The Common Involuntary Shudder
November 15, 2005 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Many years ago someone told me the recognised term for the kind of involuntary shudder that commonly affects people at rest. You know the kind that spontaneously rocks you, just for a moment, like you are shaking off the ghoulies, like the cliche says 'someone was walking on your grave'? I have since lost this word to time, and searching the internet has brought only partial results. Does anyone know it?
posted by 0bvious to Science & Nature (31 answers total)
myoclonic twitch
posted by matildaben at 8:13 PM on November 15, 2005

hypnagogic myoclonus
posted by tayknight at 8:16 PM on November 15, 2005

Flux capacitor.

Myclonic jerk. (Loathe as I am to link to Wikipedia).
posted by abcde at 8:40 PM on November 15, 2005

Ever notice how sometimes when you have this you get a miniature dream vignette that starts off calm and is designed to accomodate the shock (for instance, I've been skiing and then hit a bump)? If I recall, what happens is that as it's starting to happen your brain makes something up and compresses a whole story a few seconds long into the instant before you get it.

Ah, from an article by Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker:
"Sometimes, as one is falling asleep, there may be a massive, involuntary jerk--a myoclonic jerk--of the body. Though such jerks are generated by primitive parts of the brain stem (they are, so to speak, brain-stem reflexes), and as such are without any intrinsic meaning or motive, they may be given meaning and context, turned into acts, by an instantly improvised dream. Thus the jerk may be associated with a dream of tripping, or stepping over a precipice, lunging forward to catch a ball, and so on. Such dreams may be extremely vivid, and have several "scenes." Subjectively, they appear to start before the jerk, and yet presumably the entire dream mechanism is stimulated by the first, preconscious perception of the jerk. All of this elaborate restructuring of time occurs in a second or less."
posted by abcde at 8:45 PM on November 15, 2005

Fiona Apple used "hypnic jerk" in her song Oh Well.
posted by dhartung at 8:55 PM on November 15, 2005

posted by jjg at 8:57 PM on November 15, 2005

Response by poster: I came across the myclonic stuff myself, but didn't feel it got close to the kind of shudder I meant.

Sleep has nothing to do with it, its kind of just a moment out of time when your body convulses in an almost fear-like representation of something you didn't experience, somthing that bypassed your consciousness and went straight into your nervous system.

The heebie jeebies is that kind of thing i mean, but this is not a recognised term...

And I can't find any reference to "antroplysic mytonsus" anywhere...
posted by 0bvious at 10:30 PM on November 15, 2005

Uh, I always just called it "the chills." In medical terminology, repeated chills are referred to as rigors, but it's usually because your body is trying to keep warm.
posted by sarahnade at 10:33 PM on November 15, 2005

A friend once referred to it as a "personal earthquake."
posted by shifafa at 11:24 PM on November 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

I know what you mean, and its not the myoclonic jerk. I get them all the time and have even had the EEG and the wear-it-home wire toque treatments to figure out why I get them so often. Colloquially I call them "shudders", I wonder if they are a kind of "petit mal" seizure.

Someone walking over your future grave is a common superstition about these -- maybe it is the explanation and I am due to be buried under a highway...
posted by Rumple at 12:15 AM on November 16, 2005

I don't really get these; which not knowing the subtleties of the experience, sound like unprovoked shudders (including, also unprovoked, the emotions that normally cause a shudder) . Rumple: Did the tests come up with anything?
posted by abcde at 12:32 AM on November 16, 2005

Also, that would be a complex partial seizure, as petit mal is just an older synonym for absence seizure (which is a brief period of unconsciousness) and it sounds like you maintain consciousness. I don't know how common it is for anything other than absense seizures to be so short, though.
posted by abcde at 12:42 AM on November 16, 2005

Response by poster: I should also add that I get these 'shudders' quite a lot - alone or in the presence of others. Also, in a similar way to a yawn, if I think hard about the sensation I can provoke the shudder a little, although it is not as intense. It feels like it controls you for a time...

I assume that everyone gets these, just because I have talked about it with people before... I think it was my dad who originally told me the name many years ago

Thanks for the great responses by the way...
posted by 0bvious at 12:45 AM on November 16, 2005

abcde -- no, there was no diagnosis, probably because I dropped out of treatment once they started musing about cancelling my driver's licence. They usually last about 10-30 seconds, involve only the upper body, involve a slowly increasing muscular spasm, but there is no loss of conciousness or awareness. In fact, there is the sensation that I could stop the shudder if I wanted to, but for some reason, I never "want to". They can occur anytime but most commonly are stimulated by a feather-light touch to the skin of the face, neck or scalp, or by orgasm. The longest one I've had must have lasted about 5 minutes of which 4 was a sort of paralysis, conscious, but not able to move/not wanting to move.

OK, too much information maybe -- I wish I knew what they were -- but don't worry about them anymore. I also thought everyone got them but apparently not....

I usually have the big twitch on falling asleep and it is definitely not the same thing.

(BTW I never get them driving, teaching, or other activities that require a certain 'focus' -- so feel ok about still driving)
posted by Rumple at 12:55 AM on November 16, 2005

Response by poster: abcde: Do you know where I can track down that New Yorker - Oliver Sacks article? The New Yorker archives have been, well, crap

posted by 0bvious at 12:57 AM on November 16, 2005

I call it the "wee-wee shivers"...but to be honest that's only because someone beat me to "jibblies".
posted by Jofus at 2:15 AM on November 16, 2005

(Loathe as I am to link to Wikipedia). -abcde

posted by zardoz at 3:47 AM on November 16, 2005

willies: A state of nervous restlessness or agitation: fidget (often used in plural), jitter (used in plural), jump (used in plural), shiver1 (used in plural), tremble (often used in plural). Informal all-overs, shake (used in plural). Slang heebie-jeebies, jim-jams. See calm/agitation, fear/courage.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:04 AM on November 16, 2005

Obvious: I think I know what you mean... you can be sitting there happy as larry, when suddenly you'll flinch as if something had come flashing toward your face.
I get it occasionally - never figured out whether it was due to some fightening looking floaty things in my eyes, perhaps a fly coming too close, or maybe even a stray neutrino impacting on my retina in an unexpected manner...
posted by Chunder at 7:03 AM on November 16, 2005

I don't know this official name for this, but it's a hormone shiver. I get it when I'm cold sometimes and (maybe too much information) when I pee. It's either your sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system activating. It's different than a myoclonic twitch.
posted by lunalaguna at 8:28 AM on November 16, 2005

0bvious, is it a technical term or a lay/colloquial term that you are searching for? There are tons of different types of seizures, tremors and spells/shudders.
posted by shoepal at 8:29 AM on November 16, 2005

A answer about "piss shivers" from Straight Dope.
posted by lunalaguna at 8:36 AM on November 16, 2005

I get these once in a while. It's not connected to urination, sleep (though I've had that a few times, too), or anything else. I just suddenly quake for a few seconds. Generally, someone will say, "What was that?" or, "Are you okay?"

I just say, "Full body shiver". Pretty much everyone I've said that to understands exactly what I mean, though as far as technical or medical term - I'm just as in-the-dark as you.
posted by ArsncHeart at 9:08 AM on November 16, 2005

I think the twitch when falling asleep is just your body trying to rouse itself - it usually happens to me when I try to sleep in a chair, on a couch, or some other location that's not where I normally sleep. I don't know that it's necessarily the same thing as these other spasms that are being reported - but of course, IANAD, and I could be wrong.

Here's a related question, though: Does anyone else ever get this sensation like their entire body is humming/thrumming/lightly vibrating when they try to fall asleep in an armchair or on a couch? I've gotten this innumerable times throughout my life, and it always freaked me out. It always occurs right about the point where I'm midway between consciousness and sleep and I've started to feel warm like I do when I sleep. Any ideas?
posted by limeonaire at 12:00 PM on November 16, 2005

limeonaire: The hypnagogic state is prone to many odd sensations. That's probably the most common, and well-documented, though it's probably not medically classified. If you put a conscious effort into staying conscious as your body falls asleep, which is done to achieve lucid dreams, it can get stronger until it feels like painless electricity running through your whole body, often with an accompanying whoosing type sound, until you fall asleep fully (and, hopefully, aware that you're dreaming).

zardoz: I have the usual critiques of it (no consistent style, prone to vandalism, many inaccuracies).
posted by abcde at 4:03 PM on November 16, 2005

Rumple: Those sure sound like seizures. I'd trust their medical opinion if it turns out they are and they say it's possible it will someday affect you when you're driving. Just because it never has doesn't mean there'll be no outliers to the general rule. They'll give you medicine, and you won't be able to drive for some amount of time that varies based on the laws of your area (it's in the months, I'm not aware of a place where it's over a year). I'm epileptic; I've never had a grand mal seizure other than in my sleep, but I'm not bold enough to bet on other people's lives, and my own, over that track record without having been seizure-free for some time. I strongly encourage you to go through with the tests.
posted by abcde at 4:04 PM on November 16, 2005

0bvious: I can't track down the full New Yorker article either, that was a second-degree copy-and-paste from some blog.
posted by abcde at 4:07 PM on November 16, 2005

Response by poster: Shoepal: Yeah, I was thinking technical term. I remember that whoever told me was not being colloquial, it was a mouthful of a word (I think)...

This kind of shiver has very little to do with sleep for me. I know of those kind of body movements, but this is different. It can happen anytime. I reckon some people have this and just don't really pay attention to it, its so normal. I'd equate it closest with the feeling you get when you see something that freaks you out.

Anyway, thanks again for the responses. It doesn't look like a technical term is going to be found. But I still have hope yet!
posted by 0bvious at 4:23 PM on November 16, 2005

"Goose walked over my grave" is how I've referred to them since I can remember. I don't know where the saying originated.
posted by deborah at 4:48 PM on November 16, 2005

Best answer: It may not be exactly perfect, but I would definitely use the word "frisson" to describe this sensation.

(And yes, after lurking for years, I registered just to answer this.)
posted by booksandlibretti at 5:18 PM on November 16, 2005 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: frission looks like the best so far, but still i yearn for an article somewhere with more on this slight phenomenon...

posted by 0bvious at 6:13 AM on November 17, 2005

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