Huffpost Healthy Living
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Ilene Kleinbaum Headshot

The Great Wake Up Program: My Sleep Education

Posted: Updated:

Picture this: you're lying in bed, seconds away from drifting off into a deep sleep, and you are suddenly falling. Your entire body spasms -- jarring you from sleep -- and you're left wondering what just happened.

Or picture this: You're sitting on a bus and the guy next to you is dozing off. His head is approaching your shoulder, when all of a sudden, he jerks awake. You probably chuckle a bit. I would.

Or how about this one: After a long night of studying, you're sitting in class and feel sleep taking over. Your eyes flutter close, your head bobs, and then you're suddenly jolted awake.

This falling sensation-body spasm combination happens to me quite frequently before I fall asleep. Since I have been focusing on my sleeping habits lately, I decided to do a little research. Not only is it embarrassing when it happens in public or when you're sharing a bed with someone, it's kind of intriguing. Why does this happen? What dreams or thoughts accompany this sensation?

These full-body spasms are called myoclonic twitches. As you start to drift off into sleep, your muscles begin to relax. Your brain misinterprets this relaxation as falling and causes your muscles to tense back up, resulting in a body spasm. The most common time for people to experience these myoclonic twitches is when they are falling asleep, and the occurrence is called a hypnic jerk. We also experience myoclonic twitches in the form of hiccups -- that's considered an esophageal spasm.

According to experts, this phenomenon happens to nearly everyone. Many times, though, the jerk is not strong enough to wake the person. Apparently, it often occurs in people who are uncomfortable when they sleep or have a hard time getting to sleep.

I also started thinking about my dreams. Sometimes, I will wake up in the morning, unable to tell if my dream is real or imaginary. I often have a recurring dream that I am able to fly. What does this mean? When I was younger, I actually woke up one morning from a dream in which I was flying, was convinced I really could fly. I climbed up onto our white coffee table and jumped, thinking that I would start soaring. I was wrong. But what made this dream so lifelike?

Many common recurring dreams include falling, flying, being attacked, missing something important or even being naked at an inappropriate time. Supposedly, all these dreams have underlying meanings -- but I'm not sure I'm convinced.

In addition to recurring dreams, I have incredibly weird dreams -- and I remember them in vivid detail. Sometimes, I incorporate daily events into my dreams. Other times, the most random things appear. The other night, Bob Saget was in my dream, and I'm positive I have not watched "Full House" in weeks. Where did he come from?!

Lately, I've noticed that I am able to remember more of my dreams when I wake up. To be honest, I think this is because of the Lark un-alarm clock. Since I am not being startled awake with a blaring alarm in my ear, and, instead, I'm being gently woken up by a vibrating wristband, those few seconds when I first open my eyes and regain consciousness can be used to recall the details of my dreams instead of calming my racing heart down.

The Great Wake-Up Program is allowing me to focus on my sleep habits, routines and body clock. It's also allowing me to think about things I might not have paid much attention to before, like hypnic jerks and recurring dreams. I'm still fascinated by both, and will pay much closer attention to my dreams and to the frequency of these spasms.

Now, next time I'm sitting next to someone on the bus, or sleeping next to someone who has a full-body spasm while dozing off, I fully reserve the right to call them a hypnic jerk. And mean it.

From Our Partners