Everyone wants a good night’s sleep every night. However, you may find a few sleepless nights when it feels like your bed moves on its own. I used to experience something like this. If you rule out earthquakes (like I did while living in Guatemala) and heavy nearby traffic (like I did living in busy cities), you may have a sleeping disorder if you have these night tremors.
So, why does your bed shake at night? Your bed shakes at night because you are shaking. You suffer from a hypnagogic (or hypnic) jerk. Also called a sleep start, the motion happens when you fall into a deep sleep. While their true cause is unknown, they are often linked with several sleep problems.
While you cannot make them go away completely, you can reduce your episodes and occurrence by taking a few precautions.
I’m happy to say that I no longer experience any shaky-bed-nights since I moved away from earthquake zones and busy cities, but I was still curious to find out more because a friend of mine recently mentioned that she feels the bed shake at night and that she suffers from Restless Leg Syndrome.
I’m not a doctor, but this is what I found out…
What Sleep Problems Make Your Bed Shake at Night?
Hypnic jerks are involuntary twitches or jolts your body does at night. About 60-70% of the population suffer from them, and they affect people in different ways. Most people sleep through them, but many do move vigorously enough to wake up.
While we do not know why people have them, those who jerk at night are often sleep deprived, anxious, or suffer from certain sleep issues. To make matters worse, jerk suffers often worry about them before they go to bed.
These jerks come as jolts or an electric shock followed the world around you appearing to move. Some people even get a falling sensation. They happen when parts of your brain go to sleep faster than others.
Your body’s natural circadian rhythm, or body clock, can amplify the jolts into something more noticeable. It is these night tremors, or sleep myoclonus, which make your bed move around you. The motion often concentrates in particular areas of your body, such as the eyes, lips, feet, and hands.
What Causes Night Tremors?
According to the American Sleep Association, night tremors come as “brief twitching of the muscles that occurs when you’re asleep, and can occur separately or in groups, as well as in a sequence or at random.”
While there are no known causes for night tremors or their underlying hypnic jerks, they do occur regularly with certain sleep problems. These sleeping disorders can make someone anxious and sleep deprived, which may even aggravate the tremors as well.
If your jolts worsen or spread across your body, you contact your doctor immediately. Many of these disorders are life-threatening if not treated.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) makes your legs go through the same motions every 20-40 seconds. PLMS sufferers experience these movements as twitches or jerking motions in their legs, or an upward flexing of their feet. Episodes can last up for a few hours.
Caused by obstructions in the throat, sleep apnea repeatedly interrupts your normal breathing for brief periods. The suffer often experience myoclonic jerks and twitches in response. They happen so often together that sleep apnea is often the initial diagnosis for the movements.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) restricts the peripheral arteries in the legs, arms, stomach, and head. It results in numbness, weakness, and spasm as your extremities shut down from the lack of blood flow.
REM Behavior Disorder (RBD)
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder makes you act your dreams though spasms and twitches in your legs and vocal cords. These movements, which may also include punching, are responses to action-filled, scary dreams. Some sufferers get up and walk around in their sleep as well.
Should You Speak to a Doctor About Night Tremors?
Night terrors are typically more annoying than harmful. Most of the time, you do not need to see your doctor if you experience them. Generally, you only need immediate care for the tremors if their severity increases or they become an obstacle to your sleeping.
However, your doctor may help you reduce the severity of the shakes, giving you a better night’s sleep. Most sleep disorders have treatments and FDA-approved medications for easing the symptoms.
How Can You Prevent Sleep Jerks from Happening?
While you cannot make them go away completely, you can do a few things to reduce their occurrence and severity. Taking control of your night shakes will lead to better sleep and overall better health. Most of these steps come as changes to your routine around and during sleep.
Also, most of these steps attempt to reduce your overall sleep deprivation, which cause most sleep problems, including hypnic jerks. Some of the more common solutions to hypnic jerks include:
- Avoid heavy eating and/or drinking right before bed – this especially including alcohol and caffeine.
- Regularly exercise to burn off excess energy.
- Create a clean, peaceful sleeping environment.
- Avoid distractions such as watching TV or going on the internet right before sleeping
- Observe a regular sleep routine when possible.
- Listen to peaceful music or meditations to help ease you into sleep.
You can also ask your sleeping partner to disturb you about 5 minutes before the jerks start if they occur regularly. They can do this by either turning in bed or rustling something near you. Disturbing the sleep may stop the twitches.
Please note that none of these steps will completely stop the tremors. Even if they seem to go away, they can and will return with the same veracity. The only way to completely stop your tremors is to work with your doctor to find the root cause behind them.
How Do I Help My Child During a Night Terror?
Up to now, I only dealt with adult-set hypnic jerk, but you can get night tremors at any age. Child tremors are as harmless as their adult equivalents, but they can put your child in dangerous situations. Thus, you want to treat them as soon as you can.
You know your child is experiencing a night tremor if:
- Something is scaring your child, but you cannot wake or comfort him or her.
- Your child cannot see you even if his or her eyes are open
- Your child is afraid of objects or persons in the room
- The episode happens early in the night
- The episode lasts 10 to 30 minutes.
- Your child has no memory of the episode in the morning.
Please note that waking up your child may frighten them. You also never want to shake or shout at your child, which can make the situation worse. You want to comfort and calm your child to help them return to normal sleep.
Some of the things you can do to help your child deal with the tremors include:
- Turn on the lights to reduce shadows
- Make soothing comments
- Hold your child if it helps calm him or her
- Protect your child against injury
- Gently direct your child back to bed if sleepwalking
Like in adults, sleep deprivation is a leading trigger for night tremors in children. Therefore, you want to ensure your child goes to bed at regular times, and early enough to get plenty of sleep. That may include frequent naps for younger children.
You also want to warn everyone who works with your child about the night terrors, including your babysitters. You also want to teach them how to treat your child if an episode occurs during their watch.
If the condition worsens or comes with other health problems, you will want to talk to your child’s doctor to see if the condition is a sign of something more serious.