Picture this: you’re tucked in bed and falling into a deep sleep. Suddenly, you jolt or twitch yourself awake, resulting in you feeling uncomfortable, startled and panicky. If this happens to you occasionally or frequently, there’s actually a name for this strange thing you’re experiencing: hypnic jerk.
A hypnic jerk or sleep start can happen to anyone so while you should feel reassured that you’re not the only one to experience this, it’s not exactly the nicest feeling and it disrupts your sleep schedule. To find out more about hypnic jerks, I spoke to Martin Seeley, sleep expert & CEO of MattressNextDay, and he explained what hypnic jerks are, why you have them and how to get back to sleep after having one.
P.S. Set yourself up for sleep success by investing in the best mattress.
What is a hypnic jerk?
A hypnic jerk is a sudden and involuntary body movement or muscle contraction that you might experience as you’re falling asleep. According to Seeley, “hypnic jerks may involve muscle twitches or more complex actions such as a head, arm or leg jerk.” Alongside this body twitch, some people may experience strange dreams or images when having a hypnic jerk, with many reporting feeling like they’re falling or seeing flashing lights.
Hypnic jerks can happen at any time during the night and they’re fairly common in both children and adults. The response to a hypnic jerk is different for each person. While some people might not notice them at all and carry on sleeping, the movements can be “violent enough to wake you up.”
Having said all of this, hypnic jerks aren’t something to worry about too much as they won’t cause you any pain or harm. While you might wake up feeling startled and scared, it turns out that hypnic jerks are a “normal part of your sleep cycle because they’re caused by the brain’s attempt to regulate its level of alertness during sleep,” says Seeley.
How to get back to sleep after a hypnic jerk
Despite hypnic jerks being a normal part of sleep, there are a few things you can do to prevent them. Having your last cup of coffee at the right time and trying not to exercise too late in the day (for more information, check out does exercise before bed help or hurt sleep) can help you avoid hypnic jerks but they can also be caused by stress, anxiety or sleep deprivation. In general, you may experience hypnic jerks from time to time, so Seeley has given us 3 ways to get back to sleep after having one.
Take deep breaths
After you’ve had a hypnic jerk, your heart might be racing and you could be feeling uncomfortable, fearful and wide awake. To help your body calm down and relax so you can fall asleep again, get comfortable and take deep breaths to soothe your mind and body from the disruption.
Avoid your phone
It’s always a big no-no to check your phone when you wake up in the night, regardless of whether you’ve had a hypnic jerk or not. Seeley says “this is because the blue light emitted from your phone interferes with the body’s production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. In turn, this makes you feel more awake, making it harder for you to fall asleep and seeing the time on your phone may stress you out if you need to be awake in a couple of hours.” For more details on blue light, take a look at our guide on how blue light affects your sleep.
Carry out a full body scan
If a hypnic jerk has made it harder to get back to sleep, try carrying out a full body scan. To do 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. After 30 seconds to a minute, move to your neck and do the same thing before moving to your shoulders, arms…” and so on. This meditative technique is a great way to relax your muscles, calm your thoughts and you should be asleep by the time you reach your feet.