Hypnic Jerks: A Dreamer’s Version of a Swift Kick in the Pants
There are not many forms of dream study that have more to do with the physical than the mental. Hypnic jerking is a sleep disorder that has nothing to do with actual dreams and everything to do with your level of muscle control as well as how you may be feeling on an emotional level.
There are many forms of sleeping disorders that deal with muscle control, including restless leg syndrome and any subsets that fall under that disorder.
What makes a hypnic jerk so much fun is that it usually takes place right as a person is falling asleep. Have you ever been drifting off only to jerk awake so violently that you ruin a perfectly good natural high? Well, that’s a hypnic jerk, and for those who experience these involuntary muscle spasms on a regular basis, you should probably be aware that, while these jerks are not harmful, they usually work a number on a person’s sleep schedule.
A hypnic jerk is often described as a sudden startle that is then made worse by the falling sensation that closely follows.
A hypnic jerk will usually only take place during an instance of hypnagogia, which is unsurprising since hypnagogia is the transitional phase that people go through when they’re either about to go to sleep or in the process of waking up.
Hypnic jerks can happen for a couple of reasons. The first that happens does so because your body is confused about the sensations that it’s feeling. When you fall asleep, your whole body usually begins to relax. Your breathing will deepen, your respiratory rate will increase, and your body temperature will also change. All of this combined gives your body the idea that you’re actually falling. Therefore, your muscles will tighten, causing you to jerk in an attempt to save yourself.
The same thing takes place when you’re waking up. The only difference is that the sensation isn’t akin to falling so much as it is a feeling of sudden alarm. And why not? Not only does your temperature change again, but this time your heart rate is increasing, your breathing is becoming faster and shallower, and you’re basically sending signals that you are in trouble.
So what does your body do?
It jerks you out of harm’s way since sudden muscle contractions seem to be the way that your body automatically handles any problem once the mind goes out of commission.
Hypnic jerks aren’t frightening so much as they are startling. Like any muscle spasm, they can be ignored until they begin to make a more regular appearance. While those who experience these jerks throughout the night might go through them one after another, the person sleeping will never actually realize what’s happening. That’s because hypnic jerks are relatively gentle on the body; they usually only wake people up when they are transitioning between wakefulness and sleep. To have a hypnic jerk in the middle of the sleeping cycle would do nothing more than make a sleeper’s body twist or twitch in their beds, harmful maybe for anyone sleeping with such a person, but innocent enough for the sleeper in question.
The real problem seems to arise when these hypnic jerks actually begin to keep you awake on a regular basis. Every now and then, it’s normal for a hypnic jerk to wake you up out of a nap that promised to go really well. But if it’s happening more often than not, and you know that when you start to drift off you’ll never be able to fall all the way asleep, then that’s a sign that you may have a problem. At that point, you should probably change your routine in some way or get checked out since frequent hypnic jerks are often signs of depression, stress, fatigue, or sleep anxiety.
- Case Studies in Sleep Neurology: Common and Uncommon Presentations (Case Studies in Neurology) (ISBN 9780521146487): Antonio Culebras
- Clinical Companion to Sleep Disorders Medicine Second Edition (ISBN 9780750696876): Sudhansu Chokroverty
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