Why do we have spasms during sleep?


Have you ever dreamed that you were falling, and suddenly woke up with an involuntary spasm? Despite its complicated name, nocturnal myoclonus is quite common, and basically consists of a natural physiological reaction in the body, which causes spasms during sleep or when you are about to go to sleep.

Normally, myoclonus—which can also be called “night spasms”—is not a synonym for worry, especially when movements are brief, rapid, and jerky, which is considered normal. But it’s worth keeping an eye out if you notice that these spasms, during sleep, become very intense or repetitive. They may indicate central nervous system disorders such as epilepsy, metabolic problems, or drug reactions. When they offer some kind of risk, it is necessary to seek medical attention.

The experts’ answer to this mysterious reaction in our body is that during sleep, the motor system still has some control over the body, and ends up coming into conflict with other systems. Experts highlight 4 types of myoclonus:

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  • Physiological myoclonus (hiccup, tremors or spasms at onset of sleep and after eating)
  • Idiopathic myoclonus (hereditary, offers unpredictable and risky spasms)
  • Epileptic myoclonus (seizures, need medical assistance)
  • Secondary myoclonus (associated with concussions, spinal cord injuries, infections, asphyxia)


There is still no documentation in the literature that attributes causes to nocturnal spasms, but some conditions and behaviors are associated with movements that occur while we sleep. Are they:

  • Physical activity: those who exercise at night may find it more difficult to relax, and excessive stimulation may result in myoclonus;
  • Stumulators: caffeine, nicotine and other drugs can interfere with the body’s preparation for sleep, increasing the frequency of nocturnal spasms!
  • Stress and anxiety: those who are stressed or anxious and do not undergo treatment may also experience more tremors during sleep;
  • Poor quality of sleep: people who do not have regular sleep or suffer from insomnia are more likely to develop myoclonus while they sleep.


Once medical monitoring is necessary, it is customary to prescribe tranquilizers with the aim of combating the symptoms. Depending on the intensity of the condition, it may also be the case to get help from anticonvulsants. Some specialists also resort to occupational therapy, which works from the abilities and limitations of each patient to solve physical, sensory, social and motor problems.

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