I assume most people either experienced or have seen people with the following phenomenon: in the early phases of sleep sometimes involuntary twitches occur that usually accompany the pause of breathing (I'm aware that there's a chronic sleeping disorder called sleeping apnea but I think it's different because what I'm asking about now is acute). I wonder if the twitching is some sort of emergency signal, so that the person would wake up (to some level not necessarily full awake) and start breathing. Is there any data that these (the pause in breathing and the twitches) are connected or they are independent? Also I'm also interested why this acute pause of breathing occurs?


I've researched myself on this topic and it seems that what I've described is more likely a form of Obstructive sleep apnea.

  • $\begingroup$ After a discussion I would like to mention that the assumption that "most people have experienced a paucity of breathing" during sleep may be unfounded. The 'sleep starts' are a very familiar phenomenon indeed. However, the paucity of breathing aspect is not & needs clarification, preferably by identifying the cause, or by naming the phenomenon instead of assuming everyone knows what you are talking about. Take this as an objective critique to draw in answers. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 23:42

1 Answer 1


Jerk-like muscle contractions occurring while drifting off to sleep are normal and are referred to as "sleep starts" or sleep myoclonus (National Institute of Health - NINDS).

Sleep Education explains the symptoms:

Sleep starts usually consist of one strong jerk that affects much of the body. The arms and legs are most likely to be affected.

So sleep starts may be quite vigorous, but may consist just of small lip movements too.

The American Sleep Association mentions that:

Sleep myoclonus will rarely disturb the subject or any bed partner to the point of waking and disrupting sleep [...].

In fact, sleep starts are associated with tachypnea, i.e., an increased in breath rate (Vetrugno & Montagna, 2011)

Hence, your hypothesis that a myoclonus is a mechanism to wake a person up (for whatever reason) seems unsupported.

- Vetrugno & Montagna, Sleep Medicine 2011; 12: S11–S16

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, but this is not I was looking for. What I was talking about is the pause of breath and a twitch affecting entire limb(s) or the body. The text you've linked says that myoclonus only affects lips toes etc - small body parts. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ I edited the answer. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the edit,but it seems you keep missing the aponea part of my question. Can you link the sleep education part please? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe someone else can elaborate. I have experience related to sleep EEGs and linked to epilepsy (myoclonic seizures). The apnoea part is unknown to me and unrelated to myoclonus afaik. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ After researching myself I've found what I've added as edit. Since you put much effort in your answer on a not well formatted question that helped me a lot, in my research, and realize that my question already has an answer on the internet. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2015 at 19:39

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