It can be scary when you feel like your heart jumps when falling asleep. The good news is that it’s most often harmless. If you experience arrhythmias at nighttime, jerk suddenly, or feel like you’re falling in bed, knowing what you’re dealing with can help you to take the appropriate action.
Reasons You Might Feel Like Your Heart Jumps When Falling Asleep
The following are some of the most common reasons why you might experience a heart-jumping sensation as you fall asleep:
The most common reason you might feel like your heart jumps when falling asleep is a hypnic jerk or “sleep start.” Hypnic jerks are sudden, involuntary muscle contractions that take place when you’re in the process of falling asleep. A hypnic jerk may feel like you’re falling, or you may see flashing lights.
While you may feel startled, these sudden jerks aren’t dangerous. In fact, up to 70% of people experience hypnic jerks. The worst that can happen is that they might disrupt your sleep or wake up your partner if they are particularly strong.
Causes of Hypnic Jerks
The most common causes of hypnic jerks are:
- Too much caffeine or nicotine
- Vigorous exercise
- Not getting enough sleep
- Stress and anxiety
How to Reduce or Prevent Hypnic Jerks
If the jerks bother you, addressing the root causes is the best way to reduce their occurrence. Common causes include:
Caffeine and Nicotine
If you consume caffeine or nicotine, enjoy them earlier rather than later in the day. These substances wake up your brain. Caffeine can disrupt your sleep even if you have it a full six hours before bed.
Regular exercise improves your sleep. However, vigorous exercise too late in the day might wake you up and/or cause hypnic jerks. If you are going to go for a run or take a dance class, do it earlier in the day rather than directly before bed.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Not sleeping well, due to insomnia or poor sleep hygiene, can increase the risk of hypnic jerks as well as affect your focus and mood. Sleeping and waking at the same time each day can help to improve your sleep.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety—whether mild or a diagnosed condition—can make sleep difficult and increase your risk of hypnic jerks. Try relaxation techniques before bed, and stop using electronic devices at least one hour before going to bed.
Heart palpitations are the other main reason why you might feel like your heart jumps when falling asleep. This sensation might feel like:
- Racing heart
- Heart skips a beat
- Extra beats
You’ll often notice these sensations at night because there are fewer distractions and less noise when you’re lying in bed. Lying on your left side might also lead to heart palpitations because the heart is right next to the left chest wall.
Are Heart Palpitations Dangerous?
Occasional heart palpitations are usually not dangerous. However, if you experience frequent heart palpitations, you should get checked for a potential heart rhythm problem—especially if your heart rate goes above 100 beats per minute.
Causes of Heart Palpitations
There are several possible causes of heart palpitations, some of which are easy to address and others of which may require treatment.
- Foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, fat, or monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Vigorous exercise
- Too much caffeine
- Certain drugs (including diet pills, antibiotics, asthma remedies, cough and cold medicines, cocaine, amphetamines, thyroid hormone, and digoxin)
If any of these causes are present, the best way to reduce palpitations is to address the problem. Similar to the case with hypnic jerks, you can reduce lifestyle-related palpitations by keeping caffeine, nicotine, vigorous exercise, and stress away from bedtime and drinking plenty of water. Similarly, avoid alcohol and high-carbohydrate foods in the evening.
If you are pregnant, keep in mind that heart palpitations are common and usually no reason to worry. However, if you have a history of heart palpitations or they continue after delivery, it’s a good idea to get a diagnosis.
Underlying heart conditions and other health conditions can also make you feel like your heart jumps when falling asleep. These conditions include:
- Overactive thyroid gland
- Low blood sugar
- Atrial fibrillation
- Arrhythmia (irregular heart rate)
- Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
- Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Heart valve disease
If you have a family history of any of these medical conditions or experience heart palpitations frequently, it’s best to see your doctor for testing to see if you have signs of heart disease or another underlying condition. If you have an irregular heartbeat, your doctor might recommend a medical device like an ICD, WCD, or AED (such as the LIFEPAK CR2) to aid you in the event of a medical emergency.
Tests that Can Detect an Underlying Condition
When you see your doctor, they may recommend several tests to help them give you a diagnosis:
- Physical examination, including listening to your heart with a stethoscope, taking your blood pressure, and checking your pulse.
- Blood test. This is the easiest way to check for anemia (low red-blood-cell count) and thyroid problems.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). This test records the electrical activity of your heart to detect arrhythmias or see whether you’ve had a heart attack.
- Holter monitor. Small patches called electrodes are stuck to your chest and attached to a recorder. They record your heart’s rhythm for 24 to 48 hours to see if any patterns emerge.
- Ultrasound. The doctor may want to examine the structure of your heart to see if you have any holes, blockages, inflammation, or other observable irregularities.
- Exercise stress test. This is a common test if you have palpitations together with chest pain. The doctor will want to see if the supply of blood to the heart is compromised.
How to Stop Heart Palpitations
The best way to find treatment options for heart palpitations is to find out the root cause and deal with it. If your doctor diagnoses an underlying condition, you may be given preventative medicine or have a heart-regulating device installed. However, if there is no underlying heart condition present, you can try any of these simple techniques:
Over the course of a few days, keep a diary of what you eat and drink and use a pulse oximeter to measure your heart rate at different times of the day. Finding foods that trigger palpitations can help you avoid or reduce their occurrence.
If you’re feeling stressed, add self-help techniques to your bedtime routine, like meditation and deep breathing. Counseling may also be helpful if you are dealing with a stressful situation.
Vagal maneuvers affect the vagus nerve—a long nerve that connects your brain and your belly and helps to control your heartbeat. You should only attempt these techniques if you don’t have any underlying heart conditions.
Splash cold water on your face or take a cold shower.
Clench your abdominal and butt muscles and push as if you were having a bowel movement.
Knees Against Chest
Hold your knees against your chest for one minute. This move can be especially helpful for babies and children.
Pinch your nose closed with your thumb and index finger and exhale with force.
When to Seek Help
If you have heart palpitations together with any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:
- Chest pain or tightness
- Difficulty breathing
Some of these symptoms are known to precede a sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack, or stroke, and it’s better to be close to treatment. If your heart jumps when falling asleep regularly, or you experience palpitations that last for more than a few seconds, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor and find the underlying cause.