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

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

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.


119 Replies to “Exploding Head Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments”

  1. Neil

    Had this a few times now. I am 46 and have heard a loud dog bark, my name being shouted and loud bangs.
    Seems to come when I sleep on my left side only and it’s as if it’s right next to my left ear. Started around 4 years ago and is very irregular.

  2. Mark

    Hi I’ve been having these episodes for the last 6-9 months now, the other night was by far the worst its been, there is also a large flash too but not all the time and I can physically jolt like a electric shock has just went through me. It is just as am about to go to sleep not when I awake. I am on anti depression tablets for anxiety but have been feeling fine so I have ruled that out, I am not stressed either, I do use cannibis at night which helps with relaxing and sleep, I stress not herb form as I find it to strong, the old fashion solid form. Does anyone experience the same?

  3. Denise

    I am 49 and have had this happen intermittently for several years. Mine are slightly different in that I don’t always have the light flash or the bang but almost always have a sensation of intense blackness…in which I wonder if I have died. Very alarming. I haven’t heard of anyone else with that symptom. Surely I’m not the only one?

    • Meg

      No, you are not the only one! That’s exactly how I feel… as though I have suddenly died. As though the main power switch controlling my brain was suddenly turned off and immediately back on again. And yes, it’s as though it goes blacker than black… even without any source of light whatsoever, when my eyes are closed, it’s very dark, but when this zap occurs, it becomes darker still for that instant. Hard to describe, but I think we experience the similar sensation. I never have any negative effects afterward, fortunately, other than the momentary distress it causes. This used to occur more frequently when I was under a great deal of work related stress, long hours and extreme and prolonged sleep deprivation. I attributed it to a fight or flight reaction, too much cortisol or adrenaline or whatever. Now that I’ve retired and no longer have noisy neighbors, I get adequate sleep and this zapping seldom occurs anymore.

  4. Karri

    I experienced this a couple of years ago, and since then the EHS comes and goes. I had an EHS constant occurrence a few weeks ago and I documented all my symptoms. I’m an MS pt and I wonder if that put me at larger risk.
    I’m looking to participate in a study for this because of the value I can offer researchers. My internist was surprised to see EHS listed as a sleep disorder, although there’s a high level of fatigue associated with mine. 3 weeks ago, the 3 hour duration of explosions every few minutes caused me to send an email to my neuro, detaining every sx. When I saw my internist that week, my Eustachian tubes were both blocked, giving me the sense that some “explosions” were in stereo/bilateral.

    • Livi

      I’ve been hearing things like people screaming and I feel like it’s like a future telling sign I know that sounds completely crazy but. It sounds so real

  5. Law

    I’ve had this episode in my early 20’s when I was working the midnight shift for at least 10 hrs and missed missing a meal before going to bed. It occurred almost every day and feels like a blood vessel just popped in your head. After almost 7 years working the night shift I have switched to day shift and the episodes disappeared but I didn’t know if working night shift or bec of the episodes I had a hard time memorizing books after reading since I took some classes thereafter. A year ago I’ve had one episode but it was minor compared to what I’ve had before.

  6. Penny

    I’ve had these episodes for 40 years. I always have them during the day never associated with sleep and I can go years in between episodes.

  7. B12 and folate

    I started having episodes of this phenomenon around 13 years ago after having my first child. It would happen more frequently during times of high stress and sleep deprivation. However last year, each instance became more intense and would be happening every night several times, often accompanied by sleep paralysis. The noises would vary, but would be very loud, and accompanied by a flash of bright light and a jolt of electricity from my toes to my head.

    During the times that these symptoms increased, I found out that I was very low in b12 and folate. It took months of supplementation to get my numbers up, but what I have now noticed is that my episodes of ‘eps’ have decreased to the point that they are very rare.

    I noticed that someone had mentioned vitamin deficiency in the comments above, and just wanted to add my account in the hope that it spurs others on have their bloods taken. If your b12 is less tha 500, and you are experiencing eps, I would suggest speaking your doctor about it.

  8. Ryan

    This is very interesting.

    My only concern is that this has recently become a nightly occurrence for me, usually just as I start to fall asleep. It keeps me alert and awake for hours after it happens. Last night I was so convinced in the sound and brightness that I turned on all fours in bed as if I were looking for something. This information is a step in the right direction. As a 26 y/o male, I just want more than 3-4 hours of sleep a night and I’m not touching that.

  9. Erin

    I just experienced this for the first time last night. I had woken up and had a diffult time shutting down to go back to sleep. Thinking too much. Finally I tried to go to sleep, still feeling unsettled, I driffted off, then bang. Like a thunder clap, so loud, but I knew instantly it was in my head. It felt like every neuron fired at once. My fear was if I had a stoke or seizure. I even tested myself to make sure my face wasn’t drooping and if my speech and memory were still okay. Very powerful, brought me to search and was shocked to find this syndrome describing my exact experience. Very scary but am glad to know it should be relatively harmless. I am a 45 yo female, hoping it does not reoccur.

  10. Anonymous

    I’ve had loud bangs in my head before and also sudden jumps with my body awakening me. Two days ago, I had a very loud bang in my head together with a huge white flash and my body almost like having had a defibrillator used on it. I had no pain nor am I scared although I keep seeing things when I close my eyes, pictures and faces I cannot make out. I then looked up on google to see if there was any psychic connection and there has been, so now I don’t know what to think anymore. I am however going to a sleep clinic about my problems with sleeping. Ali

  11. Robin

    I’m 57 and I’ve had this condition for about 5 years. It scares me because I always have to make sure my gun didn’t really go off or it’s not really the door bell or my son’s not calling my name. It happens even when I fall asleep with tv on. I now turn it off because it gets confusing. Mine actually went into remission for about 2 or 3 years it just came back a couple months ago. Good luck everyone.

  12. nisha

    i dont know wheter it is expoding head sydrome or otherthing .strange thing happen with me before fall sleep.or before wake up. my head start to do.some motion like some type of current or something flowing in a rapid speed inside my head with a sound like bike or something cracking and i feel my head is going to blast in some time and some person come near me and talk with me i hear their talk they talk rapidly i only hear their voices and cracking continous flowing sound and cant see them . and finally after lots of effort i wake up and find myself normal .

  13. Joey

    This happens all the time ever since I was a teenager and only recently decided to research it. It’s very annoying and occurs up to 3 times a night, about 3 nights a week. Just as I’m falling asleep, it’s a loud sound such as a gun going off right inside my ear or a balloon popping, and it scares me half to death and jump up and everything, then when I lay back down to try to fall asleep, there is a bright light like I’ll looking directly at the sun, but it only lasts for about 5-10 seconds. And then I can’t get back to sleep because it gets me all worried like I just got some sort of sign that someone I know just died or something and me seeing the sun is like them going into the light. Then all day the next day, I’m worried and looking on Facebook to see if friends and family have posted anything and will call just to say “hi” to make sure everything is ok. It’s very very aggravating and then causes me mental distress the next day. I’m 38 now and it’s been ongoing for probably about 22 years. There is sometimes it will be months that it won’t occur though.

  14. Donald

    I’ve had EHS for over 3 years now.
    It comes and goes and at no certain time. It can be before sleep, during sleep, after sleep or even during the day.

  15. Sam

    I’m 21 year old woman and like everyone else, I’m absolutely freaked out whenit happened to me. It happened to me for two days now, Everytime I’m at the stage when I close my eyes and slowly drift into deep sleep all of a sudden I’m awaken by a loud explosion-like sound. It kept happening with every attempt to sleep about 4 or 5 times and I wish so much that it won’t happen again. The first night it happened It sounded more like a hiccup, maybe because I have a horrible cough which occurs every few minutes and sometimes continuous for few minutes. Then when it got intense, it sounded more like an explosion. It could be brought about by stress, my hideous cough, and maybe because I started taking Multivitamins and extra Calcium & Vit D vitamins. I saw in the article that sometimes it’s brought about by calcium blockers. So, I stopped both vitamins and I’m hoping tonight it will go away.

  16. lizelda

    i have notice that since i dont do much to relax i have trouble sleeping because of all the noises that only i can hear.i will jump up from sleep an tell my husband did he hear that some one is calling or loud bang.he wuld stare at me very confuse.im 45year female.thought it was my depression causing this.i must try make time to relax if it will help.

  17. Erin

    This has happened to me, off and on, for the past year now (I’m 35 y/o female), but today was the worst. It sounded like a gun shot going off in my head. Now, I’m a OIF/OEF veteran, so that’s why today was the worst. The sounds always wake me as I’m falling asleep. I always wake right up, but today I woke up and was gasping for air. It really freaked me out. Lol. I finally googled my symptoms and found this. I’m glad this is actually a thing because when I asked my sister if she’s ever experienced anything like this, she thought I was joking. Lol

  18. Cathy Smith

    I’ve been dealing with ehs for several years now. It occurs when I’m falling asleep. Mine features only a single very loud sound: door slam, cymbal crash, my name called, etc. However I’ve discovered that it seems to be positional. It happens when my head and neck are not inline with my spine as when I’m on my back, and my head falls to the side. If I take care to lay on my side and make sure that my head is inline, I don’t get the sound. Please try testing this hypothesis. I would love to know if it works for any one else.

  19. Stephen foster

    I’m 43 and I’ve had exploding head syndrome since my mid to late 30s. It’s not the same sound every time. I’ve had the zaps, booms, screams, bangs, rattles, horns, and the like. It scares the crap out if me Everytime. It’s so loud. Sometimes it paralyzes me, for a brief moment, other times I jump out of bed in fear that I am somehow dieing.

  20. Kristal

    I have had this for years now, starting in my late teens. I have heard several different sounds, including loud crashes, bangs, people yelling, and doors shutting. I have become used to these noises, & have even figured out a way to avoid them. For years I slept in absolute blackness and silence, & that’s how I preferred it. If the t.v. was on, I would find myself listening to it, and then wanting to hear how the particular show that was on ended. Lol! I hated having any sound or light. My husband started sitting up at night, in the kitchen, watching tv. The sound was just far enough away that I couldn’t make out what was on the t.v., but close enough I could still hear it on. I discovered that this was the key to stopping these noises that didn’t exist. It might work for you, or it might not, but it may be worth trying if this is really bothering you. Even a radio with light music might be of some assistance. Why it works I don’t know, but it gave me the ability to sleep while not being suddenly awoken by a nonexistent scream. I hope this helps! Sleep well!

  21. Joseph Holly

    I have suffered from exploding head syndrome for almost 5 years. I believe it started as a result of sleep deprivation. My first experience was a tremendous bang in my head along with a flash of light and it was terrifying I sat on the edge of the bed too frightened to lay down again.
    It usually occurs as I am about to fall asleep when my mind is doing strange things. I have had a head scan and seen a neurologist with no help.
    I have discovered that it can be overcome but this involves listening to a talk program on radio wearing headphones.
    Also, I have been prescribed amitriptyline and I take one each night a couple of hours before going to bed. It can be quite difficult as you have to set a level that doesn’t suddenly go loud, I have been startled on numerous occasions, I do so hope someone comes up with an answer as I’d love to just rest my head on pillow and sleep.
    If I wake early, say around five, I can usually lay down without headphones as I am maybe more relaxed.
    Joseph

  22. jaiden

    i would really like some understanding of what i’m experiencing, i am a 16 year old girl and i was just trying 2 fall asleep and right before i fell asleep i heard a very loud mans voice growl in my head. it’s very creepy and unsettling and i don’t know if i’m experiencing EHS bc it’s a growl and not something else. please help

  23. One eye open

    I’ve been awake at times when it was assumed I was asleep and have heard the same noises even someone yell my name it turns out there’s a stalker screwing with me and managed to break in my house. It would seem someone is taking advantage of their money position power and resources I’m not saying what these reports stated are untrue but it can say for sure this was an unspoken quiet investigation that took an undetermined amount of time to find this truth so try to look for other possibilities that cud contribute to ur sleep privacy. U should feel safe in ur home bed and shower. I repeat I’m NOT DISMISSING this phomenon I know for a fact it occurs good luck on ur sleep ventures. Believe I also experienced the same bizarre sleep disruptions just that there were outside forces jumping on the band wagon trying to push the stresses button think calmly and rationally and the answers will come in time record these events daily and nightly secretly if need be to get those answers. GOOD LUCK.

    SINCERELY ,
    Concerned light sleeper

  24. Dawn Kalathas

    Hi All, I have it too. Mine is a sense of explosion, like a plane crash or gas explosion. I always think I’m dead for the first split second. I have even have felt a taste of sulphur. Still happens on occasion. Think stress related

  25. Cindy

    I hear lighting & last night it was like someone was blasting my window with water. I thought I was insane!!! I started to Google loud noises in my sleep & here I am. So HAPPY to know that I’m not alone. Thanks for your stories.. SMILING

  26. Ronald Atchison

    I am 80 years old now and have had EHS for the last 15 years. It mostly happens to me when I am dreaming and if I touch something it explodes and wakes me up with my heart beating faster. Sometimes I feel as though I get an electric shock up my arm and I wake up shouting. At first it scared me but I have got used to it and can go straight back to sleep. I now have one about once every 2 months where I used to have one three or four time a week. My doctor says it is part of the brain working overtime. I sometimes have one when I have a nap during the day as well.

  27. Gayla

    So glad I found this website as soon as I started looking. I am 64 years old and had my first EHS experience two weeks ago. I was deeply asleep and dreaming when I was awakened by loud noise. I was very startled – my whole body jerked, my heartbeat very fast and shallow breathing. When I realized the sound was inside my head, I was frightened. My thought was: how can a person be startled by a sound their mind is creating? Tonight I was reading and didn’t realize I was falling asleep until the noise startled me awake. When I calmed down, I got on my computer. I am so relieved reading what others have written. I am very grateful to all of you right now.

  28. Sebastian

    The sound I always hear is 3 very loud knocks on a door. It sounds kind of like how a cop would knock. It’s happened to me 3 times, and each time it startles me awake.

    The first time I heard it I thought I was being robbed. The second time I thought someone was at my room
    or front door. Most recently I heard it, laughed, and went back to sleep. All 3 times I was getting much less sleep than usual for a period of around 3 days.

  29. Janet

    After being told by three doctors that said they had no idea what I had, I was watching Doc Martin on PBS explain to his patient that it was called “exploding head” and it was caused by stress or lack of sleep. It wasn’t long before the symptoms went away because I retired and the stress was gone.

  30. Blair

    I experienced this a lot during my teenage years at home. I would be falling asleep, not asleep yet, but would hear blasts, explosions, large bangs and occasionally a voice “yelling” from downstairs and once I heard the back door slam shut (though it really didn’t, I went and checked) – and I would wake up with tachycardia and anxiety. Eventually it went away. However I just moved back home with my parents (I am 28, going to school full time and working so they are helping me out until I graduate.) I have been home about two weeks and today as I was drifting off to sleep for a nap I could have sworn I heard my dad yell from downstairs “Anybody in this house?!” I woke up and checked the driveway, he wasn’t home. Went downstairs, just me. I mean I heard it clear as day even though I was almost asleep. I’m leaving this comment because I think it’s strange that it’s happening again when I returned home to my old room and my old bed.

  31. Connie Craig

    I have seen an Ear, Nose and Throat dr for my symptoms. I do not have a “crystal” problem. My head is continually having the sounds like cymbals and someone beating on a metal pipe with a metal wrench. Was given steroids for 10 days, no help. I can sit and read without too much noise but when I get up and start to walk or lay down to sleep, the noise starts over again. Dr. said she does not know the cause nor the remedy but it is very annoying and nothing I do can stop the noises. It is always on the right side of my head, seems like deep inside and it can go from 1 clang to 4-5 clangs and always a boom sound after the clanging stops. I really wish I could find someone that could find the cause and remedy for this noise.

  32. Benjamin

    I am a 25 year old male. Married but no children. Me and my wife work full time. She’s a teacher and I work in EMS. I live an active lifestyle, run, bike, lift etc. I can run a 5 min mile blah blah. Active, healthy, alcohol is minimal to none and no medication other than antacid for acid reflux. At night when I lay down for bed, I start to fall asleep. As I’m falling asleep, my head feels like it’s about to explode. Literally. My head is a kettle of hot water, and steam is rolling out of my ears. Some nights it’s like someone shot a gun off next to my ears. Sometimes it sounds like someone slamming doors. Big boom sounds. I’ve also had experiences with sleep paralysis. My wife knows nothing of it. I’m not crazy, I’m well educated and concerned from what little is known. I love the human body but damn it’s scary as crap! If I told her this she would think i am crazy. Although, she’s very understanding and I don’t want to worry her…

    • Blair

      maybe tell your wife, at least she would be able to research it and read about it. I thought I was crazy until I read other people experienced it too.

  33. David

    I’ve been experiencing the brain zaps while falling asleep for years. I’m not claiming to be an expert on the condition but I’ve got years of experience in dealing with them. At first I was concerned even scared. Thought something was terribly wrong but never sought counseling from a doctor. I fought them early on. Always jumping up and opening my eyes to make them stop. Now on to what I related them to and how I use them to my advantage. I’ve always been a vivid dreamer with the occasional ability to lucid dream. I won’t go into storylines in my dreams but one in particular that was reoccurring had me levitating off my bed every time I closed my eyes to try and fall asleep. At the time I didn’t realize that I was already asleep and dreaming. It was a different dream about a year later that my new girlfriend woke me up from when I realized what was happening. Now back to the brain zaps. I finally correlated the two incidents and began the process of riding it out to see where it would take me. It was difficult to say the least since the electrical zaps where powerful. With patience and practice I began to fall asleep and understand that these zaps meant I was already asleep. From that realization forward I began to control or lucid dream on a nightly basis. For those of you concerned about this condition I’ll tell you this. You are already asleep and just starting to dream when you experience this. REM sleep doesn’t always happen hours after you fall asleep and it’s not a requirement for your brain to project its subconscious. My advice is to use this signal from your brain as a tool to explore endless possibilities in the world of your subconscious. Don’t fight it or worry about it. Enjoy it. Most people don’t have a precursor that alesrts them to the possibility of being able to control a dreams course. Hope my experiences help and happy dreams.

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