Why Do I Twitch in My Sleep?

Every once in a while you are falling asleep and all of a sudden it feels as if you are free-falling off a cliff, jerking you awake. This jolt can be very disorienting, making it a challenge to fall back to sleep. If this sounds familiar, then know you aren't alone. Up to 70% of people have experienced hypnic jerks or sleep starts while they fall asleep. This is a total normal body experience in which the muscles contract, causing the limbs to jerk or the body to twitch. This typically happens when you are transitioning between sleep and wakefulness and is incredibly brief, lasting about half a second or even less. Now that you have a basic idea of what is going on, it is easier to answer "why do I twitch in my sleep?"

Why Do I Twitch in My Sleep?

There are dozens of possible reasons about why someone will twitch in their sleep, which vary from person to person. Here are some of the most common answers to the question:

1. Sleep Starts

Sleep starts are also known as hypnic jerks and the majority of people will experience them at some time. This happens when you are transitioning from being awake to light sleep, known as stage one. This is the transition period in which you drift in and out of sleep easily. When you start to relax, there will be positive myoclonus (sudden muscle contractions) that cause one or more of your limbs or your trunk to extend. The movement may follow the feeling of falling off of a cliff or tumbling out of your bed.

2. Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous condition affecting up to 18 million Americans. In a sleep apnea episode, the muscles in the throat relax and the windpipe collapses, interrupting breathing. It is possible to stop breathing for 60 seconds before your brain tells you to wake up you a little bit so you can breathe. It can happen multiple times during the night, but most people with the condition aren't diagnosed. Sleep apnea also carries a risk of sleep deprivation, daytime accidents, stroke, seizure, heart attack and high blood pressure.

3. Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome, RLS, leads to unpleasant tickling, prickling or crawling sensations in the feet and legs when resting, particularly at night. This can create an urge for you to move your legs, which is a common answer to the question, "why do I twitch in my sleep?" Up to 12 million people in the United States have RLS and it may be due to dopamine abnormalities. Up to 90% of those with RLS also have periodic limb movement disorder.

4. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Periodic limb movement disorder, PLMD, involves jerking movements which may last around 30 seconds. This rhythmic twitching disrupts sleep and causes people to be tired the next day even if they didn't always wake up because of this twitching. It is common for PLMD to be noticed by bed partners and it frequently involves small movements, like flexing or bending ankles, hips, knees or big toes. In the case of sudden movements, they may disrupt sleep and lead to sleep deprivation.

5. REM Behavior Disorder

When in the REM cycle, most people are unable to move, stopping you from acting out dreams. The REM behavior disorder prevents you from having sleep paralysis within the REM cycle. It makes you have involuntary, sudden twitches or vigorous movements during sleep.

6. Sleep Tremors

Tremors most commonly affect the legs, arms and hands, although they can occur in the voice, face and trunk during sleep as well. When they occur during sleep, they may indicate a neurological disorder. They may be caused by alcohol consumption, alcohol withdrawal, overactive thyroid or a family history. Tremors can affect people of all ages but are most common in those older than 40.

7. Sleep Convulsions

Sleep convulsions are involuntary spasms lasting two minutes or less. During sleep convulsions, you should pay attention to which limbs are shaking, whether a fever is present, and whether you change consciousness. These convulsions can indicate epilepsy, low blood sugar, heart disease or head injuries. You should see a doctor if they continue.

8. Dystonia

Dystonia is a movement disorder causing dystonic tremors and affects all ages. Movements occur from painful positions and twisting motions which happen when the muscles contract involuntarily.

Twitch in My Sleep--What to Do?

If you have already discovered "why do I twitch in my sleep?" it is time to figure out how to solve the problem. There are several treatment options and your doctor will work with you to choose the best method.

1. Change Your Sleeping Position

If you currently sleep on your back, you can try sleeping on your stomach or side instead. This may reduce the chances of twitching in your sleep and has worked for some people.

2. Adjust Your Bed Firmness

It is possible that a less firm bed will give you less muscular stimulation while sleeping, making you feel like you are floating or falling, leading to the jerks. A bed that is too firm, on the other hand, may overstimulate the musculature, causing nerves to misfire and leading to a reflexive twitch as a startle response.

3. Decrease Activity at Night

Try not to participate in too many physical activities at night or in the afternoon as your motor cortex may become overactivated. This can cause a jolt when your brain tries to deactivate this particular region.

4. Regiment Your Sleep Schedule

Your circadian rhythm will typically adapt if you stick to a strict sleep schedule. If your sleep schedule varies, your circadian rhythm won't align with it, leading to physiological chaos. That, in turn, could cause twitches.

5. Treat the Underlying Condition

In the case of an underlying medical condition, sleep disorder, or neurological condition, treating those may decrease your twitching at night. If the condition isn't treated, youmay experience twitching and abnormal nighttime activation in your brain.

6. Other Treatment Options

  • Some pharmaceutical drugs and supplements that improve sleep quality can also reduce twitching.
  • You should eliminate stimulants. Try decreasing your consumption of drugs and/or alcohol. Besides, reducing your caffeine intake may also help.
 
 
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