I've Fallen and I Can't Wake Up
I’ve fallen and I can’t wake up!
You know the feeling - you're in the middle of a dream or maybe just falling asleep - when you feel yourself falling and then suddenly you jerk awake.
If this has happened to you, you are not alone - around 70% of people report these types of occasional jerks. This phenomenon is called a “hypnic jerk” or sometimes a “sleep start” and while not necessarily dangerous, they can be fairly alarming!
The exact cause of hypnic jerks is not well understood, but there are a couple of theories:
- The jerk is your brain’s response to dream content (such as falling) or,
- The jerk is a type of “misfiring” event that occurs in your brain when your body fully relaxes as you drift off into sleep.
There are certain risk factors that can increase the likelihood of having a hypnic jerk. These include excessive caffeine (or caffeine too close to bedtime), excessive alcohol, increased stress and sleep deprivation. All things that can interfere with the transition from wake to sleep.
If this happens enough to disrupt your sleep regularly, keep a journal of the events. Something simple like putting an X on a calendar on the nights your hypnic jerks occurred.
You can then start to connect the dots with other things going on - such as alcohol use or worsening stress.
If you snore loudly or find yourself gasping for breath as you jerk awake, talk to your doctor about being evaluated for sleep apnea, a more serious sleep disorder.
If you just occasionally experience this phenomenon, well…you're normal! Your brain just “hiccupped” and now you can rest easy.