Many people have experienced that ‘falling’ feeling that jolts a person awake just as they’re falling asleep.
The strange sensation is called a ‘hypnic jerk’ or a ‘sleep start.’
While the feeling might be startling, according to Reena Mehra, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, it’s usually nothing to get worried about.
“A lot of folks have experienced this, it’s not something that people should be overly concerned about or think this is a serious condition,” said Dr. Mehra. “I think probably everyone can attest to the fact that they’ve experienced this at some point in time in their life. “
Dr. Mehra said ‘hypnic jerks’ typically occur in stage one sleep, also known as transitional sleep, just as we’re drifting off.
“When you’re drifting off to sleep, you feel this kind of jolt or a start or you feel the sensation of falling and it can be scary and it jerks you awake,” said Dr. Mehra.
She said the sensation doesn’t have any long term consequences, but if it makes it hard to fall asleep or disrupts daytime functioning, a doctor may be able to help ease those symptoms.
Dr. Mehra said the cause for these ‘hypnic jerks’ is mostly unknown, but there are certain triggers that can bring on the feeling, including stress, lack of sleep, stimulant medications or too much caffeine.
She said reducing these potential triggers is the best way to prevent that jolting feeling.
“The main suggestions would be to get sufficient sleep, which for adults should be seven to eight hours of sleep,” said Dr. Mehra. “Caffeine use really should be limited as much as possible and certainly none after approximately noon.”
In rare cases where hypnic jerks are happening frequently and causing a significant disruption in sleep, it’s possible that an underlying sleep disorder is to blame. Dr. Mehra said that those who are really having difficulty sleeping should talk to their doctor.
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