Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
Sleep is single-handedly the most important thing we do daily. It's a prime opportunity for our bodies to rejuvenate and repair itself after a long day, as well as prepare for what lies ahead in our busy schedule. With enough sleep, our bodies can be fueled up and ready to go the next day.
Unfortunately, many people all over the world struggle to receive enough sleep each night. Some people have difficulty falling asleep at the proper time, and some have difficulty waking up when necessary, but others struggle with staying asleep once they finally doze off.
Of all the issues people have in their sleep, one of the most common is called a tremor. It's something that happens in as many as 70% of us and is often not a cause for concern. However, some cases start disturbing the individual's ability to fall asleep or stay asleep and could have an effect on anyone else the individual sleeps next to.
So, what is a tremor in the body?
A tremor is an uncontrollable, unintentional, and involuntary movement in one part of the body or several parts of the body. They're generally characterized by twitching, jerking, or shaking motion and typically occur in the hands -- though tremors are also experienced in other parts of the body.
When classifying tremors, healthcare professionals must determine whether the tremors are resting tremors or action tremors. There's a strict difference between the two, and understanding which one the individual is living with is essential to find the necessary help. While there isn't a cure for tremors, there are ways to treat them.
Let's take a closer look at the differences between resting tremors and action tremors:
- Resting Tremors
Resting tremors are those that occur when the muscle in question is relaxed. A good example of this is when your hand is lying on your lap when you're sitting down watching television, when you aren't using your hands while walking, or when you're lying down trying to fall asleep.
Hands and fingers are generally the limbs most affected by resting tremors. Your hand might start to shake uncontrollably when you're watching television, or your fingers might twitch as you're walking down the street. Sometimes they're more noticeable than others.
With a resting tremor, the Tremor often stops once you start to move that muscle again. For example, you might notice the twitching start when sitting down listening to your professor during a lecture, but notice it stops once you start to write down notes from the lecture.
2. Action Tremors
Action tremors occur during a voluntary movement of a particular limb or part of the body. Since most tremors experienced by individuals are action tremors, they're often categorized into subcategories to better distinguish the symptoms and causes.
To ensure you fully understand what action tremors represent, let's take a look at the many subcategories involved in this classification:
- Postural Tremor -a tremor that occurs when the individual maintains a certain posture against gravity.
- Kinetic Tremor -a tremor that occurs anytime a body part moves voluntarily, for example, raising your hand to ask your professor a question.
- Intention Tremor -a tremor that occurs when moving a body part with purpose and intent, for example, moving your hand towards your mouth when eating. Generally, the Tremor gets worse as the hand gets closer to the mouth.
- Task-Specific Tremor -a tremor that occurs during specific tasks or when completing certain activities. The individual might experience the Tremor only while typing or when speaking.
- Isometric Tremor - a tremor that occurs when an individual is using a muscle without moving it. For example, holding your purse in your hand or holding a shopping bag.
As you can see, body tremors can happen at any time of the day, and they can happen for a wide variety of reasons. The healthcare professional's main goal is understanding where it occurs, when it occurs, how often it occurs, how intense it is, and what might help reverse the symptoms.
Do tremors happen while sleeping?
Tremors that occur while sleeping are often called sleep starts, night tremors, or hypnic jerks, but they're medically referred to as sleep myoclonus. Believe it or not, everyone experiences sleep starts once in a while, and they're often not a cause for concern.
Since tremors can happen at any time during the night, many people experience them without knowing it -- especially if it occurs after they've fallen asleep. With that being said, many people experience tremors while falling asleep. Of course, this can make it difficult to fall asleep, often keeping them awake.
Sleep myoclonus is generally experienced in healthy individuals, but there are more extreme and severe myoclonus cases that pose a major threat to the individual's ability to live. Some cases even restrict the individual from sleeping at all.
Are tremors dangerous?
As we mentioned previously, sleep is one of the most important things we do daily. With that being said, anything that disturbs our ability to sleep needs to be addressed immediately. The longer it goes unnoticed and the longer you go without receiving help, the worse it can get.
Keep in mind everyone experiences sleep tremors, and it doesn't always mean that the individual is living with a sleep tremor disorder. If you feel the Tremor is starting to hinder your sleep quality or limit your ability to receive enough sleep, it's time to seek help for the Tremor.
You should also be aware when sleeping alongside others, especially if they start to experience tremors while sleeping. Although they might not be harming the individual, they might not know they're occurring and are always worth getting evaluated by a sleep specialist.
What are the potential causes of sleep tremors?
Much like every other sleep disorder or sleep issue we experience, healthcare professionals and researchers are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause of sleep tremors. Many researchers believe there's no one-size-fits-all cause or solution to sleep tremors.
With that being said, they do see a wide range of risk factors and potential causes that could play a role in tremors experienced while sleeping. For example, some researchers believe sleep tremors are linked to other sleep disorders or medical conditions.
In most cases, sleep tremors are a result of a brain or spinal cord issue. Still, they’re often experienced in individuals with restless leg syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), sleep apnea, peripheral artery disease (PAD), REM behavior disorder, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease, and Alzheimer's disease.
While sleep tremors aren't always dangerous or harmful to the individual, the reason they're experiencing the sleep tremor could be threatening. That's why it's always a good idea to seek medical attention immediately.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF TREMORS
While we've mentioned a wide range of different classifications of tremors, we haven't touched base on all the different types of tremors. Contrary to popular belief, there are strict differences between the classifications and types, and they're used differently by sleep specialists.
To put it simply, the classifications are general categories that the different types of tremors fit into. There are over 20 different types, and we'll go through some of the major ones below, but there are only two major classifications -- which we described above, resting or action tremors.
We mentioned some of the types above as well (kinetic, postural, task-specific, isometric, and intention tremors), but let's take a look at some of the other major types:
- Essential Tremor
This type of Tremor is the most common and is related to intention tremors or postural tremors. Since it's known as an action tremor, many people notice the essential Tremor in their dominant hand or on the dominant side of their body. Nonetheless, it's often experienced on both sides.
Some studies suggest that essential tremors result from mild degeneration to the cerebellum, an area of the brain that plays a major role in motor control and movement. That's why essential tremors are commonly characterized by difficulty walking or talking.
- Dystonic Tremor
Tremors experienced in people living with dystonia are known as dystonic tremors. Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes irregular postures, unwanted movements, and overactive muscles, normally due to incorrect messages sent from the brain.
The irregular postures are generally a result of muscle spasms or cramps. While these tremors are often related to essential tremors, they are more focused on the head and neck area than the hands and arms. The Tremor is often relieved when the individual is completely relaxed or touches the affected area.
- Cerebellar Tremor
Cerebellar tremors are caused by damage to the cerebellum and the many pathways there are to other brain areas. The Tremor is generally experienced at the end of a purposeful movement, such as grabbing your phone and picking it up.
The cerebellum's damage is caused by a variety of conditions but is usually experienced in the extremities (arms and legs). For example, some researchers believe cerebellar tremors are caused by multiple sclerosis, some believe it's caused by ataxia, and others believe it's caused by Fragile X syndrome.
- Psychogenic Tremor
Psychogenic tremors are commonly referred to as functional tremors. The tremors are sudden and unexpected, can affect all body parts, and appear as any Tremor type. When living with psychogenic tremors, it's generally at its worst when the individual is stressed.
With that being said, those with psychogenic tremors see their symptoms reduced when distracted by another task. It's also common for these individuals to live with other psychological disorders such as depression or PTSD.
- Physiologic Tremor
Physiologic tremors are extremely difficult to notice in someone else, though the individual living with them knows the symptoms all-too-well. In fact, these types of tremors are hard to see with the naked eye. The tremors are often low-amplitude and are confined to a specific part of the body.
What makes physiological tremors different from the others is that it is completely normal behavior that occurs on a normal basis. It's often the result of your heartbeat, muscle activation, or any other rhythmic activities.
These can also be classified as enhanced physiological tremors that are more noticeable to the naked eye. They're generally experienced in response to certain drugs, alcohol withdrawals, and even an overactive thyroid.
- Parkinsonian Tremor
One of the most common symptoms of Parkinson's disease, a Parkinsonian tremor affects everything from the hands to the neck, lips, chin, face, and legs. Just because someone has Parkinson's disease doesn't mean they experience Parkinsonian tremors.
For the most part, Parkinsonian tremors are experienced on one side of the body. As the tremors progress over time, they might spread to other areas of the body. Strong emotions and stress are two factors that cause these tremors to worsen throughout the day.
- Orthostatic Tremor
These tremors are extremely rare, but that doesn't mean they don't cause some people angst daily. Orthostatic tremors occur in the legs and are characterized by repetitive and rapid muscle contractions.
When living with orthostatic tremors, the muscle contractions often lead the individual to sit down off due to the loss of balance. It's difficult to see with the naked eye because the legs' shaking is so fast, but it can be felt by touching the affected area. In some cases, the tremors worsen over time.
ARE YOU SUFFERING FROM SLEEP TREMORS?
Many people experience sleep tremors, sleep starts, hypnic jerks, and body tremors while sleeping. It's normal behavior that we can't control from time-to-time, but that doesn't mean it can't worsen to the point it needs professional medical attention.
Since sleep tremors can affect the individual sleeping and are often the cause of an underlying medical condition, seeking help is a top priority, the moment symptoms are detected. It's the one way to ensure what you're experiencing is or isn't normal.
At Mind Diagnostics, we're dedicated to providing the most beneficial tools and resources for those confused about their symptoms. Everyone experiences tremors differently, which often makes the discovery or detection stage very difficult.
With our comprehensive online sleep disorder test, we test your risk level of developing a sleeping disorder and when it's time to seek medical attention. Not only that, but we can help you find a proven, knowledgeable, trustworthy, and passionate therapist in your area.
Visit our website or mobile app to start taking your sleep disorder test. It'll only take a few minutes of your time, but it could change your life for the better in the future!