«Why does a child often shudder in his sleep»

In our section «Ask an expert a question», reader Nancy asks:

«A child at 3 months has trouble sleeping. He shudders in his sleep, as if he has been electrocuted. He waves his arms and legs and wakes up from this. Why is this happening? And what should we do?»

Twitching of the arms and legs, usually at the moment of falling asleep or in the initial phase of sleep, are called benign myoclonia of infant sleep. Most often, this is a normal physiological process of the body’s development and by six months it passes. By the way, convulsive shudders happen to everyone at any age after severe physical exertion or overwork.

Signs of infantile myoclonia:

Age from birth to 6 months.

Flinching occurs only during sleep.

After the baby wakes up, the myoclonia stops.

The child has no other reasons for these movements (myoclonia occurs in healthy children).

Why does the baby flinch: three main reasons
The active phase of sleep. Newborn babies sleep a lot, but their sleep is still undeveloped. Most of it is an active phase, in which the twitching of the eyes under the eyelids is visible, the pulse and breathing become irregular, facial expressions appear (babies smile, grimace), convulsive movements of the arms and legs occur. The process of suppressing motor activity in the child has not yet been formed, he does not yet know how to control his movements, so the baby wakes up from his shudders.

Immaturity of the nervous system, inhibitory mechanisms are not sufficiently developed, because of this, when falling asleep or waking up, the baby may experience muscle contractions.

Reaction to unexpected stimuli. If the light is turned on sharply in the room where the baby is sleeping, a loud sound is heard, this will scare him. This involuntary protective reaction is intensified against the background of overwork, emotional and physical stress.

Myoclonia can also appear in other cases, for example, with colic, abdominal pain, nasal congestion. To exclude these reasons, you should contact a pediatrician.

"Why does a child often shudder in his sleep"

When flinching should alert?
Infantile myoclonia can be a manifestation of neurological diseases: epilepsy, infantile spasms, the consequences of traumatic brain injuries, encephalitis, etc.

The presence of at least one item from the list below is an excuse to consult a neurologist for advice:

Muscle contractions occur during the waking period.

Myoclonia increases in amplitude and frequency.

The baby wakes up and cries with muscle contractions.

There is a lag in the child’s development.

To clarify the diagnosis and exclude the epileptic nature of movements, a nighttime EEG study (registration of bioelectric activity of the brain) is carried out.

How to help a child get enough sleep if he often shudders?
To soften involuntary flinching, wide swaddling will help, when the hands are fixed, and the legs are not strongly tightened with a diaper.

Provide good conditions for the baby’s sleep in the room: it should be dark, quiet and a comfortable room temperature of about 22-24 degrees is selected — it is not cold (the child will wake up) and not hot (so he will also be restless). Do not forget to ventilate the room in between children’s sleep.

"Why does a child often shudder in his sleep"

The baby will sleep more comfortably in comfortable clothes for the season, for example, in a thin bodysuit with socks or sliders.

Make sure that the baby rests as much as he needs by age. Overwork is the main enemy of newborns and their parents. If the child has waited out the time of his sleep, it is more difficult for him to fall asleep, and then he will have more convulsive shudders. There is an explanation for this: the stress hormone cortisol has increased in the blood to maintain vigor.

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