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Why Do I Keep Jerking Myself Awake?

Feb 27, 2024
woman trying to sleep keeps jerking awake

Do you ever feel like you’re about to go to sleep and then your body suddenly jerks back awake? Maybe you feel like your heart is racing and you’re trapped in a stress response? Or maybe you don’t experience any physical jerking but find yourself waking up as soon as you’re ready to go to sleep? Either way, these feelings aren’t unusual. I’ve had people tell me that it’s hard for them to go to sleep because every time they think they’re going to, their body or brain wakes them up. It could be a sudden feeling of mental alertness, or it could just be a physical jerking that brings them right back to wakefulness.

I’ve also heard people describe feeling like they’ve been jolted awake with a rush of adrenaline every time they start to go to sleep. These types of jerks can happen frequently or randomly. They’re sometimes linked to stress, an inconsistent sleep schedule, and certain medications.

These physical jerks aren’t uncommon and are often called hypnic jerks or sleep starts, sleep twitches.

Why Hypnic Jerks Can Be Positive

Hypnic jerks typically happen as we transition from wakefulness into the first phase of light sleep and are sometimes associated with a feeling that you are falling. However, in reality, the only falling that occurs is falling asleep. Therefore, it can be beneficial to recognize the hypnic jerk or jolt as a sign of sleep onset rather than a symptom of something being wrong.

Just recently a client told me, “I realized that hypnic jerks occur when I was about to fall asleep, and since then, when I’ve had difficulty falling asleep, I’ve welcomed these little twitches as they tell me, sleep is coming.

So, reframing these jerks as a good thing, the start of sleep, rather than something you have to fight against, can be very helpful.

The More We Monitor For Hypnic Jerks, The More We Notice Them 

Physical jerks, or sudden mental arousal, can also be a sign of Hyperarousal.

In other words, if you pay more attention and maybe even self-monitor sleep and those jerks, you may see them more often or feel them more intensely.

It might be helpful to think about it this way.

If you’re monitoring for sleep, the brain needs to be active in order to determine when sleep occurs. Once it recognizes the beginning of sleep, it will wake you to declare success. 

Of course, this isn’t very helpful. If you’re sleeping in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment, you may be more likely to see these jerks and twitches.

These jerks can also be an exaggerated reaction to the normal physiological changes that occur during sleep. For instance, as we begin to drift off to sleep, our muscles start to relax, and our breathing starts to slow. If we are more aware or monitored for these changes, we can become more sensitive to them.

How to Decrease Hypnic Jerks 

So how do you get rid of them? I think the most important thing is not to worry about them. Recognizing that they are not uncommon, that they do not necessarily mean there is an underlying issue, and that they are a symptom of sleep happening can be very helpful.

Changing your sleep position can also help. If you tend to get these jerks when lying on your back, start the night on your side.

It can also help if you have a regular sleep schedule, especially if you get out of bed at the same time each day. This allows your sleep drive to increase throughout the day, which can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

Many clients find activities such as breathwork, meditation, yoga, walking or warm baths helpful. Just remember, these activities should only be used to help relax and wind down, not as a way to try and force sleep.

Make sure you go to bed only when you feel tired enough to sleep.

If you experience a jerky or jolt that makes you spend most of your time in bed with anxiety, fear, or frustration, it’s a good sign to get out and distract your brain with something relaxing and somewhat fun. Once you’re feeling calm and relaxed, you can go back to bed and see what happens.

If you find your challenge is that you’re more alert as you enter bed than you are as you’re getting ready to go to sleep, it could be a sign of conditioned arousal.

Why Reprogramming is Important

You’ve learned to associate unpleasant wakefulness with your bed over time, but just as you’ve learned how unpleasant wakefulness is, you can re learn how pleasant wakefulness can be by finding enjoyable activities to occupy your time and only getting into or staying in bed when it feels good to do so.

Remember, you can get up and then return to bed whenever you need to. Being in bed is a choice, not a prison sentence.

 So ultimately, while these hypnic jerks can be a challenge, they are simply a sign that sleep is happening. The less you worry about and monitor for them, and the more comfortable you can be with their occasional presence, the less likely they will be to occur.

Interested in Learning More?

If you would like to learn more or book an individual session, please visit the Work With Me page or enroll in the 30 Day Beyond Sleep Course

In the meantime, I would like to leave you with this important message. You are not broken! You are whole, perfect, and healthy exactly as you are, and you CAN sleep!

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