Spatiotemporal organization of myoclonic twitching in sleeping human infants

Dev Psychobiol. 2020 Sep;62(6):697-710. doi: 10.1002/dev.21954. Epub 2020 Feb 9.


During the perinatal period in mammals when active sleep predominates, skeletal muscles twitch throughout the body. We have hypothesized that myoclonic twitches provide unique insight into the functional status of the human infant's nervous system. However, assessments of the rate and patterning of twitching have largely been restricted to infant rodents. Thus, here we analyze twitching in human infants over the first seven postnatal months. Using videography and behavioral measures of twitching during bouts of daytime sleep, we find at all ages that twitching across the body occurs predominantly in bursts at intervals of 10 s or less. We also find that twitching is expressed differentially across the body and with age. For example, twitching of the face and head is most prevalent shortly after birth and decreases over the first several months. In addition, twitching of the hands and feet occurs at a consistently higher rate than does twitching elsewhere in the body. Finally, the patterning of twitching becomes more structured with age, with twitches of the left and right hands and feet exhibiting the strongest coupling. Altogether, these findings support the notion that twitches can provide a unique source of information about typical and atypical sensorimotor development.

Keywords: REM sleep; active sleep; behavior; development; neurodevelopmental disorders; physiological time; rapid eye movements; rat; sensorimotor development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Spasm / physiopathology*
  • Spatio-Temporal Analysis
  • Video Recording