Twitching before falling asleep

Every night, just as my girlfriend begins to fall asleep, she will twitch all over. Big, noticible twitches, not at all subtle, for a full minute. Then she’s asleep. If I wake her up during the episode, she claims she was almost asleep, but not quite, and is not aware she had been shaking at all.

This happens just about every time she falls asleep. I’ve never heard of anyone else doing this. So what’s going on? Why does it happen? And does anyone else do this?

Your Quadell

It called hypnagogic myoclonus.

Lately, I think I’m getting a reputation as a Cecil link geek but here it is:

Hmmm… Thanks very much for the link, Alphagene, but I don’t know…

I doubt it’s hypnagogic myoclonus, because it never wakes her up. I have h.m. sometimes. As I’m drifting off, I’ll “dream” of climbing a ladder. Then my foot will slip, and I’ll twitch and wake myself up.

But my girlfriend twitches for a full minute, doesn’t wake up, and isn’t dreaming at the time. (I’ve woken her several times during episodes for experiment’s sake.)

So are there any other theories?

Your Quadell

Alphagene, I read that article. But it misses the point. Body parts fall asleep at various rates, so a jerking happens.

I forgot which way but I think that it’s feet first and then up.

This is about falling asleep, not after you are asleep, right?

I just read Cecil’s earlier column “Why do we itch? Why do we twitch? Is Hillary Clinton a”.

Odd title, that.

But it did tell me a lot more about h.m. I guess it could be a strange form of h.m. that occurs every night, doesn’t cause dream-like hallucinations, and lasts roughly a minute. Maybe.

Your Quadell

I heard it was called a “myoclonic jerk” and I’m going to go look for a cite.

I jerk constantly as I’m falling asleep - usually I have little mini-dreams that I’m tripping or falling. Once I was on an airplane and I dreamed that someone threw a ball at me and I went to catch it…and nearly tackled the woman in the seat next to me.

Okay, I’m an idiot… myoclonus/myoclonic - same thing - ignore me.



The “itch/twitch” article says it occurs during “light sleep” which occurs during that drfiting off period.

I get the jerk too, right before I fall asleep. Like you said, Q, maybe your girlfriend has an odd form of h.m. (hypnagogic myoclonus maximus or something).

Or maybe I’m just being a jerk.

I thought guys jerk off – then fall asleep.

Couldn’t resist

I twitch. God, I twitch. Right before falling asleep, to the point where I CAN’T fall asleep. Get up, walk around, lie back down, and…fling…whoops, there went that leg again. I’m not sure it applies here (this is different than the brief all over twitch you’re describing), but it (called “restless leg syndrome” (RLS)) has a milder more general relative known as PLMS (periodic limb movement disorder), which might be more relevant. As an added personal note, I briefly had a bed partner who experienced more what you’re describing (violent all over twitches), but his period of “falling asleep” lasted up to an hour. And if I “woke him up” he’d say he wasn’t asleep yet, and what did I mean he was moving around? He was blissfully unaware, but I sure wasn’t! Combine that with my twitching crawling legs and, well…the relationship didn’t last long. I literally could not sleep with him.

Sometimes my jaw decides to sleep before the rest of the body and it’ll chomp on my tongue.

Nice thing about the jerk thing is that you at least know you are going to be asleep soon. Better than staying up waiting.

For sometime I tried to be awake when I went to sleep because I wanted to see what happens. Never could get to that point. Is it possible?

I asked a neurologist this question once. He said that as the body relaxes into sleep, oftentimes the brain is not ready for rest. There is, basically a small electrical ‘storm’ in the brain. It is similar to a siezure, though not harmful in any way. It is just the brain shutting down all the activity. Kind of ‘catching up’ to the body’s restful state.

According to Beth (my girlfriend, subject of this thread), she is occasionally dimly aware she is twitching, and it feels really nice, because she knows she’s about to be asleep. (She loves sleep.)
Anyway, it’s never a dreamlike state.

I will sometimes (when there’s stress in my life, usually) have h.m., and I’ve learned to tell when it’s coming. I’ll be drifting off, and I’ll see myself climbing a ladder or something, and I’ll realize if I keep climbing, I’ll fall and jerk and wake up. So I force myself to climb down the ladder. If I’m too far up, I jump. (There’s no jerk, because it was intended.) And once I land on solid ground, I don’t have to worry about jerking awake.

Your Quadell

Here’s a cosmic answer.
A few years ago, I got really obsessed with out-of-body experiences. I read countless books on the subject and spent countless hours laying in bed trying to relax myself into OOB state. Anyway, one thing I read said that the soul doesn’t want to leave the body (I wonder why?) and to combat the OOB experience it will twitch to break the concentration and force the soul back in.
For the record, I don’t actually believe this.

“Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true” -Albert Einstein

I’m quickly becoming a freakin’ expert on twitching, let me tell ya. In March, I developed something called Benign Fasciculation Syndrome. Basically, I twitch ALOT, sometimes so much that it causes my legs, feet, and/or arms to cramp. This especially sucks when it happens while asleep. They’re not big twitches…they’re little and you wouldn’t see them if you looked at me. Now, when I first got this, I looked up twitching on the internet which is a BIG mistake. You’ll read all kinds of horrible things (like looking up “headache” and being told you have a brain tumor). Because BFS is pretty common, there’s a forum for people with BFS on a large hospital site. People have a tendency to panic when they have this condition and, every once in awhile, someone will write in and say,“I keep jerking/twitching while falling asleep!! My god, what is this??” I have noticed an increase in this myself since I developed this disorder. My leg will kick, my jaw will twitch, my arm will jerk but, personally, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t do this. I checked around. I was probably doing it all along but never noticed until I was panicky over this BFS thing. Myoclonus is completely normal in totally healthy people.

My wife has a generalized twitching as she is falling asleep, and sometimes will wake up during this process, and start shivering while exclaiming “I’m freezing!!”
The scariest thing, though, is her tendency to lay on her stomach and put one foot in the air with the leg bent at the knee. If the leg gets too far from vertical, and starts to fall, she’ll right the leg with a jerk, and then it wobbles around until it gets ready to fall again. This whole thing goes on without her being even slightly aware of it. I had to videotape the leg trick before she’d believe me about it.


I have always twitched like this, and I formed a theory about it during my sleep clinic elective.

During REM sleep, some of which occurs not long after falling asleep, our mind is going like a bat out of hell but our body is paralyzed. It is during this time that we dream, and the paralysis is what prevents us from acting out our dreams.

Some people, particularly those with narcolepsy (of which I have mild symptoms), have a blurring of the lines between the stages of sleep. Thus, if you’re having a dream and suddenly go from REM sleep to a different stage, you will suddenly start acting out the dream with a twitch. This usually wakes people up. It’s only a theory, but seems reasonable to me.

You didn’t ask, but the difference between a nightmare and a night terror is that night terrors occur during non-REM sleep, so they can be acted out. They are also not remembered as well, and are usually only remembered as a sense of dread without the detail of a nightmare.

Dr. J

consider this Q…
when new babies are moved quickly they ‘start’, or jerk. They refer to it as the startle reflex (I think). This is supposed to be a throwback to the primate days, when the babies had to clutch to stay attached to their mothers…I bet this big jerk that we give right before drifting off is related to this…it might be an innate fear of falling.

The sudden feeling of falling and awakening while your drifting off to sleep is the experience I’m interpreting to be what Cecil refers to as hypnagogic myoclonus. I think that’s a different phenomenon than what quadell describes as his girlfriend’s behavior. I spent many years w/a woman who did the same thing - she kind of twitched for awhile while going to sleep and was unaware of it. She did tell me that I reminded her of her sister in that I involuntarily “wagged” a foot while going to sleep (curiously abandoned habit). I was aware of that behavior and thought it was somehow related to rocking a baby to sleep.

I’m surprised I haven’t seen comment on another of those barely-but-definitely asleep phenomena - the struggling feeling some of us experience when the sleep paralysis prevents us from responding to dreamed stimuli in the way we perceive to be appropriate.

ZZZZ zzzzz ZZZZ UH! what?