What does it mean if I have body spasms at night?

This question was asked in Great River, New York on 07/12/2012.
I get these body jerks/ spasms at night. They start when I lie down and try to go to sleep. If I am able to sleep right away they stop and usually do not occur again even if I get up to void which I do three times a night. If I do not sleep they will continue usually thru the night. It is a jolt that shakes my whole body; some more severe than others. I try to use good sleep hygiene before going to bed but sometime I can't sleep if I am too hot or the pillow is not comfortable, etc. How do I get rid of these jerks so they do not happen even if I do not fall sleep? I did not know if they are muscle related or nerve related. I had a brain MRI and am OK. Where did they come from? I have had them for several months now. Please help. I also get occasional RLS watch TV but not in bed.

Doctors Answers (3)

J. Douglas Hudson, MD, DABSM
Answered on: 7/16/2012

Body spasms at night (not being an issue during the day) may represent a form of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) formerly called "nocturnal myoclonus". This disorder is the night time version of RLS. The movements are involuntary as opposed to the RLS movements. The cause for these abnormal movements is felt to be related to a sensitive area of the brain which responds to a decrease in our dopamine levels as the sun goes down. If we did not have a drop in dopamine levels in the evening we would have difficulty sleeping. Medications which mimic dopamine are often effective in eliminating these movements.

Other medications such as gabapentin are also effective. Many other treatments have been tried with success. These include opiates such as hydrocodone and certain vitamin and mineral preparations. These movements can be miserable and many patients must walk around or hit their legs with objects to reduce the movements and the discomfort. It has been reported that patients with RLS or PLMD have a two fold increase risk for the development of cardiovascular disorders including hypertension. Getting up to void three times a night raises the question of sleep apnea which is also associated with PLMD and RLS. You may need a sleep specialist to assist you.

Richard J. Schumann Jr., MD
Answered on: 7/16/2012

Nocturnal myoclonus or body jerking is a normal physiologic phenomenon that marks the transition for wakefulness to sleep and vice versa. If they are occurring while you are conscious then you should see a neurologist for a formal evaluation. They may want to scan your spine and perform an EEG to assess possible seizures.

Syed Nabi, M.D.
Answered on: 7/13/2012

What you describe, sounds like hypnic jerks, but typically hypnic jerks happen only once a night right at the begining and are associated with stress, caffiene, or any stimulating thing. If it is affecting your sleep quality you may wanna see a sleep physician who can get a detail sleep history and help you determine what is going on.