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Avatar universal

Child (now 3years old) Twiches/Jerks During Sleep Several Times Since Birth

My son has is now 3 years old and since birth, he had what was first identified as the "startle reflex" and then what his ped referred to as my son continuing to have a startle reflex well after it should have went away. My son, born at 37 weeks on the dot, and then on oxygen for 12 hours after his birth has been healthy except for extensive behavorial problems. However, his startle reflex has NEVER gone away while sleeping during naps or at night. He doesn't sleep well at night and this startle reflex is like a full body jerk or tremble, very fast, very short. I have consulted 4 doctors about this, 1  and a pychologist, none seem to think its and issue. Is this an issue, should I look to someone else, for help, is there anyone else to look to? I feel that maybe this may be a link to other problems my son is having, i.e. behavorial issues, lack of sleep... and I just want so much to give him the help he needs.

Thanks for any help you may offer.
57 Responses
368886 tn?1466235284

The jerks your son has in sleep may actually be normal. You need to observe if the jerks are seen when he is falling asleep or coming out of sleep or anytime during the sleep. It is difficult to tell if it is a startle reflex. A startle is usually a reaction to some stimulus.

I would be interested to know what his behavioral problems are. Please keep me posted.

331422 tn?1309926649
Hi, I have been interested in your post because my almost five year old boy displays the same or a similar startle reflex (known as Moro reflex) and I have been wandering about it too.

When disturbed in his sleep (i.e.  when I need to carry him to his bed, after falling asleep in my bed or when I need to adjust his sleeping position) he will jerk his arms backward with his fingers spread apart. He was born two weeks before his due date but without complications. However he started showing symptoms of ADHD at 18 months and a delay in his speech and  language development (10 months at age 3), which I found out is quite common with boys with ADHD. Having been trained as an Occupational Therapist and believe that the startle reflex and the delayed language development seem to indicate a neurological immaturity of the brain. Fortunately the brain of a young child is very adaptable and my son has been showing increasing progress in his speech and language development. As his brain matures I believe, like  with his older brother, his ADHD symptoms too will become less severe and he will be able to learn behaviors that will help him cope better with this condition. The startle reflex too might gradually fade away as he matures neurologically.

Recently I found out that I have mild hypothyroidism and must have had it for a long time. I also read research that states that a mother‘s defficient thyroid function during
the pregnancy can influence the neurological development of the fetus. I suspect that in my case my low thyroid function may possibly have had a significant influence on my sons neurological immaturity and their manifestation of ADHD symptoms. But this is
something I still need to research a little further.

I would be interested to learn more about the other behaviors you indicated that your son displays as well as a better discription of his sleeping pattern.


Avatar universal
Thank you for responding to my question about about my 3 years and what I call a startle reflex. The full body jerking/jumping/twitching occurs during his sleep. I have started to time them, for example: Just yesterday during a nap, within one minute, he experienced 7 episodes, full jumps/jerks througout his body. One second he is sleeping soundly and then the next second he it looks as though he is jumping out of his skin, and the entire time he is sleeping. His arms fly about, legs jolt, and his breath catches. The episodes are clusterd together, and can go on back to back and then stop abruptly. They can be large jolts and then small ones. He has done this since about 2 weeks since being born and it has never stopped, it continues daily.

In regards to his behavior we began having trouble with him at 2 years old, at first we thought, he was spoiled. Then, he began hurting himself by hiting himself, biting, banging his head- and seemed to have an unusual tolerance for pain. Anything would set him off! We began going through the step with pychologist/counselors for Austims and Aspberger's. He is a very, very bright child, but seem frustrated and something seems wrong, and he seems like has trouble coping and is easily frustrated. Psychologists do not believe nor does he test on the Autustim spectrim and has been test again, this year, this past 6 months. He is very loving, but very defiant and frustrated and it could be because he isn't getting the rest he needs- possibly because of what is going on with what I am explaining?

I took him back to see his doctor this week to discuss these episode and his doctor tried to tell me, that my son was just dreaming, and experiencing the classic "falling from a high place feeling" therefor causing him to jump- so his doctor doesn't feel this is a problem. I still am troubled by this, and think there is more it!

Thank you for your time.
Avatar universal
Hi Katherine7-

You are the first person that I found that has any similar experience to my son's. My son's episodes occor clusterd together while he is sleeping. They can happen multiple times, for example 5-7 times per minute. His entire body jumps, his legs jolt, arms fly up-
It sounded like your doctor acutally your son a diagnosis? I am going to look up the Moro Reflex  here in the next few minutes. Our doctors have been uncoopertive so far and I am hoping that will change after I know what direction to head, and I am hoping get that here.

As far as behavior goes, my three year old is very aggressive. We often times have problems with him being self injurious to himelf, i.e. biting and hiting. He spits, on people and object and he does that whether he is mad or not. He does no the difference between what is is allowed to do and not, for the most part. And, he already had a huge problem talking back- and has no other older brother and sisters nor is he around older children, he just turns what we say around. Also, his screaming is out of control, he will go through fits where he CANNOT be calmed down- by anyone- he will vomit- and still not be calmed down. Finally, fifteen-twenty minutes later after he just stops on his own, its like he is in a daze.  These fits, are rare any more, but they used to be almost daily during the terrible 2's.  Well, I think that about wraps up my son, beyond all that- he is a loving and joyful child-for the most part. :)

Thanks for your response-

331422 tn?1309926649
Hi again,

I can sense and sympathize with your frustration as well as your son’s but hope you are well dispite the challenge.

Now that you have described your son’s jerky movements a bit better, I don’t think they are a startle reflex, since I believe you are saying they appear spontaneously. The Moro Reflex is triggered by a sudden change in an infants body position, i.e. when you hold a baby in an upright position (facing you, one hand supporting head and shoulders and the other under its bottom) and suddenly let it “fall” backward to a reclining position (still supporting it of course). This reflex normally fades away by the 6th month.

For your pediatrician to make a better judgment, I would like to suggest you videotape your son and keep a log for several days and nights and show him/her what exactly you are talking about and to rule out epilepsy.

Regarding the behavioral issues, my son’s terrible 2s, like many other kid’s would go beyond the age of 3 and 4 and biting, hitting and spitting were some of his bad “normal” temper tantrum habits that he outgrew. Head banging too can be a sign of frustration. Even today (at almost 5 years of age) my son’s temper tantrums can be intense. But one needs to consider he had and still has communication difficulties due to his delay in speech and language and that is very frustrating for a young child. While sleep disturbances can make your son (anybody actually) irritable and frustrated even aggressive, is there anything else that may be disturbing to him or people that he might be imitating?

You mention that your son’s temper tantrums can last for about 20 minutes and that he is seems dazed afterward. I would consider the time length normal, even average compared to other children that can have 30 minute and longer tantrums. Also, they are exhausting for a toddler and may cause a blood sugar drop. Offering him a little diluted natural juice may help. I imagine these tantrums make you feel pretty helpless, since one doesn’t have much control over them. I used to feel like that, until I realized they are a phase and developed some strategies to help him get distracted from whatever would frustrate him (whenever possible). Sometimes I just had to ignore the behavior and wait it out. Sometimes a tight hug would let him know I was still there for him and in control of the situation, especially if he could hurt himself or was very frustrated. It is important that your attitude is consistent and firm but loving to give him a sense of security, since he senses he is emotionally out of control and that can be somewhat scary for his age. I am sure you will find out what he responds best to. For more ideas and sound advice I can recommend “The Discipline Book”, from William Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N. (they have the experience of having eight children).

Love Katherine
Avatar universal

You are seem so kind and knowledgable- thank you for all your encouragment and underderstanding. It is so hard to go from doctor to doctor hoping that they will be the key to help unlock the mystery behind what has been effecting our son- and to get NOTHING or to be strung along.  I pick up the book you mentioned and hopefully that will help us to our son. He has made so much progress from age 2 to 3 years old, but we still have so far to go, and I want so much for him to be able to go to school and be happy and participate in activities he seems to already show an interest for.

Thank you for taking the time and reaching out- it means so much. I hope and wish you all the best with your own children.

All the best-
Avatar universal
OMG......you have given me such a peace of mind...thank you so much
Today while on my way to church my 20 month old son started jump/twitching during his nap(first time this has ever happened). He took a 20 min nap in the car and jumped/twitched about 10-13 time!!!!!!

When he woke up he was FINE.....I wasnt sure what to do so tonight when he went to bed i laid with him and sure enough it started happening again...so to the phone i ran spoke with a nurse she said it might be signs of a siezure...so of course i went stright to WEB MD....THANK GOD he doesnt have any signs that fit a siezure.....i was determinded to find out what was wrong so i could sleep with a lil peace:) i ran across your question and i ended up reading all the comments.

Every thing that is on here is him......so tomorrow he will see his doctor
But i just wanted to thank you for posting your ? you never no how much a complete stanger can help you:)
Avatar universal
hi,my daughter is 8 and has suffered with the same since about 1 year old,they start within  5 minutes of her falling asleep and carry on,on and off for a few hours.When she was to 3and a  half she started havin febrile convulsions,then drop attacks,they did mri scans and EEG to check for epilepsy but as they were all done when she was awake they were inconclusive.now if she is ill and her temp raises too much  she has a seizure.She also has terrible temper problems and can be hard to control.(though not all the time thankfully) Every night i have the fear will they turn into a seizure in her sleep.I would be very gratefull if any of you find out what they are if you could post it please as this would be a gerat help to me.
Avatar universal
I have been very frustrated with the same problems. We adopted our daughter who will be 3 next month. She was exposed to opiates, meth, alcohol, marijuana & cigs. in utero. She was born 7 weeks premature, through emergency c-section (the umbilical cord :prolapsedcausing decreased oxygen) she had a seizure at birth. She is very bright. The doctor just diagnosed her as IED. Interm. Explosive Disorder. She to was tested for Autism/Aspergers. They said no, because she has a very large vocabulary, even though all of her therapist think differently.
She has NEVER been a sleeper. She takes 3 mg Meletonin and 1/2 tab Clonidine before bedtime and still wakes up often, and even in a so called sleep state, she is tossing and turning, jerking, yelling all night long. Sometimes she jumps up screaming and brushing her body to "get the bugs and spiders" off.
Her O.T. has expressed concerns about posible seizure activity when she was working with a "hugging swing" . We have tried 4 times to get a sleep EEG done on her, but; even with the medicine (suppoisitories and Tenex prior) she never fell asleep. She tried to walk and she just kept moving her body We had also tried for a MRI 4 times. Never fell asleep, the 4 try they gave her meds through an IV, she did fall asleep but within 10-15 minutes, she started moving around in the machine so they stopped it.She starts her day as if she has had 20 cups of coffee, and goes up from there. She is ALWAYS in MOTION. She has more and more aggressive meltdowns, where she is screaming, hitting and biting me or her father, to becoming very emotional and crying. It breaks my heart. She has many sensory issues.. They also thing that she may be bipolar, as well as AD/HD. My quiestion is, if her brain does not slow down enough to sleep WITH drugs, then how can my daughter get the rest she needs to rest her mind and body.
Avatar universal
Hi njbryan, how are you? Hope your son is doing better? Can you provide some more details regarding the jerks your son is going through - how often they occur and is it a continuous one or keeps repeating in an on and off pattern? Have you observed whether these jerk you mention does continue even after he falls asleep? Is there anything that you do or it stops on its own? Usually, hypnic - sleep jerks or twitches are normal and can occur while he tends to fall asleep or when trying to wake up from sleep. It is better to consult a neurologist and get him evaluated. Take care.
Avatar universal
I have a two year old son who had 2 seizures within 1 week and now my son has trouble sleeping. He Jerks/Trinches in his sleep. This is constantly through the night. He moves his arms, hands, feet and his head sometimes move. His arms flop out and then he jumps and sometimes wakes up. My son like to sleep in my arms, but he constantly moving the whole time. Before his seizures accured, I didn't have any problems out of my son not to mention he is still loving and caring. Now he likes to hit back and fight alot. He gets frustrated often and then he will throw things. He picks of small pieces of objects and put them in his mouth (such as buttoms, pieces of shadowed glass). All these things accured after his seizures.
Avatar universal
my son is 2 and since he was a baby his body would twitch as he was falling asleep, it got worse and his arms would fly up or his whole body would stiffin up it was so hard to watch every night, now when he is tired or falling asleep his arms will move along with his head like he is playing with a toy or reaching for something. when i say something to him he stops and gets mad at me for saying something to him so Im not sure if he knows what he is doing or not but when he is doing it his eyes blink sometimes. everyone thinks im crazy when i tell them about it and they dont understand what it looks like till they see it for themselves and is scares them. he is my fourth child and i know its not normal but if its not going to hurt him then i will leave it alone. what could this be?
Avatar universal
I was just reading these posts because my daughter (22 months) also has the jerking/twitching at night and at naptime! It all started when she was a couple of weeks old and when I asked the Ped about it he said that it was normal with babies and usually stops by age 1. Well, she is almost 2 now and it still happens, arms, legs, body, but it's not a violent jerk, just little spontaneous ones. I am concerned so I will tell her Dr. and post what they say.

But as far as your son's jerky movement's while playing and awake during the day. It sounds like what I have. I started having those arm/head jerks when I was about 13 and thought nothing of it. But when I had my child (at 20)  it got worse as I had lack of sleep. So I went to the neurologist to be checked and had an EEG done. The results, I have a type of epilepsy called Myoclonic Seizures, when it only effects a part of your body. They told me that it could turn into full blown seizures if not treated. So now I am on medication and it hasn't happened in about a year. I would suggest you taking him just to be on the safe side.

Hope this helps! And good luck! I know it's scary!
Avatar universal
OMG.  This sounds like my 10 year old.  I have been to doctor to psychiatrist to counselor to psychologist and none of them have linked her constant night time jerking and twitching to her behavioral problems.  I have finally insisted that the pediatrician send her for a sleep study to see if we can find out something more.  She has been diagnosed w/so many behavioral issues it is ridiculous.  ODD, ADHD, depression, anxiety, PDD/NOS. I think it has something to do w/her sleeping but no one will listen to me.  
Avatar universal
I know this was a few years ago and I hope that you have found the answers you were looking for, but if not look up infantile spasms.  Try to youtube it and you can see other children who have this a maybe relate it to what you and your son went through.  
Avatar universal
My son has the same exact symptoms since 2yrs old. He has everything in common. The frustation & rage. He no longer bites him self or bangs his head. I always hoped he would grow out of it but he never has. I just started him in private counciling and also seeking help @ his school. I am fighting tooth & nail 4 my baby & won't stop. I want the best for him & I'm believing for a break through in my sons life. But if there is anything a dr can let us know as far as an eplanation 4 this. Its exhausting sometimes but won't give up on my son!
Avatar universal
My son has the same exact symptoms since 2yrs old. He has everything in common. The frustation & rage. He no longer bites him self or bangs his head. I always hoped he would grow out of it but he never has. I just started him in private counciling and also seeking help @ his school. I am fighting tooth & nail 4 my baby & won't stop. I want the best for him & I'm believing for a break through in my sons life. But if there is anything a dr can let us know as far as an eplanation 4 this. Its exhausting sometimes but won't give up on my son!
Avatar universal
Avatar universal
My 6 week old baby boy just started doing this... he does it all throughout his sleep.. whether at nite or during the day. He will do what looks like the startle reflex~throwing arms up and legs will jolt,sometimes he will kinda whimper and open his eyes. I thought it might be seizures so I called the pediatrician and he scheduled an eeg test. Well the test showed that they are not seizures which kinda eases my mind but part of me still thinks there could be something wrong with him. He has a twin sister and she does not do this.
Avatar universal
I am debating on whether to ask my pediatrician to have an mri done too just to be sure they are not seizures... its just weird that he just started doing it out of nowhere.. I'm kinda freakin out about it. Any advice is appreciated!
Avatar universal
I just typed "toddler twitching in sleep" and this page came up, and I am blown away at how many children are doing the same thing with the same other "problems" such as autusm, ADHD, etc..  It seems that doctors diagnose and medicate but do not research or explain much. Where are the common threads? My three-year-old seems autistic. His 10-year-old brother is mildly so, and yet I am still not convinced that this is entirely genetic unless there is some genetic sensitivity to environmental aggressors such as lead or other toxins in the air, water, baby toys, who knows... This is frighteningly common. My 3 y. o. seemed perfectly normal until about 10 months, and then he began reminding me of his big brother (squealing instead of trying to talk and so forth). Two houses up, a little girl was autistic. Three houses up and across the street, a little boy became autistic around his first birthday. Three boys moved in two houses up and all three seem to have aspergers or some level of autism or bengin social awkwardness. I live on a street full of autistic children. One mother on this street told me that they had the water tested and the lead content was so high that they did not drink it - and moved into a newer house. How many of these children seem to have allergies or sensitivities as well? My boy also has screaming fits in the middle of the night in which he attacks me as though I were a monster, and after about 30 minutes, he stops and smiles at me. This is all too strange...and utterly heart-breaking. Another possible toxin...how many of you parents have/had fathers or grandfathers who fought in Viet Nam? My dad died of agent orange poisoning (that manifested as leukemia) and I have been warned that this poisoning passes through the sperm and infects bodies from one generation to the next. Bottom line, it must be toxins...but which ones, and why are we not getting answers? Seems like a case of biological warfare to me!
Avatar universal
One more comment...

Has anyone considered oral chelation therapy? I am about to buy some pills and try it on myself as a guinea pig, and we'll see from there... I would love to hear of results or comments on chelation therapy.
Avatar universal
Hi.  My son also jerks in his sleep repetitively.  He also jerks occasionally when his is awake, except it is much more subtle- like a slight head jerk.  

He had a very sensitive moro reflex when he was an infant and started the jerking around 3.5 months.  He is now 13 months.  

I was convinced that he had epilepsy-- he has had 7 video EEGs in his short little life and they have all been normal.  He also has had two normal MRIs.

Interestingly, he has numerous allergies and he is a very sensitive little guy.  Wonder what is going on with our children?

FYI-- my husband also jerks in his sleep and always has.  I actually counted him one night for a couple of hours and I counted 22 jerks in about a 3 hour span.  So, it could be genetic.  
Avatar universal
Just came across this post because my 3.5 year old son started major behavioral issues at 3... stopped sleeping through the night, spasms at night, nightmares, very anxious, hitting himself in the head, biting, hitting everyone, choking/bear hugs, clenched fists, facial grimaces with tic like sounds, etc., etc.  I've looked at Autism, Tourettes, Aspergers, Epilepsy.  Pediatrician shrugs it all off since he's hitting his major developmental milestones... saying "he's a boy" and "he'll outgrow the tics" and "all kids tic"... I was feeling like a bad mom who cannot control my child... but the tougher/stricter we got - the WORSE he got.

FINALLY got him to a psychologist who suggested SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder).  Took the evaluation and he has/is proprioceptive, sensory seeking and emotionally reactive.  This sounds like it might help several people on this link... look up http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/  and my sister just sent me the brain balance center website (they are too far for us to go to - but they have good info... this is not an ad).  So now we are going to an Occupational Therapist in our community and hoping it will help... We are also going back to our pediatrician to make them pay attention to this.  I'm still not certain about the spasms at night (have not talked to the OT about that)... but she saw the "space-out" he did during our session today - and said we should talk to the ped about that in case it is epilepsy... I'm thinking it must all be connected somehow to the brain not "being organized".

As to why our kids are all doing this?  I saw something on autism being connected to stress of the mom during in-utero... and since I was major stressed at the time due to a demanding job... I'm chalking major part of it to that... (I'm the feminist/moderately liberal type who now suddenly believes in the old fashioned mom stay at home bit, but cannot afford it in our current situation)  but also I strongly believe we are slowly killing ourselves by all the toxins we put into our environment... it's ridiculous what's in our shampoos, cleaners, toothpaste, etc.  Just a thought... my husband thinks I'm "over the top" :) !
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