What Is Exploding Head Syndrome?

Although its name is very vivid, exploding head syndrome isn't painful.

It's where you hear a loud noise right before you fall asleep or wake up -- and other people don't hear it. It may sound like fireworks, a bomb exploding, or a loud crash. Some people have described it as a gunshot, cymbals crashing, or a lightning strike.

Even though it doesn't hurt, it can cause confusion. As it's happening, you may think you're in the midst of a heart attack or stroke.

Sometimes, you might just hear a loud sound. Other times, you may also have a flash of light or a muscle twitch at the same time.

Episodes could come every so often. You may hear several sounds in one night. You could have a lot of them in a short period, then none for a long time.

Causes

Researchers don't know much about exploding head syndrome. There are different opinions about its cause. Some scientists think it could be:

The loud noise you hear may not be exploding head syndrome. It could be a result of something else, like:

Who Gets It

Experts don't know how many people have exploding head syndrome. Women are more likely to have it than men.

People older than 50 are more likely to have it. Kids as young as 10 get it, too.

Diagnosis

A sleep medicine specialist can help figure out if you have it. They'll ask:

  • When the sounds started
  • How often they happen
  • How long they last

Be sure to tell your doctor about any other sleep problems you have. They'll need to know about any medicines you take and if you have any other health problems.

If you do have sleep problems, a sleep diary could help to chart your sleeping patterns.

Usually, there aren't tests for exploding head syndrome. But your doctor may want you to do an overnight sleep study if you have sleep problems. It tracks your heartbeat, breathing, and brainwaves while you sleep. It also records how your body moves. The study can help discover if the sounds you hear are due to another sleep disorder.

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Treatment

Clomipramine, an antidepressant, is a common treatment for exploding head syndrome. Calcium channel blockers may also help. See your doctor if you think you need medicine for it.

You can do some things that may help. For example, if you tend to have more episodes when you're stressed, you can find ways to ease your anxiety. Try:

  • Yoga
  • Listening to relaxing music
  • Reading
  • A warm bath before bed

If they seem to happen when you don't get enough sleep, try to get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep each night.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on February 07, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Sleep Association: "Exploding Head Syndrome."

American Academy of Sleep Medicine: "Exploding Head Syndrome."

Sharpless, B. Unusual and Rare Psychological Disorders, Oxford University Press, 2016.

Cephalalgia: "Exploding head syndrome: Six new cases and review of the literature."

Sleep Medicine Reviews: "Exploding head syndrome."

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