Yesterday, I asked myself, why do I sometimes jolt awake violently, just before I drop off to sleep?
As someone with fairly chronic insomnia, this phenomenon is a particular bug-bear for me. My mind also loves to pay a fun little trick where, in my dream, I’m on a tripwire or on top of a very tall building and, of course, as I jolt awake, that’s when I ‘fall’ in my dream.
I always thought that this was something that happened to everyone, but it turns out that this would seem to be yet another Mental Health Symptom I Didn’t Know I Had™.
Anyway, before we get into that properly – hello and welcome to this monthly series where I explore random phenomena that I’ve never questioned before, or, have been too embarrassed to ask. At some point (probably when I run out of my own questions) I’m going to set up an anonymous question account on one of those sites we all loved when we were 15 and ask for submissions from you guys. Please feel free to leave questions as comments on this post as well though, I’d love to research all kinds of things!
Doing a bit of preliminary research, this ‘jolt’ would seem to go hand in hand with my poor sleep schedule. It’s true that I notice being jerked awake much more often when I’ve run out of the medication which helps me to sleep – and stress is cited as one of the main factors that cause a ‘hypnic jerk’.
Honestly, that’s really what it’s called. A Hypnic Jerk. I’m just as surprised as you that there hasn’t been an indie-pop banger with that very same name.
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, these ‘jerks’ of mine are always accompanied by a dream-induced knowledge that I’ve ‘fallen’ off of something, be it a bridge or building, or into a dragon’s stomach (one of the more memorable scenarios) and once again, I thought that was just a run-of-the-mill occurrence that happened to everyone. But, apparently, yet again, I was wrong. According to the BBC:
“Some people report that hypnic jerks happen as they dream they are falling or tripping up. This is an example of the rare phenomenon known as dream incorporation, where something external, such as an alarm clock, is built into your dreams.
It took me a while to pick this apart, but I think what it’s trying to say is that my dream notices I’m being physically ‘jolted’ and quickly creates an explanation in my dream. I’m not sure that I quite understand this, as how would my brain know to create a dream where I’m walking across a tiny bridge over the Grand Canyon in the minutes before I ‘fall’?
There is another theory which I’m less sceptical of – that this frantic jerking is a hark back to our primate ancestors, who used to sleep in trees. If they moved too much in their sleep, their body would ‘jerk’ them awake, so that they didn’t fall out of the tree they were sleeping in.
However, this would then mean that it does happen to everybody, as we’re all descended from monkeys, as far as I’m aware.
Honestly, I’m so flummoxed. Since writing this article, Buzzfeed has put yet another spanner in the works, with this bite-sized fact, although it must be said that I’ve not found any other evidence online that this is a Hypnic Jerk, but rather a separate phenomenon that happens when you fall asleep too quickly.
Let me know in the comments if you experience these Hypnic Jerks and maybe we can work this one out together!
Hope you’re all doing well. Peace out. P.