What is “sleep myoclonus”?

Some children briefly jerk – usually their hands and feet – while sleeping.  If it only happens when they are asleep and they are otherwise growing and developing normally they need no investigations and no medications.  YouTube has a good video of a child with sleep myoclonus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Id5fXEKaA8M&feature=related.

Newborn babies sometimes worry their parents with similar myoclonic (jerking) movements but again, as long as it only happens in sleep, it is benign (not dangerous) and they will grow out of it (about 60% have grown out of it by 4 months of age).  Multiple investigations only worry the family more and anti-epileptic medications may make the movements worse.  Again, there is a nice video on youTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7z2FXVtxgaI.  I have struggled to find some suitable parent information leaflets on this but if you want to read something medical about it, try this recent comprehensive review article.

Babies and children who have unusual movements while awake or who are not developing as one might expect for their age do need to see their GP or paediatrician.

Thank you for all the interest in this post. I have had lots of comments and queries from parents about their child’s twitching habits. Please note that I cannot answer individual queries on this site. You do need to see your GP or a paediatrician if you have concerns. If you want to make a private appointment to see me, please contact Highgate Hospital or Spire Roding Hospital directly. (Added 24/4/16)

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47 Responses to What is “sleep myoclonus”?

  1. chowdhury says:

    my child is 7.5 yr old. He also have sleep myoclonus..
    He is hyperactve, have restricted & repetative activity sometime. He reads in a small structure school. His speech normal. Some difficulty with making complex sentance.what further I can do for him?

    • Dr Julia says:

      It sounds like your son needs to see a paediatrician. In the UK that would mean your GP referring to a community paediatrician practising in the local child development centre. There are allied health professionals there as well such as educational psychologists and speech and language therapists who your son may also benefit from seeing. The school may be able to refer him directly to educational psychology and they occasionally hold drop-in sessions in some boroughs as well.

  2. Coops says:

    My boyfriend is 18 years old and I have noticed when he is falling to sleep and just after his whole body seems to suffer with Sleep Myoclonus. He is often in some discomfort with his back, and I wondered if the two were related… also I was wondering if his build had anything to do with it as he is very slight but with big shoulder/back muscle build up?

    • Dr Julia says:

      Dear Coops
      I am afraid I can’t comment on your boyfriend’s sleep myoclonus as he is no longer a child. Hope his back recovers soon,
      Dr Julia

  3. Bilge Su says:

    My son is two years old and he has simple sleep myoclonus just he is doing it while he is falling a sleep not to during sleep(paediatricians a child norologist seen him , EEG and MR have been done) his improvement is normal .I just wanted to know if there is any medications to cure it our doctors didn’t recommend anything and also why it happens , when he grows it can go by it self thank you .

    • Dr Julia says:

      He doesn’t need any medications for simple sleep myoclonus. I am not sure why some people get it more than others; is he getting over tired during the day? Have a look at http://sleepfoundation.org/ for all sorts of information on sleep health and disorders.
      Dr Julia

      • Bilge Su says:

        Thank you for your response .he is not over tired durig the day time because that myoclonus makes little arm or legs shakes and it doesn’t make him awake.again thank you for your effort .

  4. aditee says:

    My 6 yr old daughter recently started twitching in sleeep.. Sometimes they are small jerks. And oflately, she has started moving her hands suddenly in sleep..this happens only once or twice in sleep at around 2 am to 4 am. Is she having seizures?

  5. aditee says:

    Also forgot to mention her vitamin d3 levels are low, and she is slightly anemic,could that be the reason for her sleep twitches,they only happen when she sleeps, not otherwise.

    • Dr Julia says:

      I think they are unlikely to be seizures but you could ask your doctor who can take a fuller history and examine your daughter. All children between the age of 6 months and 5 years should be on a daily multivitamin containing at least 400units of Vitamin D (unless they are taking 500mls a day of formula milk). I know your daughter is older than this but she should be on a supplement if you know her levels are low.

  6. Hannah says:

    My son is 4 with a language disorder and possible ASD he use to suffer from sleep myclonus but it stopped about 7 months ago and it has recently started back up he’s paediatrician is being sent an email last year they wanted to do an EGG scan but was not possible what could of caused it to come back as there has been no change to routine and he has always been hyperactive

  7. lorraine says:

    Hello my son is now 3 and a half. He’s been having little twitches before bedtime or usually when hes tired. Hes been doing this for as long as i can remember but its not every night. He seems to go in his own little world and stare off into space and blink a few times. He used to sit up in bed and jerk his arm too but havent seen him doing that for a while. I assumed he would just grow out of it. Do you think its anything to worry about or is it something they grow out of? Hes well and developing fine otherwise. Thanks


    • Dr Julia says:

      Dear Hannah and Lorraine
      I can’t answer specific questions about your child’s symptoms I’m afraid without seeing them. Twitching in sleep is usually fairly benign but seeming to have lost consciousness or symptoms accompanying other underlying conditions such as autism or ADHD are worth seeing your doctor about.

  8. dada says:

    Hello, my son is 6 years old his hands and feet shakes or quick move while he is sleeping and it doeSnt make him awake. It happens every night, just a quick move of feet sometimes hand, and sometimes he is like falling into someThing. What does it mean? thank you

    • Dr Julia says:

      If your son is otherwise developing and functioning normally, these are unlikely to be anything serious but, if worried, I suggest you video him and discuss with your family doctor.

      • Monique says:

        My daughter is the same way she is 5 years old she goes to MuayThai training for an hour 4 to 5 times a week and goes to school 5 full days and she really only started the twitching after starting school can the twitches at night just be from doing to much? She does get really tired after school most days

  9. Lee says:

    Hi , my 8 year old daughter has just started to do this at night while asleep. It is fairly consistent appearing about every 3 minutes. I am starting to notice a pattern. First her foot or hand will twitch and then will kind of spread like a chain reaction to her other foot or hand. Sometimes her shoulders will twitch too in a very similar way the first youtube video posted above showed. This is all new just appearing last week but now as soon as she falls asleep they appear. She is fine when awake, thank you so much

    • Nancy says:

      My daughter is 8 year old and is doing same twitching after she sleeps and is new to me. I dont know if its normal but she sleeps fine and awake is fine active no school problems or concerns but when she sleeps seems to be showing lots more.

  10. thami says:

    4 year old who twitches in his sleep.this happens bed after being diagnosed with ADEM he is now on Epillim for 2mths.he is still having the twitches but I think they are better than before.even though it not easy to say as mostoy they happen during sleep while we are all sleeping.EEG was normal .is this epilipsy

  11. Lisa goins says:

    I noticed about 6 months ago my 2 yr olds hands would move and fingers would move like it was uncontrollable while asleep he has had 3 eeg done and all have been negative for seizures but was diagnosed with sleep myoclonus and periodic limb movements i am curious as to rather he will grow out of this and if its necessary that he take medication the nuerologist mentioned putting him on clonazepam but i am agai st that completely as for i know it is a addictive medication and a strong one but he only does it when he is asleep and the doctor said his iron is extremely low and also having a hard time getting iron in him due to the fact is so nasty very concerned so the doctor prescribed 325 mg iron pills which i was also told could be fatal if he got to much iron and that was a strong dose for a child his age i am so vonfused on what i should and shouldnt do please if someone could give me some advice

  12. Lisa goins says:

    I noticed about 6 months ago my 2 yr olds hands would move and fingers would move like it was uncontrollable while asleep he has had 3 eeg done and all have been negative for seizures but was diagnosed with sleep myoclonus and periodic limb movements i am curious as to rather he will grow out of this and if its necessary that he take medication the nuerologist mentioned putting him on clonazepam but i am agai st that completely as for i know it is a addictive medication and a strong one but he only does it when he is asleep and the doctor said his iron is extremely low and also having a hard time getting iron in him due to the fact is so nasty very concerned so the doctor prescribed 325 mg iron pills which i was also told could be fatal if he got to much iron and that was a strong dose for a child his age i am so vonfused on what i should and shouldnt do please if someone could give me some advice not to mention he has twitching and small little jerks every so often in his sleep there has been times where he will sit straight up but then lay back down

  13. Emily says:

    I just came across your page. I have almost 2 year old twins. They both struggle falling asleep and most nights one or the other will wake up and when trying to fall back asleep his arms and legs with move constantly. Like they are dancing and conucting music. Nights like last night, it takes them 2-3 hours to finally settle enough to fall back to sleep. It has happened since birth for both. They never have it when they are fully awake and they are n target as far as speech and walking. Will they outgrow this or do I need to have them seen?

    • Concernedmom says:

      Hi Emily,

      This sounds exactly like what my daughter is doing. Did you ever find out what was causing it? How are your twins now? I know this is a very old post but I would love an update as I’m looking for answers too…

      Hope you’re well!

  14. Mommy says:

    I hope you will see this. Following a couple falls, where she hit her head, my 14 month old is now experiencing sleep .yo clones at night in her hands, feet, and sometimes face. I’ve noticed that she seems to be bothered by it as it looks like she tries to rearrange herself to avoid it, and it almost seems constant. She was fine during the day yesterday, happy and playful. When I did see her napping, it was peaceful, though it’s possible she may have woken herself with it because soon after, she woke up crying. I also noticed that she tried to rub her eye in her sleep yesterday morning and the twitching in her hand didn’t stop. I didn’t see anything during the day, but the fact that this constancy started after hitting her head makes me nervous. I also don’t want to put her through unnecessary tests. Help!

    • Jami Lock says:

      Hello, I know this is a very old post but your story is so familiar to mine. Can you give me an update on your little one and how things turned out? Thank you

  15. samantha says:

    My son is 5 years old and when he falls to sleep his hands and feet start shaking don’t no what it means but he only started doing it just over a year now not sure wheather to take him to the gp or not as not sure if its anythink

  16. Ailsa wood says:

    Hi my grandson has these leg and arm twitching when falling asleep I’m a bit worried that it could epilepsy he can jump all over the bed thanks

  17. Dr Julia says:

    Thank you for all your comments. The best thing to do if you are concerned about your children’s movements, is to try and get a video of them on your mobile phone and go and discuss it with your GP or a paediatrician. Diagnosing a child’s possible epilepsy or neurological disorder is done with a thorough history and examination and occasionally some further investigations. A few sentences in a blog post is not enough to go on I’m afraid!

  18. Ameerah Afsheen Benito says:

    Hi,my son is 1 month,when he strted to sleep or before he going to sleep hes legs nd arms are twitches nd jerking,andsometimes during he sleep,but most of the time before he going to sleep.but if he wake up he didnt twitches or jerking.Is he having a seizure?EEG was normal. please help wat am i going to do nd by the way he is always sweating.

    • Dr Julia says:

      Dear Ameerah. You will have to ask your doctor this when he/she has the baby in front of them and can take a full history and examine your baby. A video of the movements always helps. Julia

  19. Rumina Begum says:

    Hi my son who will be two in December suffers from seizures. He is taking keppra to control this. However I have noticed that while he is asleep his arm and legs are twitching. Also when he lies on his back he jerks like he has had a bad dream. Please let me know what this could be?

    Thank you.

    • Dr Julia says:

      Thank you for your message Rumina. There are many different types of epilepsy and you will need to ask your son’s neurologist what these twitching movements are. They may have nothing to do with his other seizures. Julia

  20. fiona hughes says:

    Hello, my son was diagnosed at 11 months old with sleep myoclonic seizures and didn’t need any treatment, he’s now 13 years old and still has quite violent jerks especially when over tired, 6 months ago I had a seizure and have since been diagnosed with partical focal with secondary generalization seizures, should I get my son checked by my gp as his haven’t resolved itself?

    • Dr Julia says:

      Dear Fiona
      I can not answer individual questions on this site I’m afraid. Any personal health concerns you have for yourself or your child should be discussed with your own GP. Sorry not to be of more help.

  21. neena says:

    My 18 month old hands and legs twoched immediately after he falls asleep. It started since birth. An eeg was done when he was 12 months oldand it shows generalized epileptic discharge. He has been placed on tegretol since then. It is still happenin and am worried about d long term effect of d drug

  22. Tina says:

    Hi my daughter 5yrs after once she get up she get jerk pls suggest WT to do

  23. Aamir Advocate says:

    My 2.5 year daughter jerks during sleep some time both legs and arms sometime one hand then one leg i saw many videos of benign myoclonus during sleep videos but i. Videos thera are very strong jerks/twitches but my daugnter’s arms and legs jerk/twich in normal pressure please please reply me is it horrible or not doctor said to me its benign myoclonus please help me out i have recorrded one video during sleep hOw can i send you that viDeo

  24. Dr Julia says:

    Dear Tina and Aamir
    I can’t answer individual questions on this site I’m afraid. Please take your child to see a doctor if you have concerns. Videos on your phone will help the doctor to see what is going on.

    • Lakeesha Brown says:

      It’s about 6 am when my child calls me. He runs to my room saying that his body was shaking and he was afraid. I asked him was it shivers. He said no. He stated that as he was waking up, his heart started to beat fast than a few seconds his hand was shaking. Suddenly his legs started to shake uncontrollably which he could not stop it. Only lasting about a min or so. He has no illness. No fevers. He plays during the day with no problems. What could this be.

      • Dr Julia says:

        Thank you for your message. It is unlikely to be a seizure if your child was aware of it but I can’t tell from a short post I’m afraid. You should take your child to a GP if you are concerned about his movements or other symptoms.

  25. Kelly says:

    My son is six years old and his hand shakes while he sleeps only when heIs asleep and sometimes his and stays close and when I open it it closes again what does it mean

  26. Lisa Innes says:

    My daughter is nearly 4 now and has done this since she was a baby. She will have fallen asleep for at least 10-15 mins, and first little movements and then bam a massive jerk and then cries as it scares her. This can go on for 7 or mins. Worse when poorly, over tired or has temp.

  27. Netalia says:

    It is odd to me how you are not able to give advice when there are now doctors who literally do this online now, all. the. time. I understand not being able to diagnose without a thorough examination, tests, and background, but a few words of what to discus with a doctor wouldn’t kill you or lead to malpractice. Geeze.

    • Dr Julia says:

      Thank you for your comment.

      Children with unusual movements are usually fine. But not always. If you look on channels like you tube, you will see all sorts of seizures wrongly labelled. Rashes on Google are also often not what they are posted as. The internet is a fantastic source of information on many things but does not replace a face to face consultation with a suitably qualified health professional. It would be wrong of me to try and diagnose a patient from a one line blog post. And wrong to reassure someone that their individual baby’s movements are normal when I have not fully assessed the patient. As you say, there are plenty of other people who would be happy to be a bit more helpful on that front!

      The good news is that more and more GP services are now on line and you should find that you move through the system a bit more smoothly as a result. It is still difficult to see a paediatrician privately in the UK at the tail end of the coronavirus first wave but your local private hospital might have further information on that.

      Children who have had a first seizure should be seen within 2 weeks of that episode so push hard if that is your situation.


  28. Wren says:

    My son is three and over the last week I have noticed twitching of his hands, arms and feed very similar to the video posted. He is a normal, heathy, active toddler. Is this something to be concerned about? He did stop taking naps a few months ago. Could this be the trigger? I have been worried sick and I’m trying to ease my mind.

    • Dr Julia says:

      Thank you for your comment. If you are worried about your child’s movements, you should take him to see your GP.

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