You wake up abruptly in the middle of the night, almost jumping out of bed because you feel like you’re falling into the void. You experience a shock, but you don’t really understand what happened.
If any of these things sound familiar to you, don’t worry, you’ve probably just experienced what scientists call a hypnagogic or hypnic jerk.
So if you’re reading this because a hypnotic jerk woke you up in the middle of the night, We will tell you what it is and its possible causes.
Hypnic Jerks And The Feeling Of Falling
As consciousness leaves our bodies when we fall asleep, the brain begins to function differently than when we are awake. During this transition from wakefulness to sleep, something known as hypnic jerking can occur.
A hypnotic push is a sudden movement that resembles a muscle contraction, that feeling we have when something suddenly scares us.
This strange movement is the result of a myoclonic spasm, a sudden and involuntary contraction of a muscle or group of muscles that can occur alone or in sequence, with or without a pattern.
Hiccups, for example, is another very common form of myoclonic spasms.
Hypnic jerks usually consist of a single contraction and are associated with a falling sensation, the beginning of a dream (visual or auditory), or a vivid hypnagogic hallucination (which occurs when the person is falling asleep).
What Causes That Feeling
Hypnic jerks usually occur when a person falls asleep. It is common for these contractions to cause confusion about when sleep actually begins and whether or not we are dreaming.
Although its cause is not very clear and the information available is limited, scientists believe that there maybe some of the reasons:
Physical activity: Exercising too close to bedtime can overstimulate the body and make it difficult to sleep early.
Anxiety and stress: Sleeping with too many worries in mind can keep your brain active longer than necessary, which in turn can cause it to send warning signals even when the body is asleep.
Caffeine and other stimulants: These and other stimulant products affect the body’s ability to sleep naturally and have a good night’s sleep.
Lack of sleep: Other sleep disorders and poor sleep habits can also be related to these spasms.
In addition to these possible causes, there is another interesting theory with an evolutionary perspective that explains why hypnic jerks occur.
According to research from the University of Colorado, these jerks may be an archaic reflex that occurs when the brain misinterprets the natural relaxation of muscles during sleep as a risk of falling from the tree where our ancestors slept.
Hypnic Jerks Don’t Always Wake Us Up
The intensity of a hypnic jerk can vary. Trying one doesn’t always wake us up in a panic. Sometimes the contraction is mild and does not disturb our sleep. However, if we have a sleeping partner, they might notice it.
Sometimes muscle contraction not only wakes us up, it leaves us in shock for a few seconds.
Some people even feel like they have been pushed out of bed. This feeling is accentuated if we dream that we are falling from a building or other tall place.
When To Visit The Doctor
The good news is that it is not a serious disorder nor does it cause complications. In fact, it is rarely a sign of a bigger problem.
According to research, between 60% and 70% of people suffer from these night spasms, regardless of age or gender.
Generally, if you experience hypnic jerks, it is not necessary to consult a doctor. However, this is recommended when the episodes are so frequent that they affect the ability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
In such cases, a specialist will be able to rule out neurological or sleep disorders that may require treatment.
Have you ever had the sensation of falling while sleeping? What other strange experiences did you have while you were sleeping? Do you like that feeling or does it bother you?