Have you ever had the feeling like your body jerks awake just before falling asleep? You would hardly be alone. Turns out this is a common problem, with 70 percent of the global population experiencing this strange bodily phenomenon. While scientists haven’t narrowed down the exact reason as to why your body startles you awake, there are multiple theories that hold credibility, ranging from one rooted in neuroscience to one based on evolution. To help you gain a little more insight into the sensation, which is commonly referred to as a hypnic jerk or sleep start, here are a few of the possible reasons behind it.
When you first try to fall asleep, your brain processes are essentially fighting each other. The reticular activating system is in charge of alertness, and attention is at odds with the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus, a cluster of neurons also known as the “sleep switch” because of its role in promoting sleep. As you fall asleep, there’s a transition between the two systems in the brain. However, switching from wakefulness to sleep is hard because sometimes your reticular activating system wants to maintain control of your body, resulting in an involuntary bodily twitch that jerks you awake.
Another theory involves evolution, where the ancient, primal part of your brain focused on survival comes into play. Scientists have thought that in the beginning stages of sleep, the brain associates relaxation with falling out of a tree. Our ancestors used to sleep in foliage for shelter and our brain is evolutionarily wired to wake us up, resulting in hypnic jerks, to prevent us from falling out of a tree.
A third hypothesis regarding sleep jerks is that your body undergoes a series of processes in order to slow down your metabolism. Your nervous system naturally downshifts as you fall asleep, causing your heart rate, muscle tone and breathing to slow down, so twitches during this wake-to-sleep conversion occur as a natural result.
To reduce the number of hypnic jerks you have at night, try drinking less caffeine or practicing meditative techniques to help your muscles relax before bed. Adjust how much light you have in your bedroom, as well, since too much light will confuse your body and keep you feeling alert.
Trying a number of techniques to reduce hypnic jerks could be an easy way to ensure better sleep. And for an added bit of help at bedtime, it doesn’t hurt to have some reBloom at the ready!