Why Do We Sometimes Feel Like Falling When We Fall Asleep?

A whopping 70 percent of people say they’ve experienced the sensation of falling asleep when they finally fall asleep, but few understand what it is and why it happens. The harmless and relatively common sensation is known as a hypnic spasm or sleep onset. It happens when the body experiences sudden muscle contractions, similar to when you jump when you’re scared.

Researchers don’t actually know for sure what causes hypnic spasms, but they have a few theories.

“Researchers suspect that when we fall asleep, there is sometimes a breakdown between nerves in the reticular brainstem, which creates a response that leads to hypnic twitching,” the Sleep Foundation writes.

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“For example, it can happen that when your muscles are completely relaxed, even though this is a normal part of falling asleep, your brain mistakenly assumes that you are actually falling and responds by twitching your muscles.” “It is also possible that hypnic convulsions are a physical reaction to the dream-like images that accompany them,” they explain.

Sleep experts suggest that excessive caffeine consumption, consumption of stimulants, vigorous exercise before bedtime, emotional stress and lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of experiencing a hypnic spasm.

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