Origins

The neurological reason that hypnic jerks occur is not fully understood, although there are two predominant theories.
Some researchers suggest that as a subject's heartbeat and breathing slow down, hypnic jerks occur as a natural part of muscular transition.[4[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnic_jerk#cite_note-holmes-3|]]]
Another theory states that as a subject falls asleep, their muscles begin to relax and cease working, causing the brain to believe that the body must be falling through air - and triggering a response to thrash the limbs in an attempt to catch something or turn oneself upright[4[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnic_jerk#cite_note-holmes-3|]]]

[edit]Occurrence

Hypnic jerks are usually felt once or twice per night. More regular, and usually less intense, hypnic jerks often occur during normal sleep. In extreme cases, this may be classified as a disorder called periodic limb movement. The person with the disorder will usually sleep through the events. When a subject is deprived of sleep and is trying to fight sleep, hypnic jerks can occur more often. This normally happens to subjects who have deprived themselves of sleep for longer than 24 hours, or to those who have recently awakened after insufficient sleep.




A hypnic jerk, or hypnagogic massive jerk, usually occurs just as we are falling asleep. People often describe it as a falling sensation or an electric shock, and it is a completely normal experience. It most commonly occurs when sleeping uncomfortably or over-tired. There has been little research done on the subject, but there are some theories as to whyhypnic jerks occur.
When we drift of into sleep, the body undergoes changes in temperature, breathing and muscle relaxation. The hypnic jerkmay be a result of the muscles relaxing. The brain misinterprets this as a sign of falling and signals our limbs to wake up; hence the jerking legs or arms.
A hypnic jerk may also occur during the Rapid Eye Movement phase of sleep. The REM phase is the time when dreams happen and all voluntary muscular activity stops along with a complete drop in muscle tone. During REM, some individuals experience slight eye or ear twitching, and this is also when the hypnic jerk occurs. Some people with sleep disorders do not achieve muscular relaxation and have been known to act out their dreams.
In most people, a hypnic jerk usually occurs just once or twice a night. However, when a person is deprived of sleep or trying to fight sleep, it may happen more often. In extreme cases, the muscle twitches can happen every thirty seconds or more. This disorder is called periodic limb movement.
Another theory put forward to try and explain the hypnic jerk is that the body reacts to falling asleep much in the way that a body may twitch when dying. The hypnic jerk is a reflex used to keep the body functioning. The brain might register falling asleep as a situation in which the body needs to be stimulated.
A hypnic jerk can also occur when you wake up. This is far more rare and can also affect auditory as well as muscular nerves. In the phenomenon known as an auditory sleep start, waking from sleep is accompanied with a very loud snap or cracking which seems to come from the center of the head. Some people have also been known to have visual sleep starts, in which a blinding flash of light awakens the sleeper, but these cases are also extremely rare.
Sleep studies have shown that hypnic jerks affect around 10 percent of the population on a nightly basis. Almost 80 percent of people are affected occasionally and 10 percent are rarely ever affected