whether off a cliff, or over backwards in a chair, etc.--when one is just drifting off to sleep, and not yet truly dreaming? It always brings you wide awake again. I've heard it said that it means your heart skipped a beat, but I doubt that...
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I have only experienced this while fast asleep. It was quite frightening and often jolts me awake. A very unpleasant feeling
Hope you figure out what the cause is - perhaps you should see a physician about it. I'm sorry I don't have more information to share with you.
Its a interesting hub about many other dreams too