Wednesday, March 13, 2024

What Causes Involuntary Movement During Sleep

What Are The Common Symptoms And Effects Of Sleep Myoclonus

Periodic Leg Movement Disorder (PLMD) Example

Myoclonus, especially sleep myoclonus, is not harmful or life threatening, though some of the more complex forms of myoclonus may indicate the presence of other potential nervous system issues, as previously mentioned.

Sleep myoclonus primarily affects the fingers, toes, lips, and eyes, and is often barely perceptible to anyone watching the person in their sleep. Sleep myoclonus has been shown to have some connection to stimulus-sensitive myoclonus, whereby contractions may be caused or increased by environmental factors such as light, sound, or movement.

Myoclonus has been connected to several areas of the brain. In many cases, stimulus-sensitive myoclonus is an overreaction of the brain in the areas that control movement in response to startling events. Myoclonus is actually fairly common in individuals.

What Research Is Being Done

The mission of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease. NINDS is a component of the National Institutes of Health, the leading federal supporter of biomedical research in the world. As part of its mission, the NINDS supports research on myoclonus at its laboratories in Bethesda, Maryland and through grants to major research institutions across the country.

In addition to NINDS, other NIH institutes and centers support research on movement disorders that include myoclonus. More information is available through the NIH RePORTER, a searchable database of current and previously funded research, as well as research results and publications.

Many neurological disorders do not have effective treatment options. Clinical studies offer hope for many people and an opportunity to help researchers find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease. For more information about finding and participating in a clinical study, visit Use the search term myoclonus to find trials on this disorder.

What Are Common Signs And Symptoms Of Restless Legs

People with RLS feel the irresistible urge to move, which is accompanied by uncomfortable sensations in their lower limbs that are unlike normal sensations experienced by people without the disorder. The sensations in their legs are often difficult to define but may be described as aching throbbing, pulling, itching, crawling, or creeping. These sensations less commonly affect the arms, and rarely the chest or head. Although the sensations can occur on just one side of the body, they most often affect both sides. They can also alternate between sides. The sensations range in severity from uncomfortable to irritating to painful.

Because moving the legs relieves the discomfort, people with RLS often keep their legs in motion to minimize or prevent the sensations. They may pace the floor, constantly move their legs while sitting, and toss and turn in bed.

A classic feature of RLS is that the symptoms are worse at night with a distinct symptom-free period in the early morning, allowing for more refreshing sleep at that time. Some people with RLS have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. They may also note a worsening of symptoms if their sleep is further reduced by events or activity.

People with RLS can sometimes experience remissionsspontaneous improvement over a period of weeks or months before symptoms reappearusually during the early stages of the disorder. In general, however, symptoms become more severe over time.

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Plms: Involuntary Movements Of Your Legs During Sleep

PLMS happens during sleep. It is more common than RLS and may occur in up to 50 percent of people over age 50. PLMS can cause mild leg movements that do not wake you up, or they can cause severe movements that wake you and your sleep partner. Like sleep myoclonus, mild PLMS does not require treatment. If PLMS is severe enough to cause loss of sleep, daytime sleepiness, mood changes, and irritability it is called periodic limb movement disorder .

Symptoms of PLMS are uncontrolled movements of both legs. Like RLS, movement occurs soon after falling asleep. Movement tends to occur in the early stage of sleep. They start in your toes and move to the ankles, knees, and hips. These movements may occur every 5 to 90 seconds and last from 30 minutes to 2 hours during sleep. In rare cases, there may also be arm movements.

The cause of PLMS is not known, but is probably the same as RLS. Risk factors for PLMS are similar to RLS and the treatments are also similar. One difference is that you can have PLMS without knowing it. Unless you have a sleep partner to tell you about it, you may only complain of daytime sleepiness, mood changes, or trouble concentrating. You may need a sleep study to get diagnosed.

What Is Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

FAQs:Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) Frequently Asked ...

Periodic limb movement disorder is a condition that was formerly called sleep myoclonus or nocturnal myoclonus. It is described as repetitive limb movements that occur during sleep and cause sleep disruption. The limb movements usually involve the lower extremities, consisting of extension of the big toe and flexion of the ankle, the knee, and the hip. In some patients, the limb movements can occur in the upper extremities as well.

The limb movements occur most frequently in light non-REM sleep. The repetitive movements are separated by fairly regular intervals of 5 to 90 seconds. There can be significant night-to-night variability to the frequency of limb movements.

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What Are The Best Treatment Options Available For Both Conditions

The AAST has an in-depth Journal Club article that details the various effective diagnosis and treatment options for patients who are suspected of having RLS or PLMD.

This learning module is available online at a reduced price for AAST members and is also availabe to non-members here. This module offers 1 CEC upon completion.

Learn about treatment of restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder today!

About Kevin Asp, CRT, RPSGT

Because of the implementation of his best practices of Implementing Inbound Marketing in its Medical Practice, he turned the once stagnant online presence of Alaska Sleep Clinic to that of “The Most Trafficked Sleep Center Website in the World” in just 18 months time. He is the President and CEO of inboundMed and enjoys helping sleep centers across the globe grow their business through his unique vision and experience of over 27 years in sleep medicine.

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Where Can I Get More Information

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke conducts and support a wide range of research on neurological disorders, including myoclonus. For information on other neurological disorders or research programs funded by the NINDS, contact in the Institutes Brain Resources and Information Network at:

Office of Communications and Public LiaisonNational Institute of Neurological Disorders and StrokeNational Institutes of HealthBethesda, MD 20892

NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

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Diagnosis Of Plmd And Rls

  • For restless legs syndrome, a doctor’s evaluation

  • For periodic limb movement disorder, polysomnography

  • For either disorder, tests to check for a cause

Doctors can often diagnose restless legs syndrome based on symptoms reported by the person or the personâs bed partner. Doctors may suspect periodic limb movement disorder based on symptoms, such as insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, and/or excessive twitching just before going to sleep or during sleep.

Polysomnography Testing The most commonly reported sleep-related problems are insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness. Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, waking up early, or a disturbance in… read more , including electromyography Electromyography and Nerve Conduction Studies Diagnostic procedures may be needed to confirm a diagnosis suggested by the medical history and neurologic examination. Electroencephalography is a simple, painless procedure in which… read more , is always done to diagnose periodic limb movement disorder. These tests are done overnight in a sleep laboratory and are not done at home. In polysomnography, brain activity, heart rate, breathing, muscle activity, and eye movements are monitored while people sleep. People may also be videotaped during an entire night’s sleep to document limb movements. These tests may also be done after restless legs syndrome is diagnosed to determine whether people also have periodic limb movement disorder.

Who Gets Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Sleep Movements & Fatigue

Many individuals have periodic limb movements in sleep . This is observed in about 80% of patients with restless legs syndrome . PLMS can occur in over 30% of people aged 65 and older and can be asymptomatic. PLMS are very common in patients with narcolepsy and REM behavior disorder, and may be seen in patients with obstructive sleep apnea and during PAP therapy initiation.

True PLMD the diagnosis of which requires periodic limb movements in sleep that disrupt sleep and are not accounted for by another primary sleep disorder including RLS is uncommon.

PLMD has been less extensively studied than RLS. The exact prevalence is unknown. It can occur at any age however, the prevalence does increase with increasing age. Unlike RLS, PLMD does not appear to be related to gender.

As with RLS, some medical conditions are associated with PLMD. These include uremia, diabetes, iron deficiency, OSA, and spinal cord injury.

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What Do Scientists Know About Myoclonus

Studies suggest that the following locations in the brain are involved in myoclonus:

  • Cerebral cortex, which is the most common origin for myoclonus.
  • Brain stem, which is close to structures that are responsible for the startle responsean automatic reaction to an unexpected stimulus involving rapid muscle contraction.

However, the specific mechanisms underlying myoclonus are not yet fully understood:

  • Scientists believe that some types of stimulus-sensitive myoclonus may involve overexcitability of the parts of the brain that control movement.
  • Laboratory studies suggest that an imbalance between chemicals called neurotransmitters may bring about myoclonus, with the end result being a lack of inhibition at some level .

Neurotransmitters carry messages between nerve cells. They are released by one nerve cell and attach to a protein called a receptor on neighboring cells. Abnormalities or deficiencies in receptors for certain neurotransmitters may contribute to some forms of myoclonus, including receptors for:

  • Serotonin, involved in modulating mood, cognition, reward, learning, memory, physiological processes, and more
  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid , which is involved in motor control
  • Glycine, important for the control of motor and sensory functions in the spinal cord
  • Opioids, involved in different functions related to analgesia, pain, and depression.

More research is needed to determine how these receptor abnormalities cause or contribute to myoclonus.

How Is Periodic Limb Movement Disorder Diagnosed

Often people first become aware that they may have PLMD when their partner complains of being kicked at night. Or they may find that their blankets are all over the place in the morning.

PLMD is diagnosed with a polysomnography test, also called a sleep study. This study is done overnight in a laboratory while you sleep. This test records:

  • brain waves
  • other nerve and muscle functions during sleep
  • blood pressure

Its usually done at a sleep disorders unit in a hospital or at a designated sleep center. A sleep technologist places sensors on your scalp, temples, chest, and legs using medical glue or tape. The sensors are then connected to a computer with long wires, and measurements are taken all through the night while youre asleep.

Your doctor may also get your complete medical history and give you a physical exam to look for other underlying issues that may be disrupting your sleep. Urine and blood samples are often taken to look for signs of iron deficiency anemia and any metabolic disorders. Low iron and metabolic disorders such as diabetes have been linked to PLMD.

Treatment for PLMD will depend on the results of the sleep study and other diagnostic tests as well as the severity of your disorder. It may also depend on whether you have another sleep disorder, such as RLS.

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Causes Of Rls And Plmd

The primary cause of both disorders is unknown. However, research tells us:

  • PLMD can be caused by some medications, particularly antidepressants.1
  • Both PLMD and RLS can be brought on by low levels of iron and treating your iron deficiency can potentially eliminate symptoms.
  • RLS may be genetic nearly half of those who have RLS also have a family member who has it.2
  • RLS develops or worsens in 1 of 4 pregnant women,2 especially after Week 20.3 But when it develops during pregnancy, it usually goes away within 4 weeks after delivery.4

Also, 80% of those with RLS also have PLMD,5meaning their limb movements make it hard to fall and stay asleep. However, those with PLMD are not more likely to have RLS.

Further Evaluation Of Sleep Starts


In general, it is not necessary to seek further testing or treatment for sleep starts. Reassurance that this is a normal phenomenon is often all that is needed.

If sleep movements occur frequently and are accompanied by the following symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider:

  • Bedwetting
  • Mouth or tongue biting
  • Physical injury

Sometimes these awakenings can be provoked by another sleep disorder, most commonly disrupted breathing like sleep apnea. Sleep starts may be exacerbated by medication or substance use.

In addition, movements in sleep can sometimes suggest seizures. It may be necessary to have a diagnostic sleep study called a polysomnogram. Alternatively, an EEG may be ordered if seizures are suspected to be causing the uncontrolled movements.

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How Do You Stop Myoclonic Jerks

Anti-seizure drugs that treat epilepsy can relieve myoclonus. If a person experiences mild myoclonic seizures, which last for a few seconds, they may not need treatment. If medication is ineffective, a doctor may recommend Botox injections to relieve the muscle jerks, as Botox causes muscles to relax.

Risk Factors For Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

About 6% of the general population has PLMD. However, the prevalence in older adults is much higher, reaching almost 60%. Studies suggest that PLMD may be especially common in older women. As with RLS, there are many conditions that are associated with PLMD. They include sleep apnea, spinal cord injuries, stroke, narcolepsy, and diseases that destroy nerves or the brain over time. Certain drugs, including some antidepressants and anti-seizure medications, may also contribute to PLMD. About a third of people with PLMD also have RLS.

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Treatment And Prevention Of Sleep Myoclonus

In most cases, sleep myoclonus does not require any treatment. You may be at higher risk if you drink caffeine or exercise later in the day. Other risk factors are emotional stress and being sleep deprived. You may be able to prevent sleep myoclonus by avoiding these risk factors. Because sleep myoclonus may be triggered by noise, light, or movement, sleeping in a dark quiet room may also help.

If uncontrolled movements during sleep are strong enough to wake you, or keep you from getting enough sleep, talk to your doctor. These sleep movements may be a warning for a disease like Parkinsons disease, MS, Alzheimers disease, or epilepsy. Uncontrollable sleep movements may also be a sign of two common sleep disorders called restless legs syndrome and periodic leg movement of sleep . These disorders should be diagnosed and treated, because they are much more likely to seriously disturb your sleep.

Prevalence Of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep

PLMD is believed to prevalent in roughly 4-11% of adults, although it is more common in elderly women. PLMD is frequently a symptom of restless leg syndrome . Approximately 80% of patients with RLS have PLMD. However, while having RLS is a strong indication that a patient will also have PLMD, having PLMD is not a strong indicator of having RLS.

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What Is Sleep Myoclonus

Myoclonus is a brief twitching of the muscles that can occur separately or in groups, as well as in a sequence or at random. A common form of myoclonus while awake is hiccups, which are quick contractions affecting the diaphragm. Sleep myoclonus, is a form of myoclonuswhich occurs during sleep, usually in the stage just before deep sleep. Also known as a hypnic jerk or hypnagogic jerk, sleep myoclonus will rarely disturb the subject or bed partner to the point of waking and disrupting sleep patterns.

Sleep myoclonus may be a sign of other nervous system disorders including Parkinsons disease, Alzheimers, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. Even though myoclonus can be common in individuals, it may indicate the presence of sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome and Periodic Leg Movement during Sleep .

Why Do Sleep Starts Occur

Sleep starts can be a normal part of sleep. It is estimated that 60 to 70 percent of people recall experiencing them. If they occur infrequently, as they often do, they are not usually distressing.

However, frequent events may lead to anxiety about falling asleep and insomnia, especially if the recalled explanation for the movement is upsetting .

Hypnagogic jerks typically occur during stage 1 sleep. This is the lightest stage of sleep that occurs immediately after falling asleep. It may be misinterpreted as wakefulness, leading to confusion about when sleep starts to occur.

It may occur periodically later in the night, but these events are less likely to be recalled.

Sleep starts to occur more often with the increased use of caffeine and other stimulants. It may be provoked by physical exercise or emotional stress.

Sleep fragmentation may be caused by another sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea. Frequent episodes may warrant further evaluation.

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