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Sleep Disorders

Why Does My Body Jerk While I Sleep?

01/19/2010

Question:

I never started to notice that I flinch while I sleep untill about 4 months ago. I noticed it when it got so bad that I have been waking myself up from it, and I am a hard sleeper. My boyfriend was also over while I was sleeping and said I jerk about every other minute the whole time I sleep. My family does not have a history of seizures, but we have a lot of stress, I think. We are aways on the go and I always feel warn out when I usually get lots of sleep. But sometimes I don`t. I dont take any regular medication. What would cause this? Should I see a doctor?

Answer:

What you are reporting is most consistent with a sleep-related movement disorder, though additional history will be needed to determine this accurately. Sleep-related movement disorders are a group of conditions characterized by unusual or abnormal motor activity during sleep. Some of these conditions are benign (not significant) while others may be more serious and require treatment. Your condition should be taken seriously, and I strongly recommend that you see a Sleep physician for it.

Several potential causes for your symptoms come to mind and will require a detailed evaluation to sort this out. One of the more serious considerations would be nighttime seizures. Although you don’t have family history of seizures, you can still have them. However, most individuals with seizures do not have these solely at night and have some daytime symptoms, or at least a history of childhood seizures. In addition, your description does not sound typical for seizures, though clearly further information will be needed. A more common and benign condition is periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS). In this disorder, patient experience rhythmic leg movements that may also include the arms or the body. PLMS is common in young women and may be related to a deficiency in iron store deficiency. This is a more likely explanation to your case than seizures. Other conditions include “sleep starts,” which generally occur at sleep onset (as you fall asleep), and may not be as recurrent and rhythmic throughout the night as you report. There are few other possibilities that include benign muscle spasms or twitches.

Sleep-related breathing disorders can also sometimes present with recurrent “twitches” during the night. Patients with these problems tend to snore loudly, feel unrefreshed in the morning and experience daytime sleepiness.

I recommend that you seek evaluation by a sleep physician. A sleep physician will obtain further history and perform an examination. They will likely recommend you undergo a sleep study as well. During this study, several functions, including muscle activity, are recorded in the sleep laboratory and the type of movement you are experiencing can be characterized and likely diagnosed. The sleep doctor will probably order some blood tests on you as well. In the meantime, you will benefit from maintaining a regular sleep wake schedule and obtaining an adequate amount of sleep (8-9 hours). Additionally, it is very important that you refrain from tobacco, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.

If you would like further information about movements during sleep, I recommend the American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. In addition to information about sleep medicine, the website also contains a list of accredited Sleep Centers and may help you to locate one nearest you.

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Response by:

Rami N Khayat, MD Rami N Khayat, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University