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Exploding Head Syndrome is a condition that is classified as a parasomnia (sleep disorder) in which a person experiences episodes of imagined sounds or sensations. While EHS (as Exploding Head Syndrome is often referred to) is not known to be dangerous, this type of rare parasomnia can create a scary perception of loud, explosive noises. Sleepers can be awoken at once with strong arousal due to the intense nature of these perceived noises.
Exploding Head Syndrome is not only associated with sound; episodes can also include flashes of light. These episodes are only momentary, typically lasting less than a second. The cause is not entirely understood— though there are some theories. The condition affects an estimated 10 to 18 percent of the population, so if you're confused about why this is occurring, you're in good company.
EHS is an auditory hallucination in which the person who is experiencing the condition will hear a sudden loud noise as they fall asleep or begin to wake up. However, the noise is not real, no one else can perceive it, and patients often report that it sounds like it's coming from inside their head. In addition to noise, some patients will report bright flashes of light; so if these sound similar to your experiences, you may be suffering from exploding head syndrome.
This condition is also referred to as “episodic cranial sensory shock,” which, in layman's terms, means an occasional shock in the head or skull involving one of the senses. This condition is classified as a sleep-related disorder, primarily because it's disruptive to the sufferer's sleeping patterns.
Sounds and visuals associated with EHS include:
Besides all that is listed above, incidences may include other loud noises or visuals as well.
The most commonly reported symptom of EHS is an auditory hallucination, which is a noise that isn't real. The person with EHS hears these explosive noises, and they are loud and sudden enough to wake them from a light sleep as they're beginning to drift off. The sound can also occur as the patient is starting to awaken.
These noises occur free from any sensation or pain and generally pose no danger or risk.
In addition to the loud noises, EHS sufferers may also see flashes of bright light. It's similar to the pairing of thunder and lightning. While frightening, it's merely a hallucination, and there are no real dangers or pain associated with the condition.
While normally painless, some incidents reported have included a sudden stab of pain to the head. Some individuals assume they are having a stroke when this occurs. This assumption could be due to a sudden muscle twitch happening concurrently, which is not unusual.
Right before the explosive noise, patients sometimes report that they feel an electrical sensation that begins in their torso or chest and travels up to their head. The shock sensation is then immediately followed by the loud noise.
One individual reported, “you can feel the current passing through you”. If this sounds familiar to what you experience, you could be experiencing exploding brain syndrome.
As you can imagine, a sudden, jarring noise that suddenly wakes you from sleep is bound to be accompanied by anxiety. In addition to heavier breathing and an increased heart rate, EHS sufferers also report heart palpitations and sweating, which isn't uncommon to appear alongside anxiety.
You've probably heard the expression, “my heart skipped a beat,” which is what a heart palpitation is, and it's a common after-effect of an EHS episode. Heart palpitations also include brief periods of a pounding or racing heartbeat. An increased heart rate is a natural side effect of a sudden scare.
When experiencing head explosions that are so loud and sudden in nature, it's natural that they'd be followed by an increased heart rate. Individuals often find falling back asleep after the episode to be challenging.
There's no clear answer about what causes this condition, but there are plenty of theories. One of the most logical explanations is that it's due to a malfunction in the reticular formation in the brainstem. The brainstem has an advanced network of neurons that control almost all of our bodily functions with sleep included.
When we fall asleep, our brain performs a shutdown sequence that signals parts of our body to stop functioning fully. When the communication wires get crossed, it can result in a misfire that could cause the cacophonic (but imagined) sound of a head explosion. However, that's just one theory.
A myoclonic jerk could be considered similar to a very minor seizure. Myoclonic jerks can occur singularly, in a sequence, or sporadic pattern of movement. Sometimes they occur many times per minute and sometimes just once; they rise from a brief moment of abnormal neural activity in the frontal lobe.
These spastic muscle twitches, contractions, or tightenings, are involuntary and cannot be stopped or controlled. However, unless you're experiencing other severe symptoms, they're not usually worrisome.
While there's not a direct cause and effect relationship, patients who experience EHS also report feeling more stress and anxiety in general. Discerning whether stress or anxiety cause exploding head syndrome versus exploding head syndrome being a precursor to EHS is particularly challenging, as both could be the cause of the other.
Regardless, due to the shocking nature of the condition, it's understandable why those afflicted struggle with anxiety.
People who cease taking antidepressants are at a higher risk of experiencing EHS and “brain zaps.” This is because antidepressants are known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning that they make more serotonin available to your brain. This chemical is primarily responsible for happiness, but it's also known for helping with sleep which could explain the connection.
When a person ceases taking antidepressants, serotonin levels may temporarily drop, which could disrupt sleep patterns and cause characteristic symptoms to appear.
Calcium channel dysfunction has been linked to a variety of disorders, including everything from autism to arrhythmia. Some calcium channels are found in the brain, so their dysfunction could cause a host of ailments. According to research, medications for calcium channel blocking like flunarizine and nifedipine have shown positive results in effectively reducing the frequency or elimination of EHS.
Not long ago, doctors and researchers assumed that EHS was most common in women over 50. While current evidence still suggests that the average age of those managing this condition is in the fifties, it's relatively common in young people, as well.
There are no known immediate risks; however, it could lead to poor sleep hygiene and an unhealthy lifestyle. Due to EHS's unusual nature and limited research, treatment suggestions are often theoretical and lack extensive affirmation. However, there are steps you can take which have been shown in many cases to alleviate or treat Exploding Head Syndrome.
There is currently no way to test for EHS exactly. However, there are a few techniques that have been used to help achieve a diagnosis.
Physicians will likely use their discretion to decide if any of these tests are needed for diagnosis; however, they're often not necessary due to the specific nature of EHS incidents.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is critical for overall well-being. While we don't want to instruct anybody to abstain from the occasional treat, sticking to a diet that consists of nutrient-rich whole foods are widely considered to foster physical and mental health. Some individuals who struggle with EHS claim that positive changes to their diet have significantly helped or resolved their condition.
However, more specifically, avoiding junk foods is wise advice for anything that ails you. Eating foods conducive to sleep is preferred; for example, avoiding spicy or fatty foods right before bed should help. Finally, avoid alcohol and caffeine late at night as they can both disrupt your sleep cycle.
Since there's a documented link between EHS and stress, you might find it helpful to do relaxing activities that don't involve screens before bed. Relaxing activities might be a warm bath, yoga, stretching, meditation, or a bedtime ritual like a cup of herbal tea.
Further, managing your anxiety could lead to a better life. Stress may not only be beneficial for managing EHS, but it could also have significant ties to your overall health and happiness as well.
Getting a full night of shuteye— at least seven hours— will go a long way in reducing stress and should help you sleep. Try your best to go to bed at the same time each night to keep your circadian rhythm on track. Make an effort to stow all electronic devices with bright screens out of the bedroom as well; your Instagram and emails can wait until tomorrow.
Antidepressants have been shown in many cases to help alleviate instances of EHS. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) manage pathways in the brain that regulate mood, among other essential functions, and experts believe these medications could help those who struggle with exploding head syndrome.
Few types of disorders have been tied to calcium channel dysfunction. Calcium channels are found inside the brain, and experts believe their dysfunction could be the cause of multiple conditions. Medications like flunarizine and nifedipine, which block calcium channels, have indicated positive results in effectively alleviating EHS.
Exploding head syndrome may sound so outrageous that you may fear a doctor will have no experience with the condition. However, a physician is a valuable resource and should be your first point of contact in helping you get to the bottom of your head explosion episodes. While medication is a viable option to reduce the frequency and severity of the events, your doctor may also recommend that you keep a journal to document your incidents for review.
Having a support network of people you trust and can confide in could be key in helping alleviate your episodes. The simple act of a friend or family member affirming your experience could help ease stress and foster understanding.
Further, while scary, try to remind yourself that the sound is not happening outside your brain. It’s not uncommon for this condition to go away on its own with a simple reassurance from your doctor that the condition is harmless.
This term refers to any type of sleeping disorder, except for sleep apnea. Parasomnia is often associated with disruptive sleep patterns as the body shifts from waking to sleeping or vice versa.
These patterns include sleepwalking, night terrors, disorientation, sleep eating, sleep sex, teeth grinding, talking while asleep, and restless legs syndrome. EHS is also on the list of parasomnia sleep disorders.
While people with schizophrenia may also experience this condition due to their tendency to experience hallucinations, EHS by itself is not a sign of schizophrenia.
So far, the earliest reported case of head explosions has been reported in a child who was ten years old. So, while experts believe it's not likely that a toddler will experience the condition, incidents may merely be underreported.