If there was a hypnotist who ran around using his sneaky skills to convince people to do terrible things like buy orange ice lollies or put chilli sauce on their dessert, you’d probably want to call him/her a hypnic jerk. Sadly the term already has another meaning so you’re going to have to come up with a new one for that sneaky brain clown.
And if you’ve ever had to share a bed with someone who steals the blankets in their sleep and “accidentally” puts their cold feet on you, you’d probably want to call them a sleep jerk. Unfortunately sleep jerk is taken too. In fact sleep jerk means the same thing as hypnic jerk.
You’re wonderfully comfy in your bed, the temperature is just right, you’re absolutely exhausted and you’ve hit that semi conscious state where you know you are about to be asleep. When all of a sudden you jerk awake, convinced you are falling off a cliff you don’t remember going to sleep on. That ladies and gentlemen is the hypnic/sleep jerk.
The number of times I research something only to find that scientists aren’t exactly sure is not only astounding but also frustrating. What on Earth are scientists doing that they can’t figure this stuff out? I’m at the point where I imagine they are just having fire extinguisher propelled wheelie chair races around the lab and betting on who throws up fastest in the centrifugal force machine.
Whatever they are doing it’s not coming to a definite conclusion about why we jerk awake as we are falling asleep. However the most popular theory is also my favourite. There are a few stages to falling to sleep, much like when you’ve been playing xbox on my tv. I can’t just turn off the tv, first I’ve gotta turn the volume down because for some reason my HDMI channels are quieter than the others, I have to turn off the xbox and swap back to the freeview source channel before turning of the tv. When you are falling asleep the first few steps involve a risky shutting down process.
It’s not really risky at all in theory but that doesn’t stop your body worrying. Your breathing gets shallower because you really don’t need so much oxygen to just lie on a bed. And your heart rate drops, for pretty much the same reasons as the shallow breathing. Ordinarily this process would be a gradual one and it would be no problem as you peaceful drift to sleep. But there are times when you fall asleep a little bit too fast. Perhaps you are more than a little tired or your bed is just that damn comfy, I don’t know… But regardless of why you fall asleep too fast, you do.
It’s at this point that your body freaks out, your body does the equivalent of a panicky new doctor stumbling across a dying patient.
‘Oh shit! We’re flat lining! Everybody I’ve got a code blue! You’re not going to die on my watch. Give me the defibrillator!’
Fortunately nobody put your body in charge of a defibrillator, so panic not. Instead your whole body jerks awake so suddenly it’s like you’ve just been saved from drowning in a terribly cheesy tv show. And the only way your brain can interpret this at speed is to assume you must be falling, which is while you’ll sometimes get those mental images of falling from a cliff or your childhood bunk bed. Though I was always bottom bunk so that’s not much of a concern for me.
It’s worth pointing out, I think, that the hypnic jerk is different to the head bob you do if you fall asleep sat upright. That is just your body stopping you from closing your wind pipe with the weight of your big fat head.
Anyway I could try and link the hypnic jerk to my life in some tenuous way, tell you guys I jerked awake today metaphorically and wondered what the heck I was doing with my life, or my body rescued me from falling into deep depression again. But I can’t lie to guys, I’ve been sleeping for the best part of 13 hours today… I did, at one point in the afternoon, experience a hypnic jerk and decided that’s what my blog post would be about. There’s no deeper meaning to this post I’m afraid.