Exploding Head Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

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.

What Causes Exploding Head Syndrome?

There are various theories as to what might cause Exploding Head Syndrome. For instance, some scientists have speculated that Exploding Head Syndrome 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. (1)

Because of the benign nature of Exploding Head Syndrome, 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 counseling may also help to alleviate symptoms.

More on Exploding Head Syndrome: 

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. (2) 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.

Who Gets Exploding Head Syndrome

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. (3)

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.

How to Treat Exploding Head Syndrome exploding head syndrome (EHS)

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 sleep 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. Exploding Head Syndrome may lead to secondary insomnia.

One medication that has been used to treat exploding head syndrome is clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant. (4)

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.

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160 thoughts on “Exploding Head Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

  1. Ellie Reply

    I’ve experienced this every once in a while for pretty much as long as I can remember. I’ve never had the zap everyone here is talking about, but I’ve heard the noises. It’s usually someone shouting my name, but sometimes I hear a loud bang, too. Hard to tell if there’s a flash with it, because I’m synesthetic so I probably wouldn’t notice it as something out of the order for a loud noise. For some reason, the scariest ones I can remember sound like my name is being shouted through a box fan and like the speed of the sound has been slowed just enough to give it horror movie vibes.
    Also, not sure if it’s related, but ever since i was about six, I have these weird out-of-body experiences, (though, those only happen once every couple years or so,) where I can feel myself floating and then everything starts spinning really fast, until it wakes me up. It doesn’t sound related on paper, but the way it feels is kinda similar, if that makes sense.

  2. paul Reply

    It’s happened to me once, about six years ago – I was 56 years old.
    As I was falling asleep, my bedroom was suddenly filled with a deafening noise; it sounded as if an orchestra was in the room, and each musician was making as loud and as discordant a noise as they could. (Not that an orchestra would fit into my bedroom, by the way, but you get the idea).
    I didn’t try to move, so not sure if I was paralysed or not – I understand that that’s often a feature of EHS. I wondered if I was ill, maybe having a heart attack, but I wasn’t in pain.
    Then I had a sensation as if 40,000 volts went through me, from the top of my skull to the soles of my feet, and I felt as if I was vibrating like a guitar string – quite a euphoric sensation.
    It stopped as abruptly as it had started. I looked to my right and my wife was fast asleep, so all in my head, as I’d suspected. Very strange indeed!
    It was a bit of a relief to discover that there was such a thing as EHS – I’d worried that it might be symptomatic of something.

  3. Jan Reply

    I had a few very frightening episodes over a number of years. The first was terrifying – I had flown from Adelaide to Sydney then to Fiji. Too little sleep, too much food and wine. I woke up in the middle of the night , I swear I was a foot off the bed- fireworks, big bang – palpitations and panic. Over the years I have had more episodes but nothing for about 12 months. I have sleep apnea (wasn’t diagnosed at that time). Saw a neurologist about a year ago, paid a fortune – nothing since!

  4. Cherry Reply

    I experienced exploding head sounds when I was on Xyrem (a medication to treat narcolepsy cataplexy) this only happened when I was sleep walking, it caused me to wake up in a very confused state. I would feel an extremely loud buzzing in myhead along with a blinding flash of light. The explosions stopped after Xyrem was discontinued by my doctor due to sleep walking accidents and injuries.

  5. Terence Reply

    I had this happen last night, its not the first time. Within moments of falling asleep, I hear fizzing, see bright flashing lights. I also feel like someone is pulling the bedding off of me. The worse is the jerking movements and pulsating lobes. I also feel i cannot move as i try to awake, what seems like a polar opposite of the real life surroundings, fighting to open my eyes but seeing if that makes sense? I tend to get up, albeit confused hot and sweaty with palpitations. I have issues sleeping as i tend to wake up probably 50 times a night or more. I have seen a doctor to be diagnosed with sleep apnea, but do think that is a cause as i am a horrendous snorer. I installed an app on phone that records sleep patterns by recording the breaks in silence and the noise of gasping for air and my ex- partner had even told me i stop breathing for long periods and then start up again. Hearing it for myself it sounds pretty horrific. Regarding the buzzing and fizzing and flashing lights, it is random and starts almost as soon as i drift off, it happens often and can start again quickly even when I go back to sleep within that period. Its quite scary.

  6. Joel Duran Reply

    I stumbled upon this accidentally when I was searching for something else. My experience that feels like this was when I was 10 years old. I remember this its so lucid it’s honeslty very funny looking back. As a child I would always watch the movie “behind enemy lines” with Owen Wilson (still my favorite movie of all time). I would have the television on all the way for the explosions to have more umf, im a child I love loud noises, guns, explosions, you know normal kid stuff. I’ve finished watching the movie for the 100th time and I was falling sleeping on my sisters lap. I was drifting in and out of consciousness when I swear I heard a helicopter noise;flying right above centered. The only way I can explain is if your in a cinema with surround sound with the speakers dialed at 11 out of nowhere. By then I look around because Im confused, I can’t pay attention to what my sister is saying because is so loud. I shoot up because im scared. Im so scared I start to think im in a warzone. The thumping starts turning into explosions almost machine gun like noises. I literally ran to the restroom jumped into the bathtub in a panic. My sister kept asking what was wrong but all I told her was nothing. I literally felt like I experienced someone elses trauma. Everything I read from this post made me feel like I finally found what happened to me because its wasn’t schizophrenia the visuals where intense but I wasn’t hallucinating I could still see reality, but I was confused by the noise that it triggered my flight or fight response. Thank you to whoever took the time to read this It feels really great to post to an organization that have interest in brain activity. Its really cool. P.S. I never stopped watching war movies after this happened!!!

  7. externalydone Reply

    use wax good earplugs when you go to sleep. It will make a difference. go to a swimming pool and get into the water gently. then go to the deep side of the pool and slowly submerge yourself. try to check if you can get past ten feet deep. you might experience severe pain on one side of your head.

  8. Sschnëizel Reply

    Oh Gosh… I’m a 25 years old male and I experienced this two nights ago. I laid down to sleep and a few minutes later when I’m already relaxed and not really thinking or feeling anything, POOOW! A Loud, quick bang, maybe as quick as a blink. At that very moment I lifted my head slightly, confused, I was sure the noise came right from the center of my brain so I was just waiting if there was going to be any pain, any sensation at all, nothing. I then started thinking “Okay, something wrong just happened, let’s try moving my toes, now my feet, legs, arms are moving fine, alright I’m fine.”
    A big sigh later, went back trying to sleep, still wondering though it didn’t take long to fall asleep again.
    Veery curious… I had no idea this was a thing, and that there’s so little information on it.
    Anyway thank god for the internet.

  9. Carol Reply

    I’m not sure if I am experiencing the same problem. It only happens if I have a nap which I rarely do because this is the most frightening experience ever. I am sure that I am having heart attack or seizure. My body freezes and everything goes numb. There is buzzing sensation in my ears and I fight the desire to give into the sensation of being pulled somewhere I don’t want to go and I’m sure that this is it, times up. I can’t move or speak until I manage to become wide awake. I feel wretched afterwards. It has happened 4-5 times in recent years. It has never happened when I’m lying down. I have multiple sleep disorders and think there is a connection, but even parasomnia seems mild compared to these symptoms.

  10. DL Reply

    So interesting. For many months I experienced what I thought was newspapers being delivered in the early hours. A repetitive sound, a pile of papers slamming on the road every few seconds. Or maybe like a machine noise banging reptetitively. Then I realized when I fully roused that there was NO sound, it was only in my half asleep state. Little scary until I found this syndrome. I’m sorry that for some people it’s much worse and very scary!

  11. Alan Frost Reply

    I found about EHS a couple of weeks ago, I have experienced EHS for a mumber of years (I’m 57 yoa) and it terrified me thinking war had broken out or someone letting a bomb off, sometimes I would (see) flashes at the same time.
    A fortnight ago I decided to google ‘exploding head’ and when it came up as something real I was instantly relieved as I read into it. It is no longer worrying but it does jolt my whole body sometimes giving me the feeling my heart has just done a restart, I do have a slight misbeat that is being investigated.
    Also someone mentioned here that She heard Her Name being called, I have heard my Name being called very clearly in a male tone to which I do answer but I never have had a response so far….

  12. AH Reply

    As I’m falling asleep I can feel a lightness sensation in my head and sometimes my stomach. Then suddenly my breath is taken by a zap that happens in my head. Sometimes the shock sensation travels to other areas of my body. I often scream not just out of fear (because it happens so often and I’m use to it it) but to expel air from my lungs immediately gives me some sense of relief. I was glad to be diagnosed finally. Feeling uncertain and scared about it has really been bringing me down. Feeling like you are hallucinating and having your head electrocuted every night is not fun. It’s also not sexy.

  13. alan Reply

    I started having this a few months ago and it went away,its now back and seems to be connected to a blocked right ear which i am treating with bicarbonate solution.
    It seems to me that the breakdown of earwax causes a vibration which is translated by the brain as a bang and the brain reacts not choosing a side for the source of the noise so it sounds like its in the centre of your brain.anyway thats my theory earwax breakdown.

  14. Aniko Maier Reply

    I have explosions in my head while sleeping. Happens day and night time without a nightmare. I wake up screaming. I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m taking 2mg clonazepam for years and stopped having this explosions. But it started again and afraid to go back to sleep

    • Donna Reply

      Try sleeping almost sitting up with lots of pillows. Really helped my EHS.

    • Donna Reply

      Try sleeping almost sitting up. I prop myself up with pillows. This has helped me so far. I was to the point where I would try anything rather than hearing thuds and gunshots every other night!!

  15. BONI Reply

    So what about loud like screaming,blaring noises that keep you from sleeping or wake you up from dreams?

  16. Julie Reply

    Really didn’t imagine there was a name for this!
    There is no pattern to my experiences but over the year’s I have had loud bangs (usually just singular ones) voices including hearing my name and them most common one is the phone ringing.Interesting to read other people’s experiences and to now it’s not just me

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