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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41 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. Yes!!! Like I’ve had this happen to me many times, only it’s my mother’s wail inside my head!! It’s very scary because I think she’s in trouble before I fully wake up and realize it was in my head.

      1. I have been hearing loud bangs ever since I got back from the desert, I’m a vet. I thought it was PTSD, but now that I stumbled across this web site I’m totally blown away by this! I’ve finally found a name for my condition! I have been mentioning this to all my doctors, including a sleep specialist with no answers. I’m going to email my shrink at the VA so he can start researching any new treatments.

  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.

  15. I’ve found that this is tied to my anti-depressants (Viibryd). It gets better if I take them early, and worse if I take them later in the day. It never happened at all before I started this particular medication. I also get sleep paralysis with it.

  16. I just turned 20y/o this year and just recently got diagnosed with this from my doctor after having it be ignored by my mother for years, amd dismissed as nonsense. I can’t cite an age when it first started for me, but i know that ive had it as long as i can possibly remember. Like a lot of others mine seems to come and go and be pretty sporadic. I remember like a two week period when i was in highschool where it happened at least once every night, sometimes multiple times in the same night (those were always the worst, because it seemed like i would never find unbroken sleep). I’m in college now and just had an event happen last night for the first time in maybe 2 months, it’s been absent long enough to where it caught me extremely off guard and left me on edge all night.
    Its nice to know im not alone, in this, i guess.

  17. I am 66 years old man. I experienced EHS for the first time ever one night about 3 month ago. It was like a massive explosion in my head followed by very loud buzzing. It happened after having one of those stressful days. I thought it was only because of tiredness and so much stress I had during the day and a good night sleep would be the answer to this buzzing. I actually had a good sleep that night but when I woke up in the morning there was still buzzing in my head, not as loud as the night before. Since then I continuously have this electric like sound in my head but usually very moderate.
    With my experience, having stressful life for a long time that I myself had well over 4 years could be one of the main reason for EHS.

  18. I have dealt with this for 8 wks every night. Can not sleep. Sometimes will not sleep but a few hours in 3 days. No Dr’s know what to do for me. I am desperate for help. I can not continue like this. Taking toll on my health. I am female,73 yrs of age. They just keep medicating me. I believe medicine caused mine. I need answers please.

    1. Tell your doctor you would like to have a sleep study done. This could tell you if you suffer from sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.

  19. My experience started with a bad neckache along with a head cold. I was under a significant amount of stress and anxiety also. I suffer with insomnia and sleep inertia (walking up disoriented from naps so I don’t take naps anymore). I fell asleep on the couch with the fire place going. It seemed so peaceful. Was I wrong. I woke up with a huge explosion of light in my head. I said what the heck was that. I got up and felt fine except for the anxiety over the explosion. I felt normal except for the backache and was not confused. I went the next day to the ophthalmologist just to make sure I didn’t have the start of a detached retina. My eye exam was normal. My primary didn’t know what it was. I had to go on the internet and do my own research and now I know what it was “exploding head syndrome”. I am having a sleep study done to make sure I don’t have sleep apnea. This was the most frightening and craziest thing I every experienced. Glad it is a benign condition. So far it happened just the one time.

  20. I get EHS intermittently,like two huge tubular bells crashing together then a crumpling noise followed by what sounds like metal doors slamming…I told my Dr he said it might be my blood pressure
    which was a little high..not needing medication but to cut down on salt..I cut my salt to at least half and had only a very minor (one crumple) EHS attack in the last five months.

  21. Hello, I had my first episode last week. The shock factor was like WTF just happened. I thought it was cymbals playing for the sencond coming of Christ. Anyhow I have Bi-polar 2 and take many medications, but this had to do with a lack of sleep and stress. My day went like this fall asleep at 10pm cant sleep soundly then have to get up at 2am to pick up my boys to the airport followed by going home to bed. I was also stressed out with a medical issue that I was waiting for the diagnosis and then was falling asleep and upon waking up again and it hit. My psychologist just blew it off as nothing, but for me I’m going to focus an sleep hygiene…no i pads, cut some caffeine, exercise more and leave work in a positive mood. Being so soon since my episode last week I’m still having difficulty not thinking about it but it sounds like everyone is doing ok with EHS. Take Care

  22. Last night I had my first episode of this. Actually it was around 5AM. I heard an enormous explosion in my head and when I woke up I was on the floor yelling and pounding the floor with my hand. I wasn’t in pain but I had no idea what was happening. It went away immediately and I was able to go back asleep for a couple of hours but it scared the hell out of me at the time. I remembered hearing something about this condition before so I Googled it and ended up finding this page through Wikipedia. It was one of the weirdest and scariest things I’ve ever experienced. I am 46 years old, male.

  23. I’ve experienced EHS the first time about 5 years ago..I’m 48. I had been suffering from severe insomnia and some major stress. The first time it happened it sounded like an explosion along with a bright light. I seriously thought I had just died. When I opened my eyes and took in my surroundings I obviously wasn’t dead. I thought, what the heck just happened? I was so terrified I was afraid to go back to sleep. I never told anyone. Then it happened again, sometimes​ several times in a night, the same sound, same light. I researched it and discovered I wasn’t alone or crazy. When I talked to my doc about it he looked at me like I had 3 heads and was off my rocker. I finally talked to my husband about it. That’s when he told me he had it happen once and he described it a bit different, more of a door slam and no light. Well I was a bit relieved at that time. Then I had to go for a sleep study for apnea. So… Nervously I put on my phone paperwork in the part that asks for medical problems…Exploding head syndrome. The doc looked at me asked…How long have you had this? I excitedly replied….YOU MEAN THIS IS REAL???? Yes he said, and reassured me I was not nuts or going to die from it. He explained that very little is known or understood about it. Over the past 5 years it has happened multiple times… Recently it was 3 times​ in a row, but this wS the first time it wasn’t as loud. When it first happened though…I was scared beyond anything in my life. Thanks to all for sharing your stories…Glad to know Im not alone.

  24. I am 45/f. I have been experiencing this usually as I wake with increasing frequency for about 8 years. Definitely a correlation to stress level. My mother’s sister had a severe stroke 8 years ago while alone. She was well past the TPA window when I found her and I have been her advocate, caregiver, insurance wrangler, social security wrangler, pension wrangler, chauffeur, housekeeper, cook, bookkeeper, handyman, activities director, etc since (with a grand total of just shy of 6 weeks off in 8 years). In addition, I lost my mother to breast cancer 5 years ago and my father has end stage esophageal cancer now. I have no personal life, no job, no health insurance, lots of debt, and no prospects. I fully expect to inherit *nothing* from the aunt that I have been 24/7 unpaid caregiver for, for all these years. I get no support (financial or otherwise) from her, our family, or her friends aside from a room in her home and no household utility bills. I literally sell my blood plasma while she’s attending aphasia therapy groups in order to keep my mobile phone on and buy groceries for myself. In other words, I have enough stress for 10 people, there is little I can do to alleviate it as she can’t be left alone and everyone pitches a fit when I tell them that either I must be paid *something* or she needs to pay someone to stay with her while I find and then work a job. (Their objection is that she’d pay a service more than I would make at a job, but my time isn’t worth pay to them.) I feel trapped because the other option is for her to go into nursing care (which nobody wants).

    Olay, venting like mad. Point was, crazy levels of stress and EHS. Mine (as I am waking) usually seems to be filtered through whatever I might have dreamed on a given night. So I might interpret the noise as pounding at the door, a tree limb falling on the roof, or, as this morning, a heavy book dropped on the floor. Or any number of other things.

  25. I’ve been experiencing loud bangs such as the sound of a door slamming or a gunshot that typically wakes me up from a deep sleep. I have been on and off antidepressants and other medications for bipolar for 20 years. Currently taking gabapentin and Zoloft. It is a scary sensation and makes me feel like im losing my mind.

  26. I am 37 years old and I have had about 3 to 4 episodes. The first one was about 3 years ago and extremely frightening. There was a loud bang, I envisioned a white light and even felt the bed sink below me. I could have sworn it was an actual bomb. The 2nd was pretty scary too but didnt happen until a year later. Knowing was it was it was hard to fall back asleep afraid of a second episode. Finally last night was my third time and yes very frightening but I woke up knowing exactly what it was and it was no where in comparison to my first episode. I had to drink a clonazepam to go back to sleep and I was fine. I have been on antidepressants for about 12 years now. Could it possibly be a lond term side effect? Guess we will never know unless more studies are done.

  27. I just had this happen to me last night. I was about to fall asleep when there was a very loud bang that sounded like someone took a hammer to the subfloor. It scared me beyond belief and I jumped up in bed asking my husband if he had heard it… of course he didn’t and told me it was probably one of the dogs. Definitely wasn’t it! I recently lost my mom about a month ago and have had problems with falling asleep. Glad to know I’m not the only one that has experienced something like this. 31/F

  28. Does anyone have the jerks with this. I’m about to fall a sleep and bang followed by my entire body jerks. Best way to explain it I guess

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