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You're dozing off, and your whole body suddenly jerks like you just slipped off of a curb or missed a stair. Or you're sitting at your desk, working away and your eyelid all at once feels as though it's fluttering. Or maybe a lively dinner conversation gets punctuated by a case of hilarious, gulping hiccups. Each of these peculiar jolts is something called a myoclonic jerk - a brief, involuntary muscle twitch or spasm.

One kind of myoclonic jerk you may have felt is called a hypnic jerk or "sleep start." This is that jolt you may occasionally experience as you're just about to fall asleep or when a dream startles or abruptly awakens you. It happens to about 60-70% of us, and only now and then. Why it happens is a bit of a mystery. Ideas range from it being a natural part of the transition into sleep to it being a primitive, evolutionary memory of sleeping in trees.

Whatever their origin, sleep starts are usually nothing to worry about, unless you kick your partner or stub your toe on the bedpost. Poor sleep habits or too much caffeine, stress, or exercise before bed seems to spark off more frequent and intense episodes. Seek help from a doctor or sleep specialist if hypnic jerks keep you from getting enough shuteye.

For your eyes to shut or open, they use a band of ocular muscles which twitch from time to time. Most of the time, eyelid twitches last only a few minutes but can recur over a few days. Like pre-sleep twitches, eyelid twitches seem to be caused by caffeine and fatigue. Contact your eye doctor if the fluttery lid persists, causes your eyelid to stay closed, involves other parts of your face, or is accompanied by redness, swelling, or discharge.

A common form of myoclonic jerk is the hiccup. A hiccup is a spontaneous spasm of the diaphragm, the wide, flat, strong muscle beneath the lungs. The spasm causes the vocal cords to close up and trigger that typical "hic" sound. Triggers include hot, spicy food, strong smells, laughing, coughing, or nothing at all.

Everyone hiccups, even babies still in the womb. This could be a way to exercise the developing respiratory system or to prevent amniotic fluid from getting into babies' lungs. One intriguing theory links an infant's suckling reflex to hiccups. Researchers suggest that hiccups could be a trait linking us to possible amphibious ancestors, like frogs and other gill-breathing animals.

Well, hiccups certainly can make you hop, but they usually only last a few minutes! If hiccups last more than a few days, see a doctor. In rare instances, hiccups can last for days, weeks, or even months and may be due to some more serious underlying cause.

History's many hiccup remedies

Even though they usually resolve on their own, hiccup fits have inspired many "remedies" over the years. There is no definite way to stop hiccups, but you can give these a try. Here are some tips that have been advocated by health professionals.

  • Breathe into a paper bag.
  • Quickly drink a glass of cold water.
  • Eat a spoonful of sugar or honey.
  • Hold your breath and count to 10.
  • Gently pull on your tongue.

The remedies below are less proven but some swear by them.

  • Sip back a spoonful of pickle juice, mustard, peanut butter, or French dressing.
  • Drink water through two straws at once.
  • When you feel a hiccup rising out of you, cough or scream. Repeat until it works.
  • Kiss.
  • Yawn.
  • Use a cotton swab to tickle the roof of your mouth.
  • Put an ice pack on your diaphragm.
  • Get someone to tickle you while you hold your breath.
  • Lightly tap the center of your forehead, above your nose.
  • Count back from 100.

The best remedy for hiccups? Patience.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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