The brain is a funny thing. Transitioning from wakefulness to sleep is a process, one which can dredge up some pretty weird feelings. Some nights you may not notice the transition at all, and some nights you might wonder what in the world is going on with you.
Guess what? You’re perfectly normal. Many of these weird feelings are just the brain’s way of testing to see if your body is ready for sleep. Let’s take a look at some of the most common weird feelings people may have when trying to fall asleep and see what we can do about them to get your sleep back on track.
You’re on the cusp of sleep, and you’re jarred awake by the feeling that you’re falling. That’s impossible because you’re lying down and you haven’t fallen out of the bed since you were six. It’s still scary, however, and it sends a jolt of adrenaline through your body.
Scientists aren’t sure what causes this sensation, but the most common theory is that your brain just gets confused. It interprets your muscles relaxing as a falling sensation and tenses your body quickly to help “catch” you. The result is that “sleep start.”
There isn’t much you can do to prevent that feeling, but be reassured that you aren’t alone and this is a totally normal feeling.
Worry Or Anxiety
You’ve struggled to stay awake all day long, and now that you’re finally in your bed you feel…uneasy. A growing sense of panic takes over, and soon you’re lying awake, short of breath, wondering about all kinds of thoughts, not just a to-do list of responsibilities. These racing thoughts quicken your heartbeat and may tighten your chest.
When your brain relaxes to sleep, that’s when there are the fewest distractions. If you aren’t able to calm your mind or you frequently suffer from anxiety, this can be prime time for your brain to wander free through all the worst case scenarios.
To help with worry and anxiety at night, it may help to keep a notebook by your bed so you can write down anything you’re afraid you’ll forget. You can also begin a bedtime ritual that includes quiet activities such as reading or drinking (decaffeinated) tea to help get you relaxed.
You may also want to try mindfulness as a daily practice. Mindfulness can help with racing thoughts and anxiety. Mindfulness teaches you to take control of your thoughts, noticing them and then coming back to the present.
You should be relaxing, but you can’t get over the sensation that your legs should be moving. They twitch, or there’s a feathery sensation that you can’t get rid of unless you move them. This restlessness could be a sign of a vitamin deficiency or sleep deprivation as your brain gets signals mixed during the process of trying to fall asleep.
Getting enough sleep and a healthy diet can help alleviate the symptoms, but if you find that nothing seems to help, you should talk to your doctor to find a different solution.
Brain Zaps are like little electric shocks or shivers that hit you right as you’re drifting off. Some people also get flashes of light, throat tension, or tinnitus. More severe cases actually cause a bit of nausea or vertigo.
One of the biggest culprits behind brain zaps is a dramatic shift in how much serotonin or GABA levels there are in your brain. If you’ve recently come off drugs for things like depression, muscle relaxers, or ADHD medication, it’s likely this balance is off.
Even if you haven’t, both serotonin and GABA are also associated with sleep hormones. If you’re chronically sleep deprived, you may be experiencing these small (harmless) seizures as your brain struggles to adjust to the imbalance. Talk to your doctor if the brain zaps are persistent so that you can make a plan.
When you aren’t sleeping in your usual environment, i.e., at a hotel or a friend’s place, you may experience a generalized feeling of weirdness because something isn’t quite right. Your body feels a little more tense than usual because for thousands of years, sleeping in an unfamiliar place was dangerous. Your friend’s couch may not be dangerous, but your brain is undoubtedly wary of anything that’s out of the ordinary.
If you experience this feeling whenever you sleep someplace new, it may help to have your own pillow or blanket with you. A familiar object can help your brain relax and you to fall asleep without those weird sensations you’re getting.
It never fails. When you’re falling asleep, you get an itch. You scratch that one and another pops up. And another. And another. It could drive you crazy, but it turns out that there’s a good reason this is happening.
When you sleep, your body is temporarily “paralyzed” to prevent you from acting out your dreams. Sleepwalkers are good examples of what happens when that paralysis doesn’t work correctly.
Your body begins to send subtle signals to the body to see if it’s really asleep. Sometimes, it’s the urge to move. Sometimes, it’s the urge to scratch. As you’re falling asleep, if you aren’t fully ready to sleep, you register the itch, and the brain knows that your body hasn’t fully fallen asleep yet. There’s not much you can do besides relax and take care of your skin to make sure it isn’t an underlying issue, but understand that this is totally normal.
Falling asleep sometimes triggers a headache. It could be a simple as your pillow isn’t the right loft and it’s causing tension in your shoulders and neck that you feel as a headache.
It could also be dehydration or sleep deprivation. Both of these things can cause tension and headaches as a symptom. When you finally lay down to relax, your body begins to signal that something isn’t quite right.
It could also be blood pressure. There could be many causes of high blood pressure, but if you feel a throbbing in your head and your ears get hot, these are two signs that your blood pressure is elevated. One way to help relieve it is to breathe deeply for a few minutes. You could also elevate your torso a little and lie on your left side.
If you continue to experience what you think is high blood pressure, or if you have more than three headaches per week, you should talk to your doctor about what may be going on.
Get Back To Sleep
The brain sometimes does strange things when you’re trying to go to sleep. Many of those weird feelings are completely normal and just a product of your brain being its bizarre self. If any of the symptoms are enough to impede your sleep patterns, it may be time to talk to your doctor to find out if there’s an underlying issue.
If you continue to have things like headaches and high blood pressure, that can be a sign of something more serious. Make sure you check in with your doctor so that you can get your sleep back on track and your health along with it.
What kind of weird feelings do you get when you’re trying to fall asleep? Let us know in the comments below.