Uncontrollable Body Habits, Explained

March 19 2019

Few sensations feel as weird as when your body decides to do its own thing. Muscle twitches, hiccups and bloody noses out of the blue can make you wonder exactly who’s in charge. Here, the reasons behind some of the strangest body behaviours – and when you should see a doctor.

Random, sharp pains

You’re minding your own business when suddenly it feels as if someone’s stuck you with a pin. Then the feeling goes away, never to return. “It’s the hypochondriac’s muse,” says Marcela Espinosa, an internal medicine physician. “Sharp pains that last for a second or two then go away are something we all experience from time to time and are usually benign.” If the pain returns or increases in intensity, it’s best to see a doctor.

Hiccups that make it hard to talk

Chewing gum, drinking soda and eating to excess can all trigger hiccups. What happens is that muscles in your upper chest suddenly contract and you take in air, then your voice box closes, creating the “hic” sound, says Espinosa. “Most hiccups go away on their own or after drinking a glass of water. They’re usually harmless, but if home remedies (like holding your breath) or simply waiting won’t make them go away, it could signal a condition called ‘intractable hiccups,’ which is rare.” See a doctor if this happens. Otherwise deep, slow breathing to relax the muscles should help.

Jerking awake as you’re about to fall asleep

You’re just dozing off when bam! You wake up suddenly. Called “hypnagogic or hypnic jerks,” the sensation results from sudden brief muscle contractions and affects up to 70% of the population, says Allen Towfigh, medical director of New York Neurology & Sleep Medicine. “These occur as the brain transitions the body from wakefulness to sleep. Hypnic jerks can happen when you’re sleep deprived or stressed.” They’re usually not anything to worry about unless they occur frequently, which requires further investigation.

Yawning when someone else does

Yawning when you see another person yawn (or even when you read this paragraph about yawning) is common and not linked to tiredness or energy levels, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE. The study, which involved 328 participants, confirmed that some people are more susceptible to contagious yawning than others. Overall, 222 of the participants yawned contagiously at least once.

Your nose starts bleeding out of nowhere

Nosebleeds are usually scarier than the root cause, says Espinosa. “They typically occur because of dry nasal passages (like on airplanes) or picking your nose.” Irritation due to allergies, cold, sneezing, blowing your nose too hard or overuse of decongestant nasal sprays can also trigger a nosebleed, since small blood vessels in the nose bleed when irritated. “Most stop on their own,” says Espinoza. To halt the flow, keep your head forward, and squeeze just below the bony part of your nose and hold for 10 minutes before checking to see if the bleeding has stopped. If it doesn’t stop within an hour, go to an emergency clinic.

Feeling twitchy

A rapid muscle twitch in your arm or leg – or even your eyelid – is quite common and not anything to worry about, says Espinoza. Caused by minor muscle contractions in one area, most go unnoticed. Lack of sleep, stress, exercise, and anxiety can worsen or trigger twitches, but they usually go away after a couple days. “They can also be a sign of an autoimmune disease or a side effect of a medication such as an antidepressant or estrogen,” says Espinoza. See a doctor if the twitching persists or is accompanied by muscle weakness.


Article originally appeared on Prevention.