Weird Feelings in my Head (Tingly, Brain Zaps, Anxiety) When Falling Asleep

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You’ve probably never considered the process of how you go from being awake to asleep. Most of us assume that we simply drift off to sleep and that there’s a clear distinction between our conscious and unconscious states.

However, it turns out that the brain undergoes a shutdown process as we enter sleep mode. Scientists are still figuring out all the intricacies of this process, but one thing is clear: a lot of factors can affect how we fall asleep, ranging from the stress of our day, chemical imbalances in our brain, and even illness.

In this article, we’ll share what we’ve discovered in our research about those weird feelings you get, including brain zaps, when you’re trying to fall asleep.

Weird Feelings when Trying to Fall Asleep

Breathing Difficulties

A lot of strange stuff happens to us as we drift off to dreamland, including breathing difficulties. Sometimes you may feel tightness in your chest, while other times it could feel like you’re choking. It may seem like there’s something caught in the back of your throat or your mouth has become excessively dry.

Sinking or Dropping

This feeling is particularly scary and jars you from the brink of sleep into being wide awake all over again. Usually, you’ll be jolted awake by the sensation that you’re dropping off a cliff, or you’ve just had a fall and are about to experience a painful landing. The relief when you realize it wasn’t real is palpable.

A Throbbing Headache

Headaches are the worst, aren’t they? You may have felt perfectly normal, and then the second you’re horizontal the pain sets in. Even with your eyes closed, there’s an incessant throbbing. Some people describe the feeling as similar to a migraine, which if you’ve ever had one of those before is debilitating.

A Sense of Panic or Worry

It’s not just your to-do list rattling through your mind. A sense of panic or worry as you’re falling asleep is often involuntary. Some random thought in the back of your mind has suddenly decided to cut in line and dominate your brain. Not only will this trigger you awake, but it’s likely to prevent you from falling back to sleep any time soon.

worried woman

Urge to Scratch

As we fall asleep, our brain and body are in constant communication as shutdown mode ensues. One of the steps in this communication process is your brain signaling your body to move as a test to see if it’s awake. The reason this happens is that when you’re asleep, many of your motor functions are inactive to prevent you from acting out your dreams during REM sleep.

So, when this “test message” is sent, you may get the urge to scratch, move or roll over. It’s a signal to your brain that the body is not yet asleep.

Moving Quickly

This involuntary jerking is often related to prescription medications or a vitamin deficiency. It can also be a sign of restless leg syndrome. It’s not usually serious. Often, you’ll get these twitching sensations when you’re experiencing sleep deprivation.

Brain Zaps

These are also referred to as brain shivers or shocks, as well as electrical shocks. They’re often described as a jolt or a “buzz in the head.” They may be experienced in conjunction with flashes of bright light, vertigo, nausea, throat tension or tinnitus.

Anxiety

You may feel something similar to a panic attack, especially if there’s something on your mind that’s causing you to worry. You may not even be aware that it’s the source of anxiety. When we’re awake, our minds tend to focus on more immediate tasks and threats, but as we go to sleep, our subconscious could alert us to other thoughts to mull over.

What Causes these Feelings?

Anxiety Attacks

Heart palpitations, sweating, trembling and shortness of breath are all symptoms of an anxiety attack. There are other signs as well, but these are a few of the most common. Naturally, if you’re in the throes of a panic attack while you’re going to bed, it’s going to cause all sorts of weird feelings as you’re trying to sleep.

Sleeping Disorder

You may be suffering from a sleeping disorder that’s causing weird feelings to happen to you when trying to fall asleep. Sleep apnea could cause shortness of breath while restless legs syndrome could cause twitching and movement. Another condition, exploding head syndrome, could be responsible for your brain zaps. The good news is that addressing the source of the sleep disorder could make these feelings go away.

Sleep Deprivation

Whether you’re on an unconventional schedule or you’ve got insomnia, sleep deprivation could trigger all sorts of unexpected consequences, including all of the weird feelings described above. When we don’t get the shuteye that we need on a nightly basis, our brains begin to rewire themselves and produce hormones and chemicals at levels not designed for long-term equilibrium.

woman is suffering from insomnia

Sleeping Environment

When you’re in an unfamiliar place, like a hotel or friend’s house, your body is on high alert and could experience levels of anxiety that could trigger weird feelings and electrical head shocks. If you tend to experience this phenomenon when you’re in a strange room, travel with something that reminds you of your bedroom at home, like a pillow or familiar blanket to help ease your mind.

Illnesses

Some illnesses and parasites could be responsible. In fact, Lyme Disease is one of the culprits, especially when it comes to brain zaps. Before you panic, note that this is rare. If you’re concerned, consult with your doctor.

What Causes Brain Zaps?

One of the primary causes is withdrawal from medications that regulate serotonin and GABA levels in the brain. So, if you’ve recently stopped taking an antidepressant, benzodiazepines (for muscle relaxation and anxiety), MDMA (also known as ecstasy), or Adderall (for ADD and ADHD), then you are more likely to experience these zaps.

You probably already know that serotonin is a happiness and sleep chemical, but you might not have heard of GABA before reading this article. It stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, and its role in the brain is to “calm” activity in the brain. It’s believed that low or insufficient levels of GABA could cause a mild (not threatening) seizure that is, in reality, a brain zap.

How to Reduce Nighttime Anxiety

Identify Your Worries

Since anxiety is a known trigger, make an effort to reduce the amount that you worry, especially before bed. Think about what’s causing you to feel this way and write down ideas for solutions. Remember, tomorrow is a new day, and you can reset and start anew.

Meditate

Meditation is an effective way to clear the mind and put your worries in context. There are free guided meditation videos to listen to on YouTube, or you may find that an ASMR video triggers more pleasant sensations and helps you fall asleep without incident.

If you meditate while lying down in bed, don’t be surprised if you fall asleep. Voila, problem solved!

woman is meditating

Seek Help

If these weird feelings and head shocks are a nightly occurrence and they’re affecting your ability to sleep, talk with your physician. There could be an underlying problem, or you may need to resume taking medication if you’ve recently stopped a prescription. You may need to work with a psychiatrist if you have a chemical disorder, or your primary care physician could be the best place to start for more general questions.

Conclusion


If you’ve stumbled across this article looking for the answer to explain your weird feelings and brain zaps, know that you are not alone. There are countless people also experiencing this, but not a lot of them are talking about it.

Partly, it’s because these sensations are difficult to describe, and another reason is that the root cause isn’t known with complete certainty. There are definite triggers, though, so hopefully, this post has given you some helpful tips to reduce these incidences.

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Author: Sarah Cummings

I think we’re all nerds, but I’m probably the biggest nerd in the group. Put me nose deep in a spreadsheet and I'll start smiling.

I love to travel, hang out with positive people, and love cycling when I find the time!

My hope is that everyone who visits our site will walk away with a fresh perspective. I think too many people in society downplay the importance of sleep. In my opinion, it’s the difference between an average life and an amazing one.

16 Comments
  1. Reply
    nathan c August 4, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    hi!!
    thank you so much for this post its really given me somthing to go on as iv been trying to explain the trouble im having while trying get skme sleep..
    i honestly never thought of the term brain zaps but it bang on the feeling i was say electric shocks to my wife and she looked at me like i was a weirdo..
    now i know im nkt the only one il seek hell frkm my doctor..
    again thank you

  2. Reply
    Quaashie October 31, 2018 at 9:05 pm

    How can u treat this

  3. Reply
    Ayman November 2, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    Finally I find something talking about me.
    When I want to sleep and start thinking about anything, an electric shock in my brain feeling beginns. And it comes suddenly when Iam thinking in a deep thoughts.
    And I am really suffering. So I’ve started hating the time I want to sleep.
    Also I ve never told anyone about it.

  4. Reply
    Christine November 14, 2018 at 8:09 am

    I just looked this up because i felt tingly and anxious, and when i calmed and tried to sleep again i saw clustered spots and it worried me, this helps put my mind at ease that it wasn’t what my mind ran too

  5. Reply
    Monte Goins November 27, 2018 at 9:13 am

    I have started feeling this way over the past couple months and it has gotten worse. Do you recommend seeing a Family Dr first. I need to get some sleep

    • Reply
      Sarah Cummings December 3, 2018 at 8:36 pm

      Hi Monte, thanks for reaching out. We definitely recommend seeing a family doctor and telling him or her about your sleep issues. They might be able to recommend a sleep specialist, if that is necessary. Best of luck and hope you’re getting your Vitamin Zzz’s soon.

  6. Reply
    Claudia January 6, 2019 at 2:08 am

    I am experiencing something very weird. I can fall sleep on naps or the car but if I am in bed at night time or ina closes dark room having a massage and I am about to fall sleep, my heart beats pretty hard and makes me get up suddenly with some sort of a panic feeling so I need to get up and walk around and wait until it goes away or I get so exhausted that I finally fall sleep….help!

    • Reply
      Sarah Cummings January 7, 2019 at 4:02 pm

      Claudia. We’d recommend taking your concerns to your doctor, as he or she is in a better position to evaluate your symptoms and propose a solution. We wish you all the best.

  7. Reply
    Mrs durham January 8, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    Hi my son has been complaining of weired things going on in his head he said it feels like his head is going into a fit. He also thinks he has got anxiety could this be brain zaps?
    Thankyou

    • Reply
      Sarah Cummings January 14, 2019 at 4:17 pm

      We highly suggest discussing your son’s health issues with his doctor as he’s more familiar with his history and can give a more accurate assessment. Thanks for reaching out!

  8. Reply
    Eric February 5, 2019 at 8:27 am

    I’ve been having brain zaps more frequently lately as well as other symptoms of anxiety. I had the hard time trying to describe brain zaps before knowing what the term was but the best way I was able to describe what it felt like is when you’re in your car listening to the radio and you pass under a transmission tower and the station fuzzes out for a second with loud static sound. Sometimes it can feel very loud like a pop… Another symptom I feel while trying to sleep flashes of images. Imagine watching a slide show of random photos where each photo may or may not relate to the next. But this slide show is set to 0.1 second per frame and there is no way to focus on one image. Or imagine riding the boat in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where the random images are displayed on the wall of the tunnel. But this happens as I’m trying to sleep. Just curious is there is a term for this that I could research further?

    • Reply
      Sarah Cummings February 11, 2019 at 4:52 pm

      Could you be thinking of hypnagogic hallucinations? As with any health concern, your doctor may be able to point you in the most productive direction towards understanding and alleviating your symptoms. Best of luck to you!

  9. Reply
    Moayad February 12, 2019 at 5:34 am

    hi all

    happy to be here with you…

    my symptoms started in 2015 – May, I used to have falling down from somewhere high once I lye down to sleep, then I have experienced a burn sensation on my head skin so couldn’t even touch my head. later on Tingling started to bang my head regularly during the day and increased when try sleeping!!

    i don’t know how i gonna go on forward with my life with all of this pain especially my sleeping which i missed it’s taste since 4 years!!

    Hamdan

  10. Reply
    M February 22, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    Hi. Thank you for this. Your article felt like a big hug. I have been experiencing the brain zaps since forever. And it has gotten stronger. I experience it even when even when I’m out walking in a crowdy place. How i would describe it is like having one of those insect zappers with the purple light in your head. And it’s always on. Small insects being zapped are constant and I don’t like it but those are better than when the big insects come. It jolts me like I’d get a heart attack. I have discussed it with a doctor before but she has no clue and dismissed it as nothing. I’m not happy that others are experiencing the same but it is kind of reassuring that I am not alone.

  11. Reply
    John February 28, 2019 at 7:58 am

    Ayman,
    Unfortunately I am experiencing the same problem. It is very difficult to describe. I truly feel like I am losing my mind. I hate the way I feel. And it ALWAYS happens right before I go to sleep.
    Thanks for posting.

  12. Reply
    M March 3, 2019 at 10:31 am

    I look into this from time to time… I get sleep pararlyis here and there as a an adult but I clearly remember getting violent electric jolts to the back of my head as a kid on a regular basis while sleeping and I kept that to myself. It’s only now with the internet I see it was not just me.

    Brain zaps is a mild term …whatever you call them… they can have zero to do with withdrawals or coming off a medication. I had them when I was around 10 and for years as a child and still get them but not as often as I did as a kid on no meds whatsoever.

    Mine were not “brain zaps” they were full voltage lightning strikes to the left lower side of my head above my neck. They were ridiculously strong. Now I think I was most likely having seizure episodes although I’ve never been diagnosed. I’m 50 now and haven’t seen a doctor since I was a kid.

    I’m an oddity but I’m putting this out there because this phenomenon is not just a withdrawal side effect. I grew up with it as a healthy athletic kid on zero meds. It’s a freaky scary thing. Good luck.

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