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.

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.

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.


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


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.

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.

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.

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.

View Comments (107)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 .

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.