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July 6, 2011 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Is this an actual phenomenon - having a physical sensation like bugs are crawling up your bare skin? This happens mostly when I'm trying to sleep, and sometimes I'll be almost asleep and then feel something big moving up my arm and jolt awake and brush off the nonexistent bug on my skin. I've only heard about this in the context of drug users (e.g. A Scanner Darkly) but that doesn't apply to me. So is this a thing, and what can I do about it? Could it be caused by drinking coffee? Am I just unusually freaked about bugs?
posted by naju to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's called formication and is a common symptom of menopause.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:46 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I experience the same thing, and was also wondering what causes it. For me, I think it might be psychological because a few years ago I had a flea infestation in my house which left me physically and emotionally scarred. So maybe it's a post-traumatic remnant of a past experience with bugs?
posted by katypickle at 9:59 AM on July 6, 2011

The transition to sleep is a very interesting time, neurologically. If it became chronic you might want to get checked out, but if it is occasional I don't think it's any more serious than occasionally jerking* awake while falling asleep.

*Which I think is a myoclonic or hypnic twitch, but I still remember the Sniglet for it: napjerk.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:12 AM on July 6, 2011

Best answer: Yes, formication can be caused by (among other things) any stimulant, certainly including caffeine. Personally I find it most commonly happens to me when the effects of more coffee than I'm used to are starting to wear off.

When somebody gets like the guy in A Scanner Darkly, loses insight into the fact that they're experiencing a tactile hallucination, and thinks they actually are infested by bugs that only they can see, that's a potentially much more serious related condition called delusional parasitosis.

As to what you can do about it, I'd say drink less coffee if it bothers you, but otherwise it's not really anything to be concerned about.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:15 AM on July 6, 2011

Consider restless leg syndrome (RLS).

Dismissed as imaginary, but it's real.
posted by LonnieK at 10:35 AM on July 6, 2011

Best answer: I have a bug phobia (centipedes, maggots, some worms, various other stuff, but strangely enough, not spiders) and if I have a particularly close encounter, like the time I went to put a piece of broccoli in my mouth only to find a slug in it, or any site of maggots or a centipede, I'll spend the next hour or so itching myself and brushing the imaginary bugs off me. I hate it.

Yours sounds like it might be some sort of Hypnic jerk related thing, which sometimes happens to me. One time I freaked out a friend when I told him there were spiders all over our tent. Turns out I was just dozing off and imaging it.
posted by bondcliff at 10:42 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have anxiety issues (not necessarily about bugs, though) and I sometimes feel this sensation, especially if I've been thinking about bugs (we camped in a tick-infested area recently and we had fleas a few years ago). Since caffeine can mimic the physical symptoms of anxiety, I suspect this is your culprit.

Klonopin will stop it, guaranteed, but I doubt a doctor would prescribe it just for this, unless maybe it's causing you not to sleep at all. On the other hand, it's prescribed for Restless Leg Syndrome, so who knows.
posted by desjardins at 11:03 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

2nding katypickle - happened after prolonged flea infestation for me.

However, I also get it when my skin is dry and my allergies are acting up. YMMV
posted by guster4lovers at 11:03 AM on July 6, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks guys. There have been these bugs getting into my place often with the summer weather, and they've even crawled on me once or twice, so maybe the possibility of it happening has caused the physical sensations. Also I've been drinking coffee later than usual. Could be the combination of those.
posted by naju at 11:18 AM on July 6, 2011

I have a lot of trouble with this. I tend to chalk it up to anxiety about actual insects (we've had a LOT of trouble with very small ants for the last two years. We are getting on top of it this year, YAY). Basically, I think I get so wound up about an ant finding its way into the bed from time to time that ANY sensation --even perfectly normal ones that would normally get ignored-- detected on my skin sends me into a tizzy.
posted by Ys at 2:19 PM on July 6, 2011

magnesium deficiency?
posted by egk at 2:31 PM on July 6, 2011

I had this happen in about 10 days after I started welbutrin, which, of course, I no longer take.
posted by theora55 at 3:20 PM on July 6, 2011

I have this all the time, and have since I was a child.

Part of it, I'm sure is caffeine in my system and a general fidgety nature. There's also the hormonal possibility, apparently?

But, yeah, I grew up in a place where there were always bugs. Roaches and daddylonglegs in the house. Mosquitos and no-see-ums outside. There was almost always something to swat away, especially in the summer.

I also have recurring nightmares of being covered in bugs, or there being a huge centipede on my bed or something like that.
posted by Sara C. at 3:23 PM on July 6, 2011

Morgellons -- a.k.a. 'unexplained dermopathy'?
posted by taramosalata at 6:24 PM on July 6, 2011

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