Do your limbs jerk before falling asleep?
July 23, 2008 6:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm familiar with the idea of nocturnal myoclonic/hypnic jerks - sudden limb movements that wake you up from sleep, or when just crossing the threshold of sleep. But does anyone out there get these before they fall asleep, but while chasing it, relaxing in bed with eyes closed? On bad nights I get several.

I should add that this symptom is a recent development in a larger clinical picture (which I won't subject you to) involving months of sleep disturbance, that my Neurologist remains stumped after exhausting all the usual tests (MRI, etc), and that I'm really not trying to push you good MeFites into diagnosing me over the internet.

However, it would really help, for my own sanity's sake, if someone out there has ever had a (benign?) bout of this same thing. My Neurologist tried to comfort me a few months back with the old "well at least you're not having crazy jerks" line, but now that I seem to be, I'd feel less worried if I weren't the only one. Thanks!
posted by 34centstampede to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yup, it's definitely happened to me before too. Even Wikipedia says it's pretty common. And no, my sleep cycle isn't the greatest either.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 6:34 AM on July 23, 2008

I know I've definitely caught myself having one of those sudden jerks while lying in bed, trying to sleep but not there yet. At least I've been awake enough to think it was funny and chuckle at myself. I've never thought of it as a problem though, but I can see how it would be worrisome experiencing it often.

For what its worth, you're not alone. Good luck!
posted by joshwebb at 6:41 AM on July 23, 2008

I had this happen when I was stressed out about 3 years ago. I'm pretty sure it hasn't happened in a while. Once it was bad enough that my leg flew up in the air!
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:41 AM on July 23, 2008

I get those too, although I'm not sure if they coincide with periods of stress. I will say, however, that I've never been good at sleeping and periodically suffer from hypnagogic hallucinations.
posted by Constant Reader at 6:59 AM on July 23, 2008

Happens to me any time I'm trying to fall asleep on my back.

Quite useful, as it makes me go to sleep on my side and I don't get scolded for snoring.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:03 AM on July 23, 2008

I can add to the multiple 'yes I experience this too' responses.
I too, do not have great sleep patterns. I wonder if the various sleep problems are interconnected. I have signs of restless leg, get hynogogic hallucinations, night terror episodes, nightmares and sleep apnea/snoring. I used to sleep walk, but that seems to have dissipated with age.
posted by Librarygeek at 7:09 AM on July 23, 2008

Yes, this happens to me at least three nights a week. It's more embarrassing than anything else. I also have awful night terrors- those are awful.
posted by muxnaw at 7:09 AM on July 23, 2008

I also get these when I try to nap on my back (I sleep on my side at night). I look forward to them; they mean that I am, indeed, tired enough to nap, and that I'll be asleep soon. Looking at them in a positive light may relax you.
posted by Mapes at 7:12 AM on July 23, 2008

This happens to me routinely as I fall asleep -- usually jerking me out of that slumbery, pre-sleep, waking/dreaming state. In fact, my boyfriend has often commented that it's how he knows I'm falling asleep, since I'll keep conversing well into that dreamy state.

And I kind of enjoy them, in a whoa-that-feels-weird sort of way. In every other respect I sleep very well, so I'm not sure this should be definitively linked to troubled sleep.
posted by obliquicity at 7:14 AM on July 23, 2008

Yes, I get them too, just as I'm dropping off. Often, I'll think I'm walking and trip in my "dream" and I physically jerk as I trip. Soon drift off to proper sleep afterwards though.
posted by jontyjago at 7:17 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I get them occasionally, but they don't bother me. In fact, like obliquicity, I think they are kind of neat. Otherwise no sleep difficulties other than snoring.
posted by TedW at 7:36 AM on July 23, 2008

I get these all the time - they freaked out my boyfriend when we started going out, but now he's used to them. Like jontyjago, I often 'dream' an explanation for them, like falling over. I sleep pretty normally.
posted by jacalata at 7:36 AM on July 23, 2008

Everyone here seems to be describing ordinary hypnagogic jerks -- occurring, as you said, either while asleep or while just at the edge of sleep. I have those, often accompanied by a dream (or, pseudo-dream, I guess, if I'm not quite asleep) of tripping or falling. But you say you have something different -- a similar jerk or twitch well before you fall asleep. I have those too, or used to, but I have a form of epilepsy (Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy) in which myoclonus is a symptom, and mine gets worse when I'm under stress or sleep deprived. Interestingly, my seizures are now well controlled and the pre-sleep myoclonus has gone away, but I sill get those falling dreams and the hypnagogic jerks that wake me up. I've had those as long as I can remember, even before I had seizures. So I'm not sure the two are related, but it doesn't sound like you're describing precisely the same thing the people in-thread are experiencing.

Paging Ikkuy2, of course.
posted by The Bellman at 7:38 AM on July 23, 2008

jacalata, that's always when I get them too... like I am just about to fall asleep and I dream that I trip over something, and my whole body convulses like crazy. My wife laughs and we both go back to sleep. It happens to her sometimes, too.
posted by fusinski at 7:47 AM on July 23, 2008

I don't know how old you are, but for me these things were much more common in my teen years when I was going through growing spurts.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:55 AM on July 23, 2008

Everyone here seems to be describing ordinary hypnagogic jerks -- occurring, as you said, either while asleep or while just at the edge of sleep

To clarify mine can occur as the original poster described-not at the edge of sleep but relaxing in bed with eyes closed. I don't get them nearly as often, though-maybe once a month or so, certainly not several times a night. I have no idea where the line between normal and not normal for this sort of thing is.
posted by TedW at 7:57 AM on July 23, 2008

I get this sometimes, always when I'm sleepy and getting close to falling asleep. It always freaks me out - it's quite unpleasant.

I wouldn't worry, though. These can be a form of epilepsy, but they can also be perfectly harmless. See this bit about myclonic seizures I found on the Epilepsy Foundation page:

Sudden, brief, involuntary muscle jerks, a bit like the kind everyone has when a foot or leg suddenly jerks in bed. May be mild and affect only part of the body, or be strong enough to throw the child abruptly to the floor. May occur as a single seizure or a cluster of seizures.

So while they can be a type of epilepsy, if your Neurologist isn't worried about this then I don't think you need to be.

I hope your health recovers soon.
posted by badmoonrising at 8:00 AM on July 23, 2008

I think it's actually a useful tool. I can always tell when my girlfriend is falling asleep while we're watching tv because she starts doing that. It's my cue to get more comfortable, because if she's leaning on my shoulder, I'm not going anywhere for a while.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:23 AM on July 23, 2008

Everyone here seems to be describing ordinary hypnagogic jerks

This is what I thought an ordinary hypnic jerk was - it only ever happens to me before falling asleep, never during (that I've noticed), and it happens most nights, if not all. I don't have epilepsy or any other neurological issues (for data collection).
posted by goo at 8:24 AM on July 23, 2008

My son (4) gets tons of these most nights. He gets a few as soon as he's getting tired, and more as he's starting to nod off. He also wakes several nights a week and gets stuck with an hour or so of them before he can nod off again. And more just as he's waking up. Some happen while he's wide awake, some while he's fast asleep.

He's currently getting tested for juvenile epilepsy (as per The Bellman, above). But the important thing is that even though what he's got is being described as almost certainly epilepsy of some form, his neurologist isn't worried about it and doesn't intend to take action unless the MRI scan shows any specific brain abnormality, which appears unlikely.

Thing is, while he makes squeaky noises and twitches his right arm for what can seem ages some nights, it doesn't actually cause him any harm. He's fine and dandy during the day, and developing really well both physically and mentally. So it would appear that they're not necessarily something to worry about. And from the other replies, not uncommon, either.

Hope your 'larger clinical picture' improves.
posted by dowcrag at 8:32 AM on July 23, 2008

I get this if I'm falling asleep in a position where my legs are not outstretched. I couldn't possibly explain to you why.
posted by LN at 8:40 AM on July 23, 2008

I would have called what the original poster (and TedW) is describing a hypnic jerk. They tend to occur a lot in Stage I sleep, but stage I sleep is not really a sharply demarcated time. It is the state known as 'drowsiness'. If you look on the EEG it looks like a transition period between the time that the normal findings of wakefulness disappear and the time that sleep architecture appears. People are aware of their surroundings during stage I sleep but they are generally relaxed and motionless (apart the occasional hypnic jerk.)

I can't comment about a pattern of increasing hypnic jerks with sleep disruption, both because IANYD and because the context isn't sufficient; but it doesn't bring anything particular to mind. Hypnic jerks are often a medication side effect.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:43 AM on July 23, 2008

I get that as well, more often when I'm really tired. Like The Bellman, mine are usually accompanied by some pseudo-dream of tripping and falling or something, though I've never had epilepsy.

Usually only once or twice a night at most, though.
posted by Xany at 8:48 AM on July 23, 2008

Not only do I get them all fairly often, I can will myself into them sometimes, sort of the way you can will a tickle into a sneeze. It has to be there a little, but with focus, you can make them occur & big.
posted by dame at 9:05 AM on July 23, 2008

Just a data point: my ex-boyfriend used to get this, usually when in bed but not asleep. Eventually, after various tests, he was diagnosed with epilepsy and put on medication. But if you have a neurologist, I imagine they have this angle covered.
posted by tiny crocodile at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2008

I get these too, both as I'm falling asleep and while I'm actually asleep. My husband also gets them. I have a constantly fubared sleep schedule also, for what it's worth.

Anecdote time: some medications really exacerbate these in my experience. They normally don't bother me much, but when taking some medications they get a lot more frequent, and sometimes bad enough that I'll almost throw myself out of bed, as described by badmoonrising.

A little freaky, sometimes annoying, but they don't bother me too much. As far as I know I'm not epileptic.
posted by ZeroDivides at 11:29 AM on July 23, 2008

I used to only get them just on the cusp of sleep, not during a dream/deep sleep. Occurrence lessened when I gave up coffee for a while, but increased dramatically when I was on Zyban to quit smoking. As the years have passed, it happens less and less.
posted by eclectist at 2:48 PM on July 23, 2008

It happens to me a couple times a week, always when I'm on my stomach. It doesn't really cause me any concern, but it has startled my bed partners.
posted by HotPatatta at 3:02 PM on July 23, 2008

I didn't know I did this until my girlfriend pointed it out to me after a long time of sleeping next to her. I'm pretty sure I do it everynight before sleep and I'll sleep great most nights. (Weather and stress permitting). I personaly am a mildly curious but would never worry unless it hurt.
posted by thetenthstory at 3:27 PM on July 23, 2008

My boyfriend and I both get those. We call them Alpha Twitches, although I'm sure there's a more clinical name than that
posted by blackunicorn at 3:38 PM on July 23, 2008

posted by tellurian at 6:00 PM on July 23, 2008

I had one while fully awake today, while sitting at my kitchen table, surfing. I'd seen this question earlier and so had to tell you about it.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:25 PM on July 23, 2008

(Oh, and I have epilepsy, in theory. And am not in the least concerned about the event this evening.)
posted by Stewriffic at 6:26 PM on July 23, 2008

Nthing that this happens to me as well. Weirds me out a bit when it does.
posted by phaded at 6:31 PM on July 23, 2008

My husband and I both get them. I have really shocking sleep, he sleeps fine. Doesn't bother either one of us.
posted by ysabet at 7:13 PM on July 23, 2008

I get these too, despite the fact that I take 400mg a day of Lamictal (I'm dx'ed with bipolar, not epilepsy, but we still get to take anti-convulsives). Even if you take anti-convulsive medications the "sleep jerks" may not stop. They're not a problem for me so I don't care.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:42 PM on July 23, 2008

My fiance ALWAYS twitches before he falls asleep. I tease him about it if we're having a conversation. Occasionally I will get them before I'm asleep, too, but I have to be really tired.
posted by Nattie at 1:20 PM on July 24, 2008

I can be lying in bed with my eyes closed, having a chat with my wife and still have a total body jerk. It sucks but it lets me know my body is insisting it's time for sleep. She says she has to wait a good 10-15 minutes after I go to sleep for my twitching to end in one more big, full body jerk and then I'll be still.
posted by CwgrlUp at 1:34 PM on July 27, 2008

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