Sleep Starts: Feeling Of Falling When Falling Asleep

You’re drifting off to sleep, when suddenly you feel like you’re plunging off a cliff — and you jerk awake. The jolt is disorienting, and you must try again to fall asleep.

Why do we twitch as we’re falling asleep?

Indeed, many of us have probably experienced this feeling of falling just when we are about to cross that line between consciousness and deep slumber. Sometimes the experience is even more frustrating as we find it more difficult to fall asleep again. We are then left wondering what caused this sleep disturbance, which many of us probably do not know how to call it. Nonetheless, this condition actually has many aliases.

Synonyms and Key Words: Hypnagogic jerks, predormital myoclonus, hypnic jerks.

The International Classification of Sleep Disorders

Research has identified more than 85 sleep problems, including sleep terrors, REM sleep behavior disorder, and sleep starts.

A Visual Guide to Sleep Disorders

Sleep starts are normally occurring and many of us will experience these at one time or another. We can experience hypnic jerks not just when we are about to sleep. Even when we are about to wake up, it is also possible to feel that falling/twitching sensation.

There are a number of probable reasons believed to produce sleep starts. It could be that the brain inappropriately interprets muscle relaxation as actual falling and therefore induces the muscle activity. As much as it is normal to experience sleep starts, hypnic jerks or whatever we may call it, it certainly is interesting enough to make us delve deeper into this bizarre experience associated with sleeping.

Predisposing Factors

Various potential causes are considered such as stress, caffeine, anxiety, and strenuous activities. No wonder some of us can attest that when we are exhausted is when the sleep starts happen.

Vital Features

These occurrences are brief contractions experienced predominantly in the legs. Sometimes the head and the arms may also be affected. Initially, it is comprised of just one contraction that frequently affects a person’s body asymmetrically.  Jerks may be provoked by stimuli or may also be spontaneous.

They may be accompanied by vivid dreams, or more rarely, auditory or visual hallucinations.

Hypnic jerks may be associated with sensory flash, visual hypnagogic hallucination or dream and the impression of falling. It is also possible that the affected individual may utter a sharp cry when experiencing hypnic jerks.  There are instances when you may not be awakened from sleep when you had a sleep start so when your bed partner tells you about your twitching scenes, you will probably not recall it.

Precaution And Complications

The course of sleep starts is usually benign; multiple jerks may possibly occur one after the other. However, if episodes of hypnic jerks are particularly intense and more frequent than usual, you need to consult with your doctor. Multiple, intense sleep starts may cause sleep deprivation, may be an onset to insomnia and may be caused by underlying conditions.  Furthermore, if a person often experiences severe sleep starts constantly, this person may develop the fear to fall asleep. Occasional minor injuries may possibly occur as the person’s feet may hit hard surfaces when jerking.


Do Not Take Your Problems To Bed

One day, a man went to a medical clinic for a consultation with the doctor about his insomnia. The doctor performed a comprehensive examination, but found no physical matters of concern with the man. Thus, the doctor simply advised him,

“Nothing is wrong with you. But if you want to alleviate your insomnia, I suggest you not to take your problem to bed with you when you sleep.”

The man replied, “Well, Doctor. I guess there is no cure to my insomnia after all. My wife just could not sleep alone.”

Onset Age

Hypnic jerks can be experienced at any age, but it is usually during adulthood that complaints are heard or reported by affected individuals.  Sleep starts are also not gender-specific. You can experience it whether you are male or female or in-between.

Discrepancy From Other Disorders

Sleep starts may seem to be the same or similar with other movement disorders while sleeping, so its diagnosis should be very well differentiated.  For example, excessive startling can occur as a component of hyperexplexia syndrome. This condition happens when generalized myoclonus is easily drawn out by a stimulus during sleep or wakefulness.  Fleeting epileptic myoclonus may also share similarity with sleep starts, yet the discrepancy can be identified through the concurrent electroencephalographic discharge and existence of other epileptic seizure features.

Sleep starts also differ from periodic limb movement muscle contractions as the latter occur substantially longer. Hypnic jerks should not be confused, as well, with restless leg syndrome that consists of repetitive and slower semi-voluntary movements during sleep onset. Restless leg syndrome also involves more unpleasant sensations.  Another similar condition, Fragmentary myoclonus, also involve jerks of small amplitude that occur bilaterally, symmetrically and asynchronously. There is also a similar disorder among infants known as benign neonatal sleep myoclonus, which consists of twitching of the face, toes, and fingers of babies.

Indicative Signs Used In Diagnosis

There are several signs to be identified when diagnosing sleep starts and differentiating it from other similar conditions.  Complaints may be reported about the difficulty in setting off sleep or intense movement when sleep is just about to unfold. There should also be complaints from the patient of sudden and concise jerks during sleep onset that largely affects the arms and the legs.

Jerks may be linked with the particular falling sensation, or a sensory flash or a hypnagogic dream/hallucination.


No treatment is usually required…

Hypnic Jerks

Unless your hypnic jerks are not diagnosed by your doctor as caused by other serious conditions, no particular cure is needed. What you can do instead is ensure you sleep comfortably and restfully. Additionally, try to develop and follow good sleeping hygiene and habits. You also need to be careful in picking which foods to eat or beverages to drink before going to bed.

Deficiency of some vital nutrients like iron, magnesium, and calcium may cause difficulty in sleeping and anxiety. Thus, you need to pay attention to your diet, which should include substantial amounts of fruits, vegetables, and other similar healthy foods. Taking supplements will also be helpful.

You also need to avoid exercising intensely or perform rigorous activities when you are close to your bedtime. You may, however, indulge in a moderate walk one hour before your sleeping time to help get your body in the mood for sleeping. Furthermore, you can also perform some meditation techniques before sleeping in order to eliminate whatever negative thoughts are clouding your mind and making you feel anxious.