I had a five second dream the other night. It consisted of me walking and then slipping on the curb of a sidewalk, followed by that gut-wrenching, heart-stopping feeling that you are about to fall. Of course, seeing as I was in bed, I wasn’t actually falling, but my body wasn’t going to have any of that, of course, and it decided to jerk all crazily in an attempt to keep itself upright, which doesn’t make sense because I wasn’t upright to begin with. In any case, I was violently awoken by all the fuss and was left with my heart pounding away in my chest as if I had just narrowly cheated death somehow. I hate it when this happens.
Perhaps you have experienced this occurrence yourselves? Roughly 70 percent of people do after all. This occurrence has a name you know, and that name is hypnagogic myoclonic twitch. But that’s a bit of a mouthful, so people usually just refer to it as a “hypnic jerk”. Not to be confused with a “hippie jerk”, which is an entirely different issue.
I love that its name sounds like an insult. I can shake my fist in outrage at it yelling “You damn hypnic jerk!” and it feels like I’ve managed to put it in its place. It’s very satisfying.
Now you may be wondering why these damn hypnic jerks even occur in the first place. Well, apparently the experts are still not completely sure why the body does this, but they believe it to be a natural part of the sleeping process. They believe that as the muscles begin to relax and go slack right as you are falling asleep, the brain can misinterpret this and think you’re falling down. Then it basically freaks out. In an attempt to save you from falling, the brain sends signals to the muscles in your arms and legs and gives them a big ol’ twitch, thus awakening you from your sound slumber.
Now I’d like to know why the brain is misinterpreting these signals in the first place. Is it just too lazy to put forth the effort? Is it just a weird short-circuit that takes place? Or is it something more sinister? Maybe the brain is the real jerk here and it just enjoys kicking us awake just as we’re about to nod off. Yeah, that’s probably it. You heard it here first, folks. Our brains are little sadists. What’s even worse is that apparently hypnic jerks occur more frequently in people who are uncomfortable and having trouble sleeping, or in those who are already sleep deprived to begin with. See? Only a sadistic jerk would trick an insomniac into waking up, just as he or she was falling asleep.
Well then, it looks like the so-called “experts” have been fooled in the end. Our brains aren’t making us spasm to “save us from falling”. They’re just assholes.