It has been an interesting week in our home. It seems that the jerk is back. No not me, well not that I am a jerk, but my body starts jerking in my sleep. Not quiet jerks, but somewhere on the “Richter Scale” of about 9.9. Yes skyscrapers sway, building collapse, roads crack, and my wife goes to sleep on the couch. Sorry love.
Flailing about in the bed must be difficult for your partner. But why do we do this? Why do we have all of this going on and yet we never feel a thing?
The are various theories and conditions that can cause this to happen, so today I want to delve into this thing that can drive our partners from the bedroom.
Most people experience sleep starts, or hypnic jerks, at some point during their lifetime. Sleep starts happen during the transition from wakefulness to stage one sleep, or light sleep. During this transition period, you drift easily in and out of sleep. As you begin relaxing, sudden muscle contractions, also known as positive myoclonus, cause extension of one or more limbs and may also involve the trunk. The movement may be preceded by a sensation of tumbling out of bed or falling off a cliff.
Up to 18 million people in the United States may have a potentially dangerous condition known as sleep apnea. During episodes of sleep apnea, as muscles relax in the throat, the windpipe collapses and interrupts breathing. A person with sleep apnea may stop breathing for up to 60 seconds before the brain directs the sleeper to awaken enough to gasp for a breath. Although this may occur many times throughout the night, most people with sleep apnea are never diagnosed. People with this condition are at higher risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, seizure, stroke and — because it causes sleep deprivation — a much higher risk of daytime accidents than the general population.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome, or RLS, causes unpleasant crawling, prickling or tingling sensations in the legs and feet during rest, especially at night. The sensations cause an urge to move the legs. Up to 12 million Americans have restless leg syndrome, according to the American Sleep Association. The cause of RLS may be related to abnormalities in the neurotransmitter dopamine. Neurotransmitters help to deliver messages to the nerves.
Up to 90 percent of people with RLS have a symptom called periodic limb movement disorder, according to an article in the August 2012 issue of “Sleep.” PLMD involves frequent episodes of jerking of the legs, feet, ankles, toes and hips during sleep, and its presence supports the diagnosis of RLS. However, not everyone with PLMD has RLS. People with PLMD may not be aware that their limbs are jerking during sleep, and the symptoms are often reported by bed partners.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder
For most people, dreaming is purely a “mental” activity: dreams occur in the mind while the body is at rest. But people with this disorder act out in their dreams. They physically move limbs or even get up and engage in activities associated with waking. Some engage in sleep talking, shouting, screaming, hitting or punching. Some even fly out of bed while sleeping! RBD is usually noticed when it causes danger to the sleeping person, their bed partner, or others they encounter. Sometimes ill effects such as injury to self or bed partner sustained while asleep trigger a diagnosis of RBD. The good news is that RBD can usually be treated successfully.
Myoclonus may develop in response to infection, head or spinal cord injury, stroke, brain tumors, kidney or liver failure, lipid storage disease, chemical or drug poisoning, or other disorders. Prolonged oxygen deprivation to the brain, called hypoxia, may result in posthypoxic myoclonus. Myoclonus can occur by itself, but most often it is one of several symptoms associated with a wide variety of nervous system disorders. For example, myoclonic jerking may develop in patients with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Myoclonic jerks commonly occur in persons with epilepsy, a disorder in which the electrical activity in the brain becomes disordered leading to seizures.
Of course if the problem persists it would be time to consult your primary care physicians and a sleep specialist. As you can see there are a host of possibilities and self diagnosis is dangerous. At 2breathe we want you to well informed. By providing relative sleep information we are hoping to educate our readers. If you have any suggestions concerning future articles please email me: Eli at [email protected]