Exploding Head Syndrome

 

Exploding head syndrome (EHS) is a disorder characterized by the perception of loud noises (e.g. a bomb explosion, gunshot or cymbal crash) when going to sleep or awakening. Contrary to the name, ENS is not associated with pain. However the noise attacks can elicit a great deal of fear, confusion and distress in sufferers. Reports of tachycardia and palpitations are also common. Despite the distressing nature of EHS, relatively little is known about the prevalence and underlying cause of the condition. Some scientists have estimated that EHS may affect 10% of the population. Females tend to be more at risk than males and the average age of onset is 50 years old.

There are various theories as to what might cause EHS. For instance, some scientists have speculated that EHS may be associated with minor temporal lobe seizures. Another theory is that EHS is caused by sudden shifts of middle ear components. Other possible causes include stress/anxiety, impairments in calcium signalling and brainstem neuronal dysfunction.

Because of the benign nature of EHS, many individuals do not require medical treatment. However if an individual is suffering from disturbed sleep or considerable distress as a consequence of EHS, then treatment may be necessary. Tricyclic antidepressants have been proven useful in some individuals. Calcium channel blockers may also be beneficial. Non-pharmacological strategies such as relaxation, improved sleep hygiene and counselling may also help to alleviate symptoms.

Reviewed 2016

Sources

Frese, A., Summ, O. & Evers, S. 2014. Exploding head syndrome: Six new cases and review of the literature, Cephalalgia, 1468-2982

Brian A.S. 2014. Exploding head syndrome, Sleep Medicine Reviews, 6: 489-493

 

Author: Dr. Emma Mitchell, PhD, UK – Reviewer

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More on Exploding Head Syndrome (older content) :

Exploding head syndrome is a rare and relatively undocumented parasomnia event in which the subject experiences a loud bang similar to a bomb exploding, a gun going off, a clash of cymbals or any other form of loud, indecipherable noise that seems to originate from inside the head. Contrary to the name, exploding head syndrome has no elements of pain, swelling or any other physical trait associated with it. They may be perceived as having bright flashes of light accompanying them, or result in shortness of breath, though this is likely caused by the increased heart rate of the subject after experiencing it. It most often occurs just before deep sleep, and sometimes upon coming out of deep sleep.

Attacks can increase or decrease with time, and can disappear for long stretches at a time, or entirely, of their own volition. Subjects often feel fear or distress after the incident.

People over the age of 50 are most likely to experience exploding head syndrome. Women are at a higher rate of experiencing it than men. It has been reported in people as young as 10 years old.

Exploding head syndrome is thought to be highly connected with stress and extreme fatigue in most individuals. What actually causes the sensation in individuals is still unknown, though speculation of possible sources includes minor seizures affecting the temporal lobe, or sudden shifts in middle ear components.

As exploding head syndrome is not dangerous, and does not have a drastic effect on sleep, many individuals do seek help for their symptoms. It will first be necessary to consult with a doctor regarding your sleep and medical history to ensure that what the individual is experiencing is actually exploding head syndrome and not something else. Similar experiences have been known to be brought on by certain medications or drugs.

One medication that has been used to treat exploding head syndrome is clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant.

If stress is causing the episodes, it is advised to either seek to clear the problem. This could include reading, yoga, relaxing music or a hot bath before bed. These steps have also demonstrated to have positive effects in achieving quality sleep in general.

If the disturbances are the result of sleep deprivation, it is recommended to institute a more balanced routine that includes a minimum of 6 hours of sleep per night. If sleep deprivation is being caused by other sleep related disorders, these should be evaluated.

Reviewed September, 2007

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22 thoughts on “Exploding Head Syndrome

  1. I will hear, on occasion, loud gun shots or explosions in beta state just going off to sleep or on beginning to awake. Most diturbing. I recently experienced what I thought was 5.0 earthquake. I even reported it but saw no confirmaton of the event . I was anot into the first five minutes of sleep.

    1. Hi Thomas. I experienced EHS for the first time ever just last night. The experience was something so powerful I found myself searchimg the internet for any explanation. Last night I had three powerful explosions, almost white outs (although hard to describe), it hit hard and fast and I felt as if my head was banged into my pillow. I woke up certain that my partner also experienced the “blast”. I realized not, and fell back to sleep only to be blown up again (its hard to put into words). I woke up the second time, realized everything was okay, it was 3 AM anadd I went back to sleep. It happened again, I woke up slightly this third time, only to fall back asleep again. As I slowly awoke this morning I felt it again. Today I feel like I have been “re-set” or “electricaly re-booted”? It sounds insane but it is very real. I searched the internet until I found this site. I am a 57 year old male. I have never experienced anything like this until just last night. I hope this helps someone, thank God for the internet because the first EHS is very freaky and scary. It is all you will think about the next day.

      1. Personally yesterday i suffered from a massive whip sound, which strangely enough i was thinking about a whip before sleeping… Almost as if i can control the sound i hear, which could be for the better…

  2. Currently suffering from a mixture of EHS and hypnagogic jerks (and what seems to be a hypnagogic jerk only it makes me suddenly gasp like I’ve forgotten to inhale rather than a muscle twitch) every night. It’s driving me crackers! Always at the point of drifting off. Thankfully, after a few hours when I successfully manage to stay asleep, I sleep through without a problem.

  3. As I was waking up, I heard a loud bomb go off in my head and my whole body began to shake ferociously. I had no control at that time. It happened quick. This is the first time I have ever experienced this and I just started a new anxiety medication 3 days ago…maybe that has something to do with it?

  4. I had this after I was smacked across the face with a hand gun that broke my cheek bone, it didnt last long but until today I had no explanation for what was going on other then I had a bad concussion

  5. Yep. I’ve had this all my life (I’m now 56 yrs old) but it’s gradually become less regular as I’ve aged. My sensation is like electricity surging through a chain wire fence (odd, I know). I starts quietly, increases in volume, then dissipates quickly. When I wake, I expect the rest of the house to have heard it as it’s so loud. The most common time for me to get this is about 10 minutes after sex, when I’m really relaxed and about to fall asleep.

  6. I have the sensation of a silent explosion of light going off – sort of like the slow motion bomb scenes in movies This happens just shy of awakening and is not frequent. I believe it began when I was about 59. It scared the living daylights out of me the first time it happened but now I can mostly ignore it. No sound is ever associated with it. Just a huge bright flash of light.

  7. I’ve had this only when I was under extreme amounts of stress. It’s loud, seems real and scary. When you wake up the noise you heard seemed real. I once heard someone scream my name and sat up thinking that someone was in the house. I was panicked. All the other times was gunshot, and doors slamming real hard. It went away when my stress went away and when I was able to get real sleep.

  8. 60 yrs. old When I was about 8 years old I tried to explain this to my mother. She took me to Stanford Sleep Research Clinic. They did tests but no answers. Now I see that others are troubled with this. By the way my mother had severe narcolepsy. She co-founded the American Narcolepsy Assoc. and later the Narcolepsy Network. I do not have Narcolepsy.

  9. I have had EHS my entire life more or less:i’ve witnessed it ever since i was 6yrs old. There is no fixed frequency: can happen as often as once a month or every few years. In my case it occurs during REM sleeping or when im dreaming. I will have a normal dream then suddenly the content of the dream changes and suddenly i hear a loud bang and i quickly wake up scared out of my mind!! I have had many different forms of this as well: sometimes it happens when im falling asleep too, other times i get these voilent brain zaps associated with vivid lucid dreams especially when i wake in middle of the night and cant go back to sleep for long periods of time. Brain zapa can last 40mins to an hour before fall back into a normal sleeping pattern. Brian zaps are most common and started when i was 10yrs old but have periodic epiosdes of explosions or sounds such as music, conversations,yelling or crying.

  10. I am so glad I stumbled upon this information while looking into other sleep conditions because this has been happening to me for over a year now almost once a month or more and I had no idea what was going on or if anything was wrong with me.

  11. Just before waking this morning I heard an extremely loud bang and worryingly thought I was having some sort of brain hemorrhage. A bit alarmed I realise that all is well but quite perplexed by what had just happened. Earlier in the night (4.00am) I thought I heard my front door shut and got up to check, I have dreamt the noise of my front door slamming a few times recently. The bang though was the bizarre one for me and led me this site. It has been on my mind a bit more than normal as to how secure my front door is, so that could explain the door noises. Not an anxious or stressy person, 44 year old female, very light sleeper. Glad to find this is a somewhat common phenomenon and relived I’m not totally bonkers.

    1. Interesting forum. The fact that many people experience this doesn’t put my mind at ease still, due to the fact that no one knows why it happens. I am 20 years old, and this has happened to me on 7 occasions now. Mine fits the description of a gentlemen above… it starts off quiet like electricity traveling through a fence and gets louder and louder until… POP. I have a history of neurological problems if you consider a tic disorder that, but this is really disturbing. So far it only happens on days when I am very fatigued but I am hoping it doesn’t occur more regularly. I am a student so it is very bothersome and distracting nights before classes and etc.. If anyone has more info please share!

    2. So relieved to know this is nothing serious. My first experience was 10 years ago, only had about 1 a year. I’m 47 and have a few a week and sometimes a few a night lately. I have had a slight headache for 3 weeks, I might see a doctor just to make sure the increase head explosions and headaches aren’t related!

  12. Wow! I have experienced this since I was a young girl. Had no idea hat it was. Almost thought I was crazy or something. Just knowing what it is I will sleep easier now.

  13. I’ve had this happen maybe half a dozen times. I actually enjoy the experience. The first time was like a gun shot at close range. I woke up and looked around to see that everything was okay and then laughed. I don’t know why that would be funny.

    Other times there’s been visuals. A couple of times it was thunder and lightning. Another time it was a transformer blowing. These times there’s a bright flash and then a burst of images. Is it just a coincidence that both transformers and lightning are electrical?

    The other reason I enjoy this, besides the trippy light show and apparently having a strange sense of humor, is that after they happen, I immediately fall into deep sleep. They usually occur after tossing and turning, but then after they happen I’m out like a light.

  14. I experienced this a lot in my teens and twenties. First time during my very stressful junior year, laying my head down on the desk for a brief nap when I got done with a test early. I felt and heard that electrical ZING through my head. After that, tended to be worst right when falling asleep while lying on my back, or if I tried to nap during the day. Either that electrical sensation or a slow whup-whup-whup like helicopter blades starting up. Other sleep paralysis accompanied this (feeling of someone sitting on the edge of the bed, etc.). I lessened the stress in my life, always fell asleep on my stomach instead of my back, and stopped taking naps and haven’t experienced it in a long time.

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