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Hypnic Jerks: Why We Twitch Before Falling Asleep

Each of us has likely experienced the so-called hypnic jerks at least once in our lives. A hypnic jerk or hypnagogic jerk occurs when we abruptly and involuntarily shudder awake.

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The relationship between the brain and muscle activity during sleep is still a mystery. Scientists have a lot of options regarding the reason for this phenomenon. We all know that when a person falls asleep, their muscles gradually relax. Two of the body’s systems are simultaneously involved in this process, and the process of falling asleep itself is a smooth transition from one to the other.

Why We Twitch Before Falling Asleep

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Few people can fall asleep instantly — the transition takes some time. During this shift, a minor malfunction occurs in the body, and the person twitches and wakes up. Scientists believe that it manifests most often in those who suffer from sleep deprivation or stress.

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However, there are more speculative hypotheses. One of them assumes that a hypnic jerk is a reflex we inherited from primates. As we all know, they sleep in trees to avoid falling prey to predators. Jerking awakens the body and prevents them from falling.

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British somnologist Nerina Ramlakhan put forward a different version. The woman believes that twitching is the result of nervous system malfunctions. When a person falls asleep, they stop moving, but the brain misinterprets the signals from the muscles.

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It believes that it has lost contact with the limbs, or the body has begun to die. Therefore, it sends a distress signal, which makes us jerk. The somnologist states that the reasons for it may lie in sleep disorders, stress, accumulated fatigue, or dehydration.

© DepositPhotos

In conclusion, hypnic jerks are common and usually harmless. However, if they happen to you often, you may want to consult a specialist. Stay safe and healthy, and don’t forget to share this article with your friends!


I am an English major with a love of languages and fiction, and with an incurable travel bug. In my free time, I read fantasy, drink copious amounts of coffee, and like to go see movies. Culinary art means everything to me. My main hypostasis is the taster, though. The music school has taught me to appreciate the symphony of airy meringues, to create harmonious overtures of light snacks, hard rock of meat, fish, and vegetables on the grill. Choir classes have accustomed me to hear and feel the people nearby and create perfect harmonies of sounds.

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