Exploding head syndrome is not a condition in which your head literally blows into a million pieces with no warning.
Instead, it is a rare yet moderately serious sleep disorder in which an individual hears loud noises erupting inside their own mind for no discernible reason.(1)
Usually, the sounds occur during the moments when a person has first fallen asleep, or they’re in the early stages of a regular sleeping period.(2)
What Are The Signs And Symptoms?
• cymbals clashing
• piercing screams
• bombs exploding
• dishes crashing
• one’s name being shouted
• alarms buzzing
• roaring sounds
• whips cracking
• doors slamming
• animal noises
– these are a few of the types of sounds a person can hear inside their mind when they are stricken with exploding head syndrome.(3)
But after the initial disturbing sound occurs and the person rises from their bed to investigate, nothing can be detected in the house that might have triggered the noise.
Hence the individual must come to the conclusion that they have merely “imagined” the sound.
Obviously, this type of sleep disorder is not a pleasant experience and much anxiety can be induced in the individual (after the noise is heard it’s common for sufferers to awake in a cold sweat, panting, with their hearts pounding).
A few people with exploding head syndrome have stated they must rise and watch television or play computer games or distract themselves in some other fashion until the feelings of anxiety subside.(4,5)
If regular sleeping patterns are continually disrupted, a dread or avoidance of going to sleep may arise in the individual.
What is Exploding Head Syndrome?
Exploding head syndrome is classified as a “parasomnia” disorder, which simply means abnormal behaviors or perceptions are taking place while an individual is either about to fall asleep or already in one of the various sleep stages.(6)
Exploding head syndrome is not a well-documented disorder since most people are apprehensive about telling a medical professional about their symptoms for fear of not being taken seriously, or not being believed.
A few sufferers have reported instances of bright lights going off at the instant the loud noises occur, while others experience involuntary muscle jerks.(3)
But usually, there is no physical pain associated with exploding head syndrome, which separates it from being the result of an intense headache, such as a migraine.
Some individuals with the condition have thought they were having a stroke while they were asleep.(7)
But the good news is that exploding head syndrome is not typically a long-term illness.
Usually, the “attacks” are infrequent or spaced out and happen only once or twice a week, after which they suddenly stop entirely.
Although some sufferers have reported having one or two attacks, then being free of them for several months, while others have reported large clusters of intense attacks occurring over just a few nights.(2)
The main causes of exploding head syndrome are thought to be high levels of stress or extreme levels of fatigue, but the root cause of the problem remains unknown.(7)
Some researchers believe exploding head syndrome can be traced to problems with the “middle ear,” or small seizures occurring in the “temporal lobe” region of the brain.(8)
Other medical professionals have pinpointed the problem to a fault with the “eustachian tube,” which is a passage connecting the throat to the middle ear, which is what “pops” in your head while you’re on an airplane that is changing altitude rapidly, or inside of a fast-moving elevator (the popping noise is your head and body equalizing its internal pressure).
However, these are only theories concerning the cause of exploding head syndrome and nothing has been proven thus far since no rigorous scientific experiments have been carried out.
Concerning other unproven theories, sufferers from exploding head syndrome have provided their own opinions of what is occurring when they hear the disturbing noises:(9,10,11)
#1 The sounds are calcium deposits being fractured inside the ear.
#2 A noise could be a loud SNORE and whatever “topic” the individual is dreaming about gets translated into a certain sound associated with the subject matter (e.g. a person dreaming of falling off a building will snore at the moment of “impact” and transform the sound into a crashing noise).
#3 One sufferer experienced an electrical sensation deep within their brain while hearing the noises and believed the electronic gadgets in their home were “harassing” their brain waves in some fashion.
#4 Another individual believed the sounds were linked to taking certain prescribed drugs and medications.
Again, these are only unproven theories from people suffering from the condition and nothing has been proven in any way.
Precise treatments are currently unknown for exploding head syndrome, but telling a person that it isn’t an especially dangerous disorder or a long-term one, is usually enough to comfort them so that the noises gradually subside.(1)
However, a few doctors have thought exploding head was serious enough to prescribe the anti-depressant clomipramine.(12)
If a person’s sleep is seriously being interfered with, a doctor may recommend having a sleep study conducted over night.
During the sleep study, they will monitor the individual’s;
- heart beat
- breathing patterns
- study their brain waves
- and watch any twitching of muscles
all in the hope of determining what might be going wrong while the person is asleep.
If stress is causing exploding head syndrome, remedies include practicing yoga, listening to calm music, having a hot relaxing shower before bedtime, and even changing jobs if your occupation is particularly stressful.
One case that could be classified as exploding head syndrome occurred with a cook in a “greasy spoon” restaurant.
The cook would regularly stay out “partying” all night, drinking and carousing with friends at bars and informal gatherings, not getting even a minute of sleep before coming in for his morning shift at 5:00 AM.
Hours later he would become extremely exhausted after sobering up.
And while cooking eggs and chicken fried steaks on the grill, his head would gradually begin to descend and his eyes close, his body and mind badly craving sleep.
But just before fully dozing off, he would hear someone screaming his name at full volume (he said it sounded like their mouth was right beside his ear) and his entire body would jolt awake and he would yell “WHAT!” in response, frantically looking around.
Except there wasn’t anyone there yelling his name.
Although the individual never was diagnosed with exploding head syndrome (and it could have been related to the multitude of alcohol and recreational “street drugs” he had consumed at the parties before his shift), this might have been a legitimate case of exploding head syndrome, since it involved the cook imagining someone screaming his name, which happened just at the point before he was falling asleep.
Theories About This Syndrome
For proponents of various “New Age” theories, certain evidence exists involving “out-of-body” experiences or “astral travel” that have been associated with exploding head syndrome.(13)
Various individuals who claimed to have had out-of-body experiences stated they occasionally heard loud roars, screams, and intense buzzing sounds accompanying their astral flights, which caused them to feel surges of panic or dread.(14,15)
Vibrations, jolts, and high energy surges have also accompanied the disturbing noises and there is a high incidence of these “symptoms” associated with out-of-body-experiences.
Thus perhaps for a few individuals with exploding head syndrome, their mind may be trying to pull them into having an out-of-body experience and the noises are a result of them resisting this particular force.
But of course, this is a highly speculative theory and no genuine link between astral travel and exploding head syndrome has ever been found.
Primarily this theory is something for an individual with exploding head to consider the next time they experience an “attack,” to see if maybe more data can be collected with reference to linking out-of-body experiences with exploding head syndrome.
This syndrome is more common in young people than we thought.
A study by Washington State University researchers published 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Research, found that almost one in five (18%) of college students had experienced at least once this syndrome.(16)
In summary, if you’ve ever experienced an attack of exploding head syndrome, it can be a moderately serious situation considering the loud noises can be extremely frightening and produce a significant amount of anxiety in the person.
But on the other hand, the person should take comfort in the fact that no long-term cases have been reported so far.
Usually, only one incident or just a few occurrences will take place, and soon enough regular sleeping patterns will resume and the individual will again be sleeping like a baby in no time.
Researches and references
(3)Sharpless, Brian (December 2014). “Exploding head syndrome”. Sleep Medicine Reviews.