Hypnic jerk blues
It sounds like a dance craze, perhaps something based on a Joy Division performance. The hypnic jerks are spasmodic and unpredictable; they tend to grab you in your least dance-friendly moments, just as you’re drifting off to sleep, and shake you back to confused consciousness again. Like an infantile practical joke that you’re playing on yourself and aren’t getting bored of anytime soon, they’re not big and they’re not clever. They seem as though they’re designed to annoy, to be weary of, and – in vulnerable moments – to possibly even fear.
Of course, the hypnic jerk is nothing to be afraid of. I’ve searched around and I’ve yet to come across an example of someone hypnic jerking themselves to death. Like most bullies, they never amount to much more than the dull ache of boredom. It’s through boredom that I’m writing this, in fact, just waiting until I feel sleepy enough that they lose interest and do something else. In my case they’re boring enough to be entirely predictable; have a stressful job, have a stress-related syndrome. It’s by lifting yourself above this kind of thing, separating yourself and observing it in the cold light of the humdrum, that you move past it.
Late night and almost entirely Wikipedia-based research suggests that the hypnic jerk is not fully understood, but seem to be the dubious prize of people given to anxiety and worry, possibly in high-pressure jobs, fond of caffeine or, somewhat jarringly, heroin. They can manifest in a variety of ways – some describe a sense of falling that ends in a sudden jolt, others sense their pulse racing and believe they’re experiencing the onset of a heart attack – but they always involve a sudden start that prevents you from slipping off into the nightly ether. These are common enough symptoms for most people, but the ol’ hypnic jerk blues can become cyclical if you’re not careful, and some hypnics (I’m not going to call them jerks) find they suffer nightly with them for years.
In my case, they manifest as sudden jolts that knock me into an upright position, where I sit and catch my breath and wonder where I am for a few minutes. I get them repeatedly over three or four hours at the beginning of a night’s sleep, leaving me feeling overly tired the next day. As you might expect, hypnic jerks feed on themselves (which suggests to me that they’re more a mental conundrum than a physical), so I’ll find myself suffering the same problem the following night, and then the next night again. This continues until I step in and take control, usually by stumbling into another doomed jogging regime or, more recently, spending a bit of time doing 20 minutes of what you might call meditation.
The latter is a relaxing pre-bed exercise, really – I’m certainly not trying to attain any form of enlightenment. Very simply, I attempt to concentrate on the actual experience of breathing – trying to feel the air going in through my nose, into my lungs, and noticing the expansion and collapse of my sizeable belly – for as long as I possibly can, hopefully until the mental clammer of work and the residual noise of the commuter life subsides. If it’s true that you are what you think, then essentially I’m trying to ignore myself for 20 minutes. I can highly recommend ignoring me for 20 minutes to anyone reading this. It’s really something special.
The ol’ hypnic blues never affect me for more than a week at most, and then I inevitably fall back into the pre-self-improvement lifestyle that got me here in the first place, and a year later I find myself internally staring at my belly again. It used to be an autumnal thing, though for the last two years it’s been a springtime occurrence, which is kind of nice because it means I can get it out of the way early. Whenever it takes place, however, I’ve learnt to put it in the box labelled ‘befuddlement’ and try and observe it with a sense of detachment. Best not to get too closely involved with the bullying community, I find.