Sleep Spasms: How to Avoid Them

21 October, 2020
To reduce sleep spasms, it's essential that you lead a healthy lifestyle and take care of your sleep habits. We'll tell you what they are and what strategies you can use to help control them.

When they occur, sleep spasms can wake up both those who experience them as well as their partners. These reactions are usually preceded by an intense sleep or dreaming. Typically, you’ll feel the sensation that you’re falling down the stairs or from somewhere high up. Has this ever happened to you?

Sleep spasms are actually involuntary jerks that occur mainly between wakefulness and sleep. They’re also known as myoclonic spasms or equine jerks and consist of strong, brief muscle spasms.

Although they can be worrisome or uncomfortable, they’re not really serious problems. In fact, it’s a situation that lots of people experience.

Although we’ve yet to understand exactly why they occur, we do know that certain factors contribute to these episodes. We’ll explain them below.

Why do sleep spasms occur?

Experts believe that sleep spasms have something to do with the body preparing for sleep. At this time, the body tends to slow down all functions, such as breathing and heartbeat. Furthermore, motor function stops,  ensuring that, during this time, the body doesn’t react and remains safe.

Other theories maintain that these spasms are something we’ve inherited from our ancestors. Just take a look at a study that took place at the University of Colorado, led by Coolidge.

This study stated that hypnic jolts could be an archaic reflection of the misinterpretation the brain makes during muscle relaxation at the beginning of sleep. It’s as if it were a signal that previously alerted sleeping ancestors that they were falling from a tree.

This suggests that sleep spasms are vestiges of a defense mechanism. On the other hand, triggers like noises or lights can also trigger these sudden movements, according to a publication of Manual MSD.

How can I sleep if I'm nervous?

What factors can contribute to sleep spasms?

As we all know, our pace of life these days affects many areas of our health. What’s more, sleep is one of the areas that suffers the greatest impact according to an article published by the Sleep Institute of Madrid.

According to these experts, living an accelerated pace of life and sleeping a few hours a day can lead to the emergence of different diseases. These include cardiovascular, hormonal, and immunological diseases especially.

Similarly, these factors could lead us to experience involuntary spasms, because many diseases predispose us to suffer from them, according to an article in Mayo Clinic. Although not all of them have been scientifically proven, other factors that seem to influence are:

Any type of problem that disturbs relaxation at bedtime can increase these spasms. In fact, experts also believe that nicotine and even exercise may be related. However, more research is necessary.

You may also want to read: 15 Interesting Facts About Dreams That You Should Know

How to reduce spasms while sleeping?

Since it’s intuitive that sleep spasms may be the result of anxiety or stress, the first step is to try to reduce these levels. To do this, it’s essential that you change your mentality and modify certain habits.

The routine can seem suffocating on many occasions, but we must focus on keeping calm. Trying to see things in a less dramatic way can help us reduce that constant anxiety.

Similarly, it’s essential to lead a healthy lifestyle. A good diet and regular moderate exercise are essential measures when it comes to achieving quality sleep.

Although its conclusions aren’t definitive, a recent study published in Advances in Nutrition describes the relationship between a healthy diet and the duration and quality of nightly rest.

In addition, we can also appreciate the positive effects of physical activity in the mental realm. According to research published by Clinical Psychology Review, exercise contributes to lowering stress and anxiety levels.

In this sense, sports such as yoga or Pilates, which promote relaxation and management of breathing techniques, are highly recommended alternatives.

A woman doing pilates.

At the same time, as far as nutrition is concerned, it’s important to reduce the intake of caffeine; as we mentioned before, this is one of the factors that can trigger spasms when sleeping.

Likewise, it would be advisable to stop smoking or, in the case of other toxic habits, to eliminate them completely.

Finally, as Hauri (1991) suggests, it’s necessary to try to establish a good schedule of sleep. Try to organize your day to get at least eight hours of rest.

Try not to take your problems to bed. The thoughts that cloud your mind will also affect the way you sleep.

Read also: How to Do Breathing Exercises to Improve Sleep

Improve your health through sleep

Sleep spasms aren’t a health concern. However, if they influence the quality of your sleep too much, then you should try to improve your habits.

As we’ve seen, lifestyle is a determining factor when it comes to sleep. Beyond that, if you consider that your spasms may be due to a complication that goes beyond these factors, then don’t hesitate to see your doctor to dispel any doubts and to prevent greater problems.

  • Coolidge, F., & Wynn, T. (2014). The effects of the tree-to-ground sleep transition in the evolution of cognition in early Homo. Before Farming, 2006(4), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.3828/bfarm.2006.4.11
  • Hauri P.J. (1991) Sleep Hygiene, Relaxation Therapy, and Cognitive Interventions. In: Hauri P.J. (eds) Case Studies in Insomnia. Critical Issues in Psychiatry (An Educational Series for Residents and Clinicians). Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4757-9586-8_5
  • Kojovic, M., Cordivari, C., & Bhatia, K. (2011). Myoclonic disorders: a practical approach for diagnosis and treatment. Therapeutic advances in neurological disorders, 4(1), 47–62. https://doi.org/10.1177/1756285610395653
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