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Hypnic Jerking and Sleep: What Worked for Me: Chris' Story

Updated: May 10, 2021

My nervous system shoots a jolt of electricity down my spine that convulses my body awake every time I reach the moment of sleep onset, and I have no power to stop it. I was thirty-two when it began, and I knew from experience that the occasional “hypnic jerk” was normal and fleeting.

But when the faint light of dawn reached my window the morning of August 29, 2018, these sudden body spasms had kept me awake the entire night.

Despite prayerfully trying every conceivable sleeping position and breathing exercise, one violent shock after another met me at the boundary of sleep onset and prevented my crossing. And the next two nights were the same as the first. To help slow down the electrical firings in my nervous system, my doctor prescribed a .5 mg of dose of Clonazepam to be taken at bedtime. It worked. When I fell asleep that night, I had been awake for ninety hours.

Like many of us who experience these symptoms chronically, I have tried to learn and observe everything I can that might be relevant to them. In the last two and half years, I have attempted sleep without medication hundreds of times, but I cannot make it happen. The jerks meet me at sleep onset, and they win every time.

However, in the last year, I found that I rarely need the full dose if I also take 500 mg of levetiracetam and 250 mg of delayed-release Divalproex about two hours before bedtime (a thing I wish I had known at the beginning).

I have also identified factors that worsen my symptoms—the most consistent being anything that inflames the muscles in my cervical spine region, such as injury or exertion. My neck, in particular, is prone to injury because of bone spurs. For that reason, I have since worked to maintain better posture and flexibility, but I have also had to give up many of the rigorous physical activities I used to enjoy.

For my mental wellbeing, I have now taken up new passions: hiking, cooking, and piano.

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