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Sleep starts: Why your body ‘hiccups’ as you fall asleep

Original Article By Sandee LaMotte

Summarized BY: Neurobit

According to the current article from CNN, it is common for people to occasionally experience sleep starts, also known as hypnic jerks, while drifting off to sleep. These episodes involve a sudden, strong jerk that can affect most of the body, with the arms and legs being particularly susceptible. This can cause the person to abruptly awaken before they have fully fallen asleep.

Sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, says that sleep starts are normal occurrences that can happen to anyone at any age and are usually not a cause for concern. It is estimated that around 70% of the population experiences sleep starts at some point in their lives.

Chris Breitigan, a 29-year-old podcast producer from Ohio, describes his experiences with sleep starts as feeling like he is being tickled, starting from his back and moving down his legs, causing him to jolt awake. The experience can also be accompanied by physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and faster breathing.

While the exact cause of sleep starts is unknown, factors such as excessive caffeine consumption, stress, fatigue, and sleep deprivation may increase their frequency. Breitigan notes that his sleep is often disturbed after a night of drinking with friends.

In most cases, sleep starts are harmless and do not require treatment. However, if a person experiences multiple muscle jerks during the day, an injury caused by a hypnic jerk, biting their tongue or mouth while sleeping, or wetting the bed, they should see a doctor. These symptoms may be indicative of a more serious issue, such as seizures.

Dr. Dasgupta suggests reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, practicing meditation and mindfulness before bed, following a consistent sleep routine, and avoiding bright screens before bed to help alleviate sleep starts. He also emphasizes the importance of good sleep hygiene to ensure a restful night's sleep.


LaMotte, S. (2023, February 9). Sleep starts: Why your body 'hiccups' as you fall asleep. CNN. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from

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