Are You Twitching at Night? Here's Why
Underlying common causes, and what to do to sleep better and more soundly.
Posted Jan 21, 2021
Twitching at night—it’s something few of us talk about, yet it’s also a phenomenon that impacts Americans when it comes to sleep quality. And even if you feel like you’re getting enough sleep, you could be sleeping better and faster without those twitching episodes, however infrequent.
Today I’ll be peeling back the secrecy around twitching while sleeping by telling you underlying common causes, and what to do to sleep better and more soundly at night.
Is Twitching at Night Dangerous?
The occasional twitching at night is nothing to worry about, but chronic muscle spasms may point to different health conditions. At the very least, experiencing twitching in your sleep can cause an increase in nighttime wakefulness and a decline in sleep quality.
What Causes Twitching at Night?
If you’ve ever experienced it, you know just how strange and even anxiety-provoking it can be: you’re sound asleep and suddenly a twitch or jerk wakes you up.
The worst part is, for many of us, that we don’t understand why we’re twitching while we’re sleeping, and that twitching can make it harder to sleep through the night. There is not generally a single reason why you’re twitching at night but could be one of many causes, including:
Nutrition is key to sleeping well, but even normal functions during the day. And if you’re twitching not only at night but also during the day, you could be deficient in Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, or an imbalance of Calcium.
Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption; when Vitamin D is low, you may experience occasional muscle twitches or spasms in the feet or hands.
Signs of Vitamin B12 deficiencies include muscle twitching or spasms, as well as numbness and feeling weak.
Calcium and Magnesium
A calcium imbalance occurs when you have a magnesium deficiency and a too-high calcium-to-magnesium ratio. Studies suggest that magnesium deficiencies cause twitches and spasms when calcium becomes too high and overstimulates nerves. This is one good source of magnesium that I include in my daily routine.
Anxiety and Stress
If you’re experiencing twitching only at night, however, chances are there’s another cause. Twitching at night, often referred to as hypnic jerks, may be caused by chronic anxiety and stress. In the past, I’ve written about how stress and sleep are connected, and why stress can reduce sleep quality and reduce sleep duration.
A study published in the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice explored the connection between higher levels of stress and hypnic jerks or twitching at night. However, it wasn’t just emotional stress that’s been connected with more twitching at night.
Excessive caffeine intake can overexcite your central nervous system and cause spasms, cramps, and twitching—and can possibly lead to hypnic jerks while you’re trying to sleep. Nicotine and other stimulants can also be a culprit, especially when used too close to bed.
Exercising Too Late
Exercise is critical for our overall health and even our sleep; regular exercise helps regulate sleep-wake cycles, our mood, and helps us live our healthiest lives possible. But exercise right before bed, especially intense exercise, could at least worsen twitching while sleeping. Muscles may not have time to relax, leading to an excited nervous system and potentially disrupted sleep.
If you’re experiencing more than the occasional twitching at night, and don’t have nutritional deficiencies or sources of excessive stress, you could have a sleep movement disorder.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is common—according to the Sleep Foundation, as many as 1 out of 10 Americans experience it. In many ways, restless leg syndrome is still a mystery, but we do know that it can cause not only tingling and crawling sensations during sleep or rest, but also twitching. Most experience an urge to move and disrupted sleep.
How Can I Sleep Better at Night?
No matter the cause, persistent hypnic jerks, can really drain your energy; make it hard to fall and stay asleep; and hurt your overall sleep quality. So here are my top tips to relax your muscles for sound sleep.
Get Checked for a Vitamin Deficiency
If you’re experiencing muscle twitches or spasms not only while sleeping but also during the day, it’s time to get checked for a vitamin deficiency. Never assume or self-diagnose. The best way to find out if you have a deficiency, and in what, is to have a venous or blood prick test ordered by your doctor.
Manage Anxiety and Stress
Lifestyle changes, from giving yourself time every day to relax, to getting in regular exercise, at least 15 minutes of natural sunlight, and connecting with others are great coping mechanisms.
Be Mindful About Exercise
I also advocate for movement, but you may find that you exercise better at different times of the day. While some can exercise late, twitching at night is a sign that the time of exercise or form of exercise may not be working for your sleep. Try to get in a workout earlier, and stick to light stretching exercises before bed.
Get Assessed by a Sleep Specialist
If you’ve ruled everything else out, consider getting assessed by a sleep specialist for sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome. While there’s still not a lot we know about restless leg syndrome, some treatments include addressing an iron deficiency; using muscle relaxants; and sleep aids.
Whether you’re experiencing the occasional twitching at night or on a regular basis, the good news is that it’s almost always not a serious, and highly treatable condition. With these tips, now you know how to finally relax and sleep better.
Sleep Well, Be Well,
Dr. Michael Breus