I'm startled awake as soon as I fall asleep.
January 21, 2007 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Just as I'm falling asleep, I'm startled awake. Either it's a rush of that nervous "butterflies" in my stomach or it's a twitch in a muscle. Then I'm wide awake again. Every time I try to fall asleep it happens, waking me up. It's been getting worse over the past week or two, and last night I got no sleep at all. What is this and what can I do about it?
posted by Abraxas5 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hypnic jerk. See these other AskMe questions for more.
posted by Partial Law at 12:02 PM on January 21, 2007

What you describe happens to me on occasion, and I think it's more than just a hypnic jerk. The fact that it's getting worse and that it's accompanied by nervousness makes me think that it is insomnia, which is principally a psychological condition. I find that if I have some important task to do the next day, that I'll be very 'sensitized' to the feelings of falling asleep the night beforehand. For instance, I'll be shocked into the state that you describe by the thought that I'm falling asleep. The same thing happens if I know I'm not going to get a good night's sleep because I have to get up in 4-5 hours. I'll nearly be asleep, and then I'll think, "gosh I need to get up so soon," and all of a sudden I'll be wide awake and nervous about how poorly rested I am going to be.

I think the best thing to do (and I know it's difficult) is to attempt to stop thinking about your lack of sleep and the complications that it may cause. Just accept sleep as it comes and don't worry about how much you're getting. Also, try to convince yourself that being sleep-deprived does not make life miserable; once you no longer care, it will be much easier, psychologically, to actually fall asleep. But this is just my experience; if there is no psychological component, then my advice does not really apply.
posted by notswedish at 12:19 PM on January 21, 2007

That describes a couple of panic attacks I've had. I'll be falling asleep and then I'll wake up and my heart is racing and I feel light-headed. Do you feel scared at all when you wake up?
posted by dgeiser13 at 1:18 PM on January 21, 2007

I have that type of thing sometimes, too... it feels like I'm about to throw up, unless I sit up right away. It only happens when I'm laying on my back. Try laying on your side or stomach and see if that fixes it. My hypothesis, for me, anyway, is that my uvula/tonsils is/are a little too big, and it's partially choking me.
posted by fvox13 at 1:24 PM on January 21, 2007

I was reading about the hypnic jerk earlier, but it didn't sound like most people are kept up all night with it happening over and over. And sometimes there's no "jerk," just that startled feeling.
I don't feel scared when I wake up - just wide awake, with my heart pounding.
posted by Abraxas5 at 1:42 PM on January 21, 2007

I am not a doctor, I'm certainly not your doctor, and this is by no means medical advice, but I find that opiate painkillers such as Vicodin seem to help a lot with this kind of thing.
posted by nowonmai at 1:53 PM on January 21, 2007

As a supplement to all good suggestions, you could also chew some valeriana.
posted by micayetoca at 1:54 PM on January 21, 2007

This happened to me for years. It went along with Exploding Head Syndrome, which I hate the name because it makes it sound funny when it's a horrible and scary thing, and ruins sleep, as well as Hypnic Jerk, which Partial Law linked to in the first post.

When I quit caffeine, all those problems slacked off tremendously, and for the first time in 20 years, I've started sleeping more than 3 - 4 hours per day. I blew off the possibility of it being caffeine for a long time, because I had very little of the stuff (in Diet Coke), but when I quit it for different purposes, my wife noticed after a week or two I was getting to sleep much easier, and sleeping way better. I experimented on and off caffeine, and there was definitely a causal relationship. Now that was just for me, so YMMV. I wish you the best, because it was 20 years of misery for me. I was fortunate that something so easy fixed it for me.
posted by Katravax at 2:44 PM on January 21, 2007

I am not sure if this will help, but something similar was happening to me a few weeks ago. I went to the doctor and mentioned these symptoms to an ex-soldier colleague who is being treated for PTSD.

Anyway, the doctor told me my heart and bp seemed fine and this was probably anxiety.

The ex-soldier told me to breathe in and out real fast like I was hyperventilating and notice how that made me feel physically ( I skipped this step because I already know what that feels like). He then advised me that when I woke up, or at any other time I felt like this, to remind myself that "this is not important". He advised me that when I fall asleep my defenses are down, and I am getting these symptoms because my brain is dividing the important from the unimportant and the “important” list is getting long and scaring me. Pile on the fact that this feels like a physical health issue and it can snowball.

The poster above said lay off the caffeine – this good advice, my doctor suggested this.

I am sleeping better now, and I feel good.
posted by Deep Dish at 7:58 PM on January 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hypnic jerks are normal isolated occurrences; they're not disruptive to sleep for days on end.

You might want to think about seeing a doctor if this persists.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:04 AM on January 22, 2007

I had this for a while way back and the key to the door is relaxation.

Try a long hot bath before bed, hot milky drink, ditch the caffeine.

If this doesn't get you there, get hold of a deep relaxation recording, one of the ones that makes you do breathing exercises and work through your muscles tensing and relaxing them.

Another good one is to make yourself a cd of relaxing music. The more ambient the better. I go for this. Play it as you go to sleep and the textures in the music will distract your brain during the crucial dropping off bit.

Good luck. I know it feels horrible but it's pretty easy to get rid of.
posted by merocet at 1:33 AM on January 22, 2007

I think that the cause of the nervous "rush" or startle, that stomach flutter, is an adrenaline surge.
posted by tristeza at 6:49 PM on January 22, 2007

It sounds like you have anxiety problems. Could be perhaps a panic attack, associated with one of the various anxiety disorders. Usually these kind of things happen right before your body is about to hit the deepest stage of sleep, which should be around 2-3 AM. Most likely it has to do with the HPA Axis, which activates before your body becomes too relaxed. The first step is to practice good sleep hygiene. On top of the recommendations in the little article it is also a good idea to utilize the bed only for sleep and sex, don't read books or try to do work. Without more info, it's hard to say more. It can also be from depression, but that usually happens later around 4-5 AM, and your symptoms don't sound like it. This is of course just my semi-informed opinion.
posted by vodkadin at 10:14 PM on January 23, 2007

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