Flinching when falling asleep: causes of seizures during sleep in adults and children

Everyone has seen the startle when falling asleep. Many people themselves notice this involuntary action, others observe it in their own children. Does this phenomenon speak of pathology and how to treat it?

Complaints of shuddering when falling asleep can be heard quite often. Some people simply state this fact with interest. Others say their sleep cramps are so intense that they interfere with proper sleep. What is the reason for this phenomenon and can it not indicate any disturbances in the functioning of the body?

What is nocturnal myoclonus

Light involuntary twitching of different parts of the body during sleep or when falling asleep, scientists call nocturnal myoclonus . Before dealing with this phenomenon, it is worthwhile to dwell on the physiology of sleep.

The process of falling asleep is associated with a slowdown in all body functions. Lungs and heart begin to work more slowly and calmly. It is at this time that the brain begins to send signals to the muscles, as a result of which they contract. This is expressed in light twitching.

Some scientists consider flinching while falling asleep to be evidence of increased brain activity. In their opinion, the brain regards the slowdown of breathing and pulse as a signal of danger. To eliminate a hypothetical threat, he activates the muscles in case of need to flee.

It should be noted that this is one of the hypotheses of the origin of myoclonic seizures when falling asleep. Another group of scientists explains the phenomenon of myoclonus by the fact that when the phases of sleep change , the brain produces wave bursts, which just lead to involuntary muscle contraction.  

Neurologists say that nocturnal myoclonus is the result of an overloaded nervous system. The negative energy accumulated during the day – stress – is, as it were, “processed” by the brain. As a result, when falling asleep, cramps occur in the legs, arms, and other parts of the body. These convulsive movements lead to relaxation of the muscles, the entire nervous system.  

Features of night cramps

Myoclonus is an unusual physiological phenomenon. On the one hand, it is being comprehensively studied. On the other hand, little is known about him. Scientists have found that there are 2 types of limb twitching when falling asleep: positive and negative myoclonus .

Experts call active contraction of the muscles “positive myoclonus “. This is when, when falling asleep or directly during sleep, a person’s arms, legs twitch, eyelids twitch. Cramps when falling asleep can manifest as twitching of the whole body. It is usually the most intense, often provoking awakening.

Negative myoclonus is, on the contrary, a complete relaxation of nerve endings, a decrease in muscle tone. The syndrome can spread to a single area (for example, legs) or to the entire body. In the second case, convulsive twitching is observed.

Muscle twitching while falling asleep occurs in both children and adults. In this case, movements can be:

  • synchronous and asynchronous;
  • rhythmic / arrhythmic;
  • spontaneous;
  • reflex.

Most often, the limbs, shoulders, and facial muscles are flinching. Physiologists explain the formation of these seizures by the fact that a certain group of nerve fibers going to the muscles is suddenly simultaneously excited. Tension arises, causing the leg, face, or entire body to twitch during sleep.

Pathology or norm?

Myoclonus is characteristic not only of people, but also of almost all living beings. A slight tremor in the body in the form of rare single or group movements during falling asleep is considered the norm. Doctors agree that this is still physiologically conditioned and absolutely normal functioning of the nervous system. 

The pathology is considered to occur with different frequency and frequency of involuntary tremors throughout the entire night’s sleep. On the one hand, they themselves lead to sleep disturbances. A constantly shuddering person wakes up periodically, as a result, cannot get enough sleep. Also, his sleep phases may go astray . On the other hand, myoclonic convulsions that do not stop after falling asleep may indicate disturbances in the functioning of the body.

Doctors identify the following features of seizures when falling asleep:

  1. They are never tied to a specific part of the body, so twitching cannot be predicted.
  2. In some cases, convulsions are pronounced, felt as a large single flinch. In others, it may have the character of a small tremor of the whole body when falling asleep (tremor).
  3. The feeling of falling when falling asleep is also considered by doctors to be a type of myoclonic seizures.
  4. Usually myoclonus occurs during REM sleep. That is why it leads to awakening.
  5. Obsessive, recurring from night to night seizures often accompany diseases of the nervous system (panic disorders, phobias, depression).

Causes of myoclonus in adults

Doctors see the main causes of pathological tremors when falling asleep and during sleep itself in such conditions as:

  • renal failure;
  • iron deficiency;
  • joint diseases;
  • uremia;
  • heart diseases;
  • diabetes;
  • thyroid disease;
  • spine or head injury;
  • blood flow disturbances;
  • Parkinson’s disease.

Why do legs twitch

More than other parts of the body, it is the legs that are susceptible to myoclonus . Many people could observe how the leg involuntarily twitches when falling asleep. The main reasons for this phenomenon have already been described. It should be emphasized that twitching of the legs during sleep in the case of these diseases is the least of evils.

If a person constantly notices that his legs are twitching when falling asleep, you must first contact a therapist, tell about this symptom. The doctor will probably send you for examination. Do not be surprised if, as a result, some serious metabolic disorder or even a disease from the above list is found.

Many people with depression and sleep disorder describe the sensations as their nightly “restless legs” (otherwise the condition is called “Syndrome Ekboma “). All of these disorders need to be treated. Then the discomfort associated with falling asleep will gradually disappear. 

The way the legs twitch while falling asleep is very often noticed by pregnant women. This is usually associated with a deficiency of iron, potassium, and some other trace elements.

What to do in such a situation? First of all, consult your doctor. You may need a menu correction or an additional intake of a vitamin complex. After the baby is born, the described unpleasant sensations will pass by themselves. 

Twitching of the legs while sleeping is common in old age. This is due to changes in the functioning of the nervous system. In this case, it is impossible to neglect myoclonus It is imperative to conduct an examination to exclude the likelihood of serious diseases (for example, Parkinson’s disease). 

Pathological myoclonus

One of the features of pathological myoclonus is that seizures in a person occur not only when falling asleep, but also during the day, while awake. This condition is most common in epilepsy. When falling asleep, the patient may twitch different parts of the body. One night the limbs are active, the other the mimic muscles of the face.

The causes of seizures when falling asleep in adults in this case may lie in the area of ‚Äč‚Äčabnormal brain activity. In some patients, there is a lack of oxygen in the tissues of the brain, in others, changes occur at the cellular level.

In some cases, pathological myoclonus is provoked by hereditary diseases. At the same time, tremors of the limbs or facial muscles can be observed in children when falling asleep at a very early age. This is possible with such neurological conditions: 

  • hereditary pathology of the cerebellum and other parts of the brain;
  • epilepsy;
  • disorders of the nerve endings in the case of diseases of the internal organs (liver, lungs);
  • the so-called “accumulation diseases” (they are characterized by epileptic seizures, pathological daytime myoclonus , and other less noticeable manifestations);
  • viral encephalitis;
  • intoxication with drug overdose.

Twitching during sleep in children

Myoclonic seizures in a child during sleep are divided into physiological (normal) and pathological. The reason for flinching when falling asleep in infants is the adequate functioning and development of the brain.

The fact is that the sleep of young children is significantly different from that of an adult. Their deep sleep phase is 2 times shorter than that of a normally functioning, healthy adult. The baby twitches when falling asleep and later almost constantly due to the fact that his sleep phases change faster, brain activity changes all the time.

Parents need not worry if their child shudders when falling asleep. This is a natural process. But if some other pathological phenomena are added to these movements (for example, convulsions in the daytime), the baby must be examined.

Do I need treatment?

If we are talking about rare tremors of the body or limbs when falling asleep, then in most cases, treatment is not required. To normalize sleep and prevent excessive muscle activity, you can do the following:

  • you must always go to bed and get up at the same time;
  • fall asleep no later than 22:00;
  • do not drink stimulating drinks (coffee, energy drinks, alcohol) at night;
  • for severe problems with falling asleep, you can use light herbal sleeping pills (for example, Novo- Passit );  
  • before going to bed, a warm bath relaxes well, stimulates blood circulation;
  • the use of dairy products, vegetables, herbs (especially parsley, dill) will help to replenish the stock of trace elements ;
  • with severe myoclonus, strong tonic drinks (tea, coffee) must be replaced with berry, fruit compotes, herbal teas;
  • regular physical activity helps to fight cramps;
  • in some cases, for the prevention of myoclonus, you can drink a course of sedatives.

Before buying any medicine, you should definitely check with a doctor! This will help to timely identify diseases of the brain and other systems. Only after a complete examination and the exclusion of serious pathologies will the doctor be able to prescribe suitable sedatives. 

Treatment of pathological myoclonus is carried out only under the guidance of a psychotherapist. In some cases, a psychiatrist. For therapy, drugs such as Konvulex , Clonazepam, Apilepsin , etc. are used. All of them are prescribed individually and are sold in pharmacies exclusively by prescription.

Common types of sleep disorders

Many of us sometimes have trouble sleeping. The causes of insomnia or other disturbances can be caused by stress, travel, illness, or other changes in the normal rhythm of life. But if these problems become a daily occurrence and interfere with daily life, then this may mean that you have a sleep disorder. Such a violation does not only mean daytime sleepiness. It can seriously affect your mental and physical health, memory impairment, weight gain, decreased performance and mood.  

Sleep disturbances make it difficult to get enough sleep. Yes, everyone sometimes has difficulty falling asleep, but if you constantly sleep restlessly, wake up with fatigue, feel constant sleepiness throughout the day and begin to experience stress, then you need to seek medical help from a doctor, a somnologist, instead of swallowing pills for insomnia. He will tell you how to normalize sleep, whether you need to buy sleeping pills or another remedy for insomnia, and give advice on sleep hygiene.

 Recommended duration of sleep depending on the person’s age

AgeSleep hours
Infant (4-11 months)12-15
Kid (1-2 years old)11-14
Preschooler (3-5 years old)10-13
School-age child (6-13 years old)9-11
Teenager (14-17 years old)8-10
Young man / girl (18-25 years old)7-9
Adult (26-64 years old)7-9
Elderly person (over 64 years old)7-8

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