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Sleep Disorders

Jerks with in half an hour of sleep

10/26/2007

Question:

When I go for sleep with in half an hour I am feeling a sudden jerk. Then I feel my end has come. Heart beat increses, it remains for few seconds only.  After that I will go for a nice/normal sleep, without any disturbance. This is happening almost daily from last 6 years. ECG and other tests are normal. Kindly reply.

Answer:

There are several possibilities. However, the fact these occur as you are falling asleep, makes it likely that they are what is called "sleep starts." Most people have small jerks as they fall asleep. In some, they are more pronounced (with whole body jerking) and can cause awakenings. These are often accompanied by a sensation of something suddenly happened and may cause a full awakening with some anxiety. However, they usually don't require treatment and do not cause problems. Avoiding caffeine may help.

Another possibility for the symptom you complain about is possible periodic limb movement disorder, a disease where people move their limbs rhythmically throughout the night. This may or may not cause arousals that can sometimes be associated with a full awakening. If this condition is present, it is usually treated with medications.

Your symptoms could also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (the "jerk" is really just an arousal related to the airway collapse that is part of obstructive sleep apnea or OSA). This would go along with the feeling of doom and fast heart rate. OSA is condition where a person has periods of recurrent apneas, or stopping breathing in their sleep. It requires a sleep study to diagnosis and, if present, has a number of treatment options.

I would recommend that you talk to your doctor about these symptoms. Additional information would help to determine if you simply need reassurance or if you need a referral to a Sleep Specialist to evaluate the actual cause of your movements.

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Response by:

James   Knepler, MD James Knepler, MD
Formerly, Assistant Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati