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This term denotes a common experience with sudden contractions of the big body muscles while falling asleep. This mostly causes a feeling of stumbling, falling or similar and subsequently waking up again. The exact cause is not known, it probably is some disturbance in the brain's functions in the first stage of sleep. Surely it is common, and does not cause serious problems unless it stops you from sleeping (but then you have general sleeping problems as well).
(From: Corey Thompson <COREYT@vax1.mankato.msus.edu>)
In my Psycology class, the professor said something to like: "...you're heart rate gets very slow, and and your breathing slows down quicker than normal. You brain may interpret this as your body dying, so it sends an electrical pulse to your muscles. Like a jump start."
[Complete bunk. This shows that you cannot trust psychology professors (like me) or perhaps that you cannot trust psychology students who misspell "psychology," or both. Goldman and Engel came up with a much more plausible explanation of myoclonic contractions. They suggested that the dreamer feels the beginning of muscle paralysis in REM sleep and may interpret the feelings as loss of control, generating dream content such as falling from a window (or, in one example turned in by a student, falling off a surfboard!). The muscle jerk is part of the dreamer's sudden reaction to this imagined event.
I have collected so many examples in which myoclonic contractions were related to the content of dreaming, usually when the dream "plot" required sudden movement, that I suspect this is the most common cause of muscle jerks during the falling-asleep process. --RD]
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