Is Your Child Suffering from Hypnic Myoclonus?
It’s always unnerving to notice something seemingly out of the ordinary happening to your child, especially during their sleep. Normally, when a child sleeps they will remain mostly still, as our bodies prevent movement during sleep to protect us from harming ourselves. If you observe your infant or child having spasms as they fall asleep, it may be caused by something known as hypnic, or “sleep”, myoclonus, which is usually benign, so there is generally no cause for concern.
What is Hypnic Myoclonus?
Hypnic myoclonus is a condition in which children or sometimes adults have spasms in their sleep, which can wake them up. This is usually unsettling and can negatively affect sleep hygiene. Due to the frustrating nature of hypnic myoclonus, it can cause a feedback loop of negative sleep experiences; as your child begins to have anxiety about sleep their quality of sleep will decline, therefore causing their sleep to further degrade as the symptoms worsen. This disorder can be somewhat frightening because the spasms can be paired with a sensation of falling. So if your child reports this sensation, then it is most likely caused by a benign condition.
Why Does it Occur?
Unlike seizures, which are caused by electrical neurological issues, myoclonus is thought to be caused by issues with dopamine. Not to worry, this is usually not the sign of some other problem. It only becomes an issue if your child is being regularly disturbed in their sleep. The disorder usually resolves itself as the child ages. A good sign that this is benign sleep myoclonus is that the symptoms stop when the child is woken up.
Usually, these types of spasms occur in the arms, legs, hands, and feet. Spasms caused by benign sleep myoclonus occur at the beginning of sleep.
Usually it isn’t necessary for the condition to be treated, as it goes away on its own and poses no danger to the child. If your child is finding it difficult to sleep on a regular basis because of twitching in their sleep, the drug tetrabenazine can be used to improve their quality of sleep, but this is generally not needed. As a parent, it can be concerning to not be able to treat these disturbances, but keeping up your child’s sleep hygiene by providing a routine is the most important step to be taken.
An EEG can be performed on your child if your concern continues. This is a non-invasive procedure in which electrodes are placed on the patient’s scalp. These electrodes measure your child’s brain waves, making sure that their brain is functioning properly. A child with benign myoclonus will have a normal readout and you will have peace of mind knowing that your child has no issues that require medical attention.
While the cause of most sleep spasms in small children is hypnic myoclonus, there are other issues that can be causing muscle spasms. These conditions are much more rare and usually also occur while the child is awake and have other symptoms beyond the sleep twitching. Some of these more severe conditions include epilepsy and restless leg syndrome. So, if your child is having issues sleeping because of twitching it’s best to observe them. If the twitches are short and infrequent, then it is most likely benign. However, it is always a good idea to see a sleep specialist for a definitive diagnosis.
If you are concerned about your child’s sleep, contact Dr. Shukla for a consultation. Dr. Shukla will diagnose any issues with your child and help them rest easy, so that you yourself can have a good night’s sleep.