Why create a website devoted to twitching?
For as long as people have watched others sleep, we have been aware of twitching—twitches of the arms and legs and fingers and toes, and the darting of eyes beneath closed lids. When someone is roused in the midst of such activity, we expect to be regaled with stories of dreams filled with action sequences befitting the flurries of jerky limb movements. We imagine that if dogs could tell us about their dreams, we would get an earful about rabbits.
We see twitches and immediately think of dreams. But more than that, the folk theory of twitching—which also happens to be the prevailing scientific theory—is that dreams cause twitches. The scientific theory goes like this: The sleeping brain erects a barrier to movement to prevent animals from acting out the dreams produced by the cerebral cortex. However, this barrier is imperfect, and twitches are the bits of dreams that leak through. Twitches are the jetsam of dreams: mere by-products. Or so it is thought. Indeed, many of the YouTube videos on this site attest to the prevailing view that twitches are primarily important for what they tell us about dreams.
In fact, recent investigations of twitching have taught us that what we have long “known” to be true about twitching is not. For those of you who are interested in learning more about the science of twitching, you can read a relatively accessible review here and a more technical review here. If you are interested in learning more about the peculiar meaning of twitching for the developing brain, check out this paper and this one (warning: these are hardcore neuroscience papers).
What is this website meant to accomplish?
Because twitching (technically “myoclonic twitching”) has been neglected by sleep scientists for so long, we know relatively little about it in humans or any other animal—in infants or adults. Today, we can easily remedy this situation by taking advantage of the valuable research instruments that most of us carry around with us each day—the video-enabled smartphone. Coupled with the availability of YouTube and other video-hosting services, it is now possible to collect and store many hours of sleep behavior across a wide diversity of animals. Add to that the apparent fascination that twitching holds for so many people (as this site attests), and we can begin to create a resource documenting the similarities and differences in twitching across the animal kingdom and across the lifespan. The more rare and exotic the species the better. Ultimately, we will be able to use this information to generate new hypotheses about the functions and evolution of twitching.
Who am I?
I am a behavioral neuroscientist at the University of Iowa. You can learn more about me and the research conducted in my lab here.