Sleep Myoclonus in Babies

Newborns tend to move a lot when sleeping, these spasms are known as sleep myoclonus and are natural at this stage.
Sleep Myoclonus in Babies

Last update: 02 March, 2022

During the first three months of life, newborns tend to move a lot in their sleep: they kick their legs, stretch their arms rapidly, or tilt their heads up. These brief spasms are known as neonatal myoclonus.

Mycloni are natural in children and don’t last more than 20 seconds. It should be noted that they’re benign, therefore, there’s nothing to worry about. We could say that these are small shocks that occur while sleeping.

Origin and characteristics

Sleep myoclonus in babies appears and disappears in a short time. Its appearance occurs mainly in newborns and in male babies who haven’t reached 2 years of age. They then go away on their own, so no treatment is necessary.

If you go to the neurologist to review your baby’s health, they’ll determine whether or not the myoclonus is associated with encephalopathy. If they confirm that it’s a benign childhood myoclonus, you should know that this has nothing to do with epilepsy.

Specialists haven’t yet recognized the exact cause of these agitated movements, but they do assure us that they’re produced in the central nervous system when sleeping.

Specifically, they begin once the fifth stage of sleep is reached, better known as the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage, when an increase in brain activity occurs.

Some people believe that the vibrations that babies feel during walks, or when rocking them, promote the appearance of involuntary movements during their rest. Therefore, they recommend that these rides be avoided. However, nothing has been finalized in this regard yet.

Benign sleep myoclonus in chidren is generated from the central nervous system and appear during the REM stage of sleep.

Does sleep myoclonus have side effects?

A newborn sleeping in his parent's arms.

The answer is no. This is a benign paroxysmal activity. Little by little, the baby will overcome them and won’t suffer any consequences to their health or psychomotor development.

In general, benign sleep myoclonus is often confused with other diseases such as :

  • Epilepsy (which appears after 6 months).
  • The syndrome of rhythmic sleep movements or that of periodic leg movements.

For this reason, it’s best to supervise your baby during their naps and, if possible, during their night’s sleep. This way, if an incident occurs, you can discuss it in greater detail with their pediatrician.

There’s another very similar disorder called infantile spasms and they occur after the first 3 months of life and last up to approximately 2 years. Unlike the other, the movements occur when the child is awake and only affects the upper limbs of their body.

How to help little ones overcome mycloni

A newborn sleeping peacefully.

Newborns should sleep at least 16 hours each day. Later, this rest period decreases to 15 hours when they’re three months old. At one year old, babies can sleep up to 14 hours at a time.

Making babies rest without disturbance is a simpler task than you might think. It’s only necessary to take certain measures to improve the conditions of their environment.

Certainly, sleep hygiene is essential for the growth and health of babies. Here are some tips that will be very useful to you.

  • Avoid co-sleeping. It’s best to place your baby in their crib to avoid accidents.
  • If there’s no crib, your need to place your baby in the center of the bed, between two pillows. These will prevent your baby from turning sideways and falling out of bed.
  • Set times for daily naps.
  • Maintain a relaxed atmosphere before bedtime. This involves:
    • Turning down the volume on the television that’s closest to your baby’s room.
    • Lowering the blinds a bit to dim the light in the bedroom.
    • Lowering your tone of voice.
  • Check their diaper before and after sleep to avoid discomfort.
  • During sleep, you need to help your baby to change positions, gently, until they learn to turn on their own.
    • Experts don’t recommend placing babies face down because it’s one of the risk factors for sudden infant death due to the possible inhalation of carbon dioxide when exhaling.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Carballo R. H, Yépez I, et al. Mioclonías neonatales benignas del sueño. Archivos Argentinos de Pediatría. 1998. 96.
  • Yépez I, Vásquez González E, et al. Mioclonías benignas de la infancia temprana: revisión de la literatura a propósito de dos casos clínicos. Revista Ecuatoriana de Neurología. 2006. 15 (1).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.