In medical terminology, the involuntary twitching of a muscle or a muscle group is referred to as myoclonus. A hypnagogic jerk, which is also referred to as a sleep start or a hypnic jerk, refers to involuntary muscle twitching that may occur when one is just about to fall asleep. They start to occur during the transition from the state of wakefulness into the state of sleep. These are experienced by a majority of people and are considered to be harmless. However, these must not be compared with frequent episodes of involuntary muscle movements that may occur in the other stages of sleep. Sometimes, neurological disorders could also be the underlying cause of twitching while sleeping. Given below is some information on the causes of involuntary muscle twitching at night.
Why Do People Experience Twitching During Sleep?
Both children as well as adults may experience sudden muscle twitching while they are asleep. As mentioned earlier, it is not uncommon for people to experience myoclonic twitching while they are drifting into sleep. Wondering what causes such sudden jerks? Well, there are many theories regarding sleep myoclonus. It is believed that hypnic jerks may be caused due to the misinterpretation of signals by the brain.
While the muscles may be loosening up for sleep, the brain may misinterpret and think that the person is about to fall. The brain may then send signals to the muscle for preventing the person from falling. The falling sensation that some people experience along with muscle twitching at the onset of sleep, may be attributed to the brain's response.
Some of the studies indicate that people suffering from fatigue or anxiety, may be more susceptible to such hypnic jerks. One may even experience twitching as a response to an external stimulus, such as a loud noise, light or even a dream. Involuntary muscle movements could even be linked to an underlying sleep disorder. Twitching is commonly seen in people suffering from periodic limb movement disorder. This disorder was originally referred to as nocturnal myoclonus syndrome. As the name suggests, this is a disorder, wherein one experiences involuntary limb movements during sleep. Such involuntary muscle movements don't occur during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stages of sleep. People suffering from this condition often have trouble falling asleep, and may even wake up during the night due to twitching.
Those who are suffering from diabetes, anemia, uremia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy or spinal cord tumor, are at an increased risk of developing periodic limb movement disorder. REM behavior disorder is another medical condition, wherein, twitching may take place during the REM stage. This is a stage which is characterized by low muscle atonia or sleep paralysis. We see most of the dreams in the REM stage. Since the muscles are almost paralyzed, there is no muscle movement. However, in case of a person suffering from REM behavior disorder, the muscles are not paralyzed. As a result, the person may move while acting out the dream. Limb movements or sudden muscle twitching could occur as a result of this disorder. Restless leg syndrome is another disorder wherein the sufferer may keep moving his/her legs while sleeping.
Treatment of Twitching During Sleep
First of all, there is a need to identify the underlying cause of the involuntary muscle movements. If twitching occurs during the daytime as well, then one must get a thorough medical checkup done. Drug therapy or other suitable treatment options may be suggested for treating neurological disorders that may be causing twitching. Since studies have linked sleep disorders to twitching at night, one must make some lifestyle changes.
Since stress and anxiety can have an adverse impact on one's sleep pattern, one must therefore, try to stay relaxed. One may try relaxation techniques such as meditation, music therapy, yoga, or breathing exercises in order to tackle the problem of stress. One must also cut down the intake of caffeine and refrain from consuming caffeinated drinks at night. A healthy lifestyle can certainly lower the risk of sleep disorders.
If twitching disrupts your sleep, then the wise thing to do would be to seek medical assistance. While sleep myoclonus is a mild form of myoclonus, that doesn't need any treatment, neurological conditions certainly need to be diagnosed and treated at an early stage. If involuntary muscle movements occur during the day as well, consult a doctor immediately.