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Do you ever lie in your bed, slowly drifting off to sleep, only to have yourself suddenly and abruptly dragged back into reality? It happens to many of us, but why?
The sensation won't be a new one to most of you. You're on your way to dreamland, but then suddenly jerked back awake by some unseen force. It's bloody unpleasant, not to mention annoying.
It turns out that most of us will experience something like this. In fact, scientists reckon that 70 percent of people have experienced this bizarre sensation at some point.
They've even got a name for it. It's known as a hypnic jerk.
Right, here comes the science.
If you're trying to get to sleep, there is a space between asleep and awake that you have to get through before you're actually gone.
That hinterland is known as the hypnagogic stage. During that period you're particularly sensitive to anything. That means that you can suddenly be jerked awake from a position of almost sleep to waking once more.
It can be something as simple as an involuntary muscle twitch. It can be triggered by the smallest of things.
Hypnic jerks are sort of a safety mechanism, perhaps from another bygone time when we had to remain alert more often, that kicks in when your brain thinks that something is going on.
A muscle twitches, the brain thinks, 'wtf is going on?' and jerks you awake.
It can also occur because your brain gets confused. If your muscles enter a state of deep relaxation, it is possible that your brain might get things a little bit wrong and assume that you are falling. This causes your muscles to contract in anticipation of impact.
Then, you're going to have a hypnic jerk.
For the most part, it's a completely normal thing and nothing to worry about. However, there are circumstances in which it can be an indicator of something a bit more serious.
For example, restless leg syndrome. 10 percent of people have restless leg syndrome according to scientists. That's when you experience a painful throbbing in your legs.
Most research suggests it is hereditary, but it could be indicative of all sorts of conditions like kidney failure, diabetes, sleep deprivation or alcohol abuse.
Hypnic jerks are also more common among people with brain lesions. If you've had no diseases or trauma that could cause that, you're probably fine.
Oh, and - of course - hypnic jerks are more likely if you're suffering from anxiety or sleep deprivation.
However, you can sleep easy knowing that it's probably nothing to worry about. It's just something that happens to most people.
Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.
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