you practice relaxation techniques such as meditation or/and music therapy. You should try to establish a regular programme of meditation and listening to calming music to get rid of excess restlessness and undue tiredness.

There is research evidence that music can ease down your heartbeat and relax the mind. Scientists therefore suggest to listen to relaxing music the hours before you go to bed, as this will help you get rid of any negative thoughts and prepare your body and mind for rest.

Avoid alcohol, caffeine and medication before sleep

It is advised that in any type of sleep disorder including hypnic jerks, people avoid consuming excessive alcohol, caffeine or nicotine, as well as medication, since these all can lead to sleep disruptions and episodes of hypnic jerks.

Avoid exercising late in the afternoon or at night

Since hypnic jerks can occur as a consequence of induced exercising hormone release such as adrenaline, it is best recommended that you avoid exercising late in the afternoon or just before bedtime. In any case, the best time to exercise and benefit the most for it according to experts is early in the morning as this helps your sleep cycle best

Since hypnic jerks can occur as a consequence of induced exercising hormone release such as adrenaline, it is recommended that you avoid exercising late in the afternoon or just before bedtime. 

Adjust your sleep environment and habits

Sometimes, a bad sleep posture can cause hypnic jerks. These sort of disruptions are the result of things like sleeping on a wrong mattress or pillow. If you think your mattress might be the cause of a bad sleep or improper sleeping position, then try replacing your mattress with a new one, which is best suited to your needs. If you are uncertain about which mattress to buy, seek advice from an expert at a local store, or get online unbiased expert guidance for the best mattress reviews. Above all, make sure that you fix any wrong sleep conditions and maintain a healthy sleep posture if possible.

Make your bedroom an oasis and try to leave all the stress at the door, change up something in your old environment, experiment with different types of sheet and bedding. If you used to sleep on silk, you might try flannel sheet, there's plenty of room to find you "sweet spot".

Key takeaway about hypnic jerks

There have been numerous reported complaints of people experiencing hypnic jerks. You will be relieved to know therefore that you are not alone in fighting this annoying and rather painful experience of episodes of involuntary muscle twitches and feeling of freefall, often accompanied by excessive sweat, racing heartbeat, hallucinations and other symptoms.

Whilst this condition is not severe, it can disrupt your sleep pattern and so you must not leave it untreated. Once you make sure you actually suffer from hypnic jerks, as you are truly the only person who can tell if this happens, then you must visit your doctor for a sleep exam called polysomnogram. If you are diagnosed with this condition, there are different pathways to follow in terms of naturally treating the problem which have been reported in this article.

Above all, you must try to stay calm at all times and retain a positive attitude as hypnic jerks are treatable and need no panicking. Sooner or later, you will succeed to overcome the issue and continue with you normal sleep patterns.

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