What it means when you are suddenly jerked awake when falling asleep

You are all settled in for the night, cozy and warm in your bed.   You start to drift off to dreamland, and all of a sudden you are falling or something hits you in the face. Whatever it is, you are suddenly startled awake with a jolt.

This strange sensation actually occurs on a regular basis to many people, and scientists have finally figured out what it means.

This process of being startled awake is referred to as the “hypnic jerk.” Although everyone has their own unique experiences with the hypnic jerk and describe the feeling a little differently, it is often explained as the feeling of falling.

The hypnic jerk is most often seen when a person falls asleep rapidly during or after an exhaustive state. When the body is exhausted, the brain can process the stages of sleep too quickly. This confuses the brain into thinking that the body and its major systems are failing. The brain then responds by jolting you awake with a burst of chemicals and then builds a dream designed to wake you up.

Check out this video from Discovery News to better understand the hypnic jerk and why we twitch.

Trouble Sleeping In A New Place? Blame It On Your Brain.

 

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Have you ever had trouble sleeping when you are in a new place? Do you toss and turn or easily wake when you travel or sleep somewhere other than your own bedroom? If so, you are not alone. According to a new study published in the journal “Current Biology,” it is a very normal occurrence for your first night’s sleep in new surroundings to be less than satisfactory.

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Researchers at Brown University found that, similar to some animals, only half of the human brain “sleeps” the first night a person sleeps in a new environment. Research showed that the left hemisphere of the brain, the more logical and analytical side, was still actively “awake” throughout the night. The researchers believe that it is our brain’s way of “keeping watch” in unfamiliar territory. Though humans no longer worry about predators lurking in the darkness, our brains evolved during a time when that threat was very real.

So next time you are traveling or house sitting, plan accordingly, because your first night of sleep away from home will most likely not be as good as usual.

For more information, check out NPR’s article, “Half Your Brain Stands Guard When Sleeping In A New Place.”

 

 

5 Easy Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

 

Do you lie in bed for hours, staring at the clock? Do you wake up feeling groggy and slow? Lack of sleep can do a lot more than make you have a bad morning—it can hurt your mental and physical health. This video will explore why getting that shut eye is so important, and it will teach you five easy ways to get all the refreshing sleep you need.

Easy Ways to Improve Sleep

Many people have trouble falling and staying asleep at night. Here are some great tips on how to change up your bedtime routine to improve your quality of sleep.

Create a Sleep Routine and Stick To It

Your body works better on a schedule. If you are going to bed and waking up at different times each day and the amount of sleep you are getting varies, your body will not work efficiently. Set a time to go to bed and a time to wake up each morning. If you stick to your sleep schedule, your body will naturally fall into it. It will be easier to fall asleep at night and you will wake up feeling rested in the morning.

All Naps Are Not Created Equal

According to the National Sleep Foundation website, taking a short “power nap” increases your energy level and alertness. Longer naps can cause you to feel groggy when you first wake up, postponing the benefits of a midday nap. The exception is if you take naps in 90-minute increments. A full sleep cycle is 90 minutes. If you have the time, a 90-minute nap can increase memory and creativity while avoiding the groggy period following medium-length naps.

Prepare for Sleep

Have you ever wondered why it is easier to fall asleep in the dark than when your bedroom is lit up by lamplight or sunlight? Your body produces melatonin, a hormone that helps your body fall asleep. When you create a dark, comfortable sleep environment, your brain will queue your body to begin producing melatonin. Preparing for sleep by dimming light and stopping the use of electronics an hour or so before bedtime will let your body know that it is time to slow down and prepare for sleep. It is also important to make sure your bed is comfortable and supportive and that your bedroom is quiet, uncluttered, and at a comfortable temperature.

Staying Asleep

It is also important to limit all light in your bedroom, including lit-up alarm-clock faces and red and blue lights on electronics and phone screens. Any amount of bright light, especially LED, white, and blue light, can disrupt the production of melatonin and your quality of sleep. If you prefer some light, limit it to soft, yellow light.

Limit Sugar and Alcohol Before Bed

Refined sugar before bed can inhibit your ability to fall asleep easily, and alcohol can reduce your quality of sleep. Foods high in refined sugar cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a steep decline in blood-sugar levels later. The increase in blood sugar can make it hard to fall asleep. The decline in blood-sugar levels while you are asleep is one of the main causes of waking during the night.

Similarly, though a glass of red wine before bed can help you fall asleep, it can cause you to wake more often during the night. According to an April 2013 study conducted by the London Sleep Centre-Neuropsychiatry, “…alcohol increases slow-wave ‘deep’ sleep during the first half of the night, but then increases sleep disruptions in the second half of the night.” If you feel hungry before bed, try a sweet low-sugar snack like berries instead.

No TV Time

Falling asleep while watching television is a popular habit in many households. According to a 2014 consumer survey conducted by LG Electronics USA, 61% of Americans fall asleep with the television on. Watching television is more distracting than relaxing.   Television keeps your body awake and hinders the body functions that promote sleep. Most often, television stimulates the mind and body, and does not help to slow breathing or relax muscles.

Now that you have some good tips for a better sleep…Happy Dreaming!

Mr. Sandman is MIA: Modern Kids Lack Sleep

It’s 10:30 pm on a Wednesday night. Your eyes are heavy, and you’re reading your bright-eyed 3-year-old the fifth (or is it the sixth?) storybook before bed. Your teenage daughter, who just arrived home from a play rehearsal that went late, peeks in and asks if you were aware that your husband fell asleep in front of the TV while your 7-year-old is still up watching cartoons on her tablet. If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2014 Sleep in America poll, many American children are missing out on much-needed sleep, especially on school nights. Now that summer is coming to a close and school is about to start again, this may be a good time to reevaluate whether your family is getting enough sleep each night.

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According to the NSF poll, parents estimated that their children slept less than the recommended amount, logging 8.9 hours for kids aged 6-10, 8.2 hours for kids aged 11-12, 7.7 hours for kids aged 13-14, and 7.1 hours for kids aged 15-17. The NSF recommends 10-11 hours per night for kids 6-10 years old, and 8.5-9.5 hours per night for kids 11-17 years old. 1-2 hours of lost sleep per night can add up pretty quickly.

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So what is causing later bedtimes and the lack of quality sleep for our kids? How is this lack of sleep affecting them? There are many variables causing less quality sleep for the modern family. The use of technological devices leading up to bedtime, school night homework and activities, and even diet affect sleep. The NSF poll states, “Parents report that nearly three out of four (72 percent) children ages 6-17 have at least one electronic device in the bedroom while they are sleeping.” That statistic isn’t even counting the toddler and preschool age groups, or the parents, whose sleep is probably affected as well. A study reported in the May 2003 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that using technological devices with a bright display for an “exciting task,” such as playing a video game or watching a suspenseful movie, decreases the body’s melatonin production. Melatonin is a natural hormone in the body that is responsible for stimulating and regulating sleep patterns so it is probably best to limit the use of tablets, electronic readers, computers, televisions, and cell phones before bed.

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As a parent myself, I can attest to my children’s weekday extracurricular activities and homework causing later bedtimes for all of us, not just for them. Extracurricular activities following school can postpone dinnertime, completion of homework, and previously established bedtime routines. My fourth grader usually gets to bed 1-2 hours later on nights she has dance class. My 13-year-old nephew has weeknight baseball games that last sometimes past 10:00 pm.

Sleeping_while_studyingSleep is very important for healthy brain development and maintenance. Our brains are still developing through adolescence. No matter what our age, our brains need to mentally detoxify and recalibrate during sleep in order to maintain good mental health and efficiency. If children and teens do not get enough quality sleep, they risk decreased academic performance and concentration, i.e. falling asleep in class or falling asleep while driving. Many behavioral problems, like ADHD, and mental health problems, like anxiety and/or depression can also be linked to sleep deprivation.**

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So what can we do to improve our kids’ amount and quality of sleep?

1.  Talk to your kids and/or your partner about the importance of sleep and the benefits it provides.

2.  Set bedtimes for everyone in your household, including you.

3.  Limit use of technology at least an hour before bedtime.

4.  Provide your kids with a comfortable sleep environment (comfy bed, dim light or no light, and cooler room temperature).

5.  Do not overbook your kids with multiple extracurricular activities, and try to schedule activities earlier in the evening, or try to do homework earlier in the day.

6.  Most importantly, set a good example for your kids. If you have good sleep habits, they will most likely follow suit.

For more information on the effects of sleep deprivation, check out my previous blog post, “Surprise! Sleep Deprivation Affects Emotional Intelligence.”

** Refer to the following links:

http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/adhd-and-sleep

http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood