exploding head syndromeAre you sometimes woken by an unusually loud or frightening noise, but when you check your house or ask someone else, there’s no evidence that the noise really happened?

If so, it could be that you’ve experienced exploding head syndrome. Although it can be scary, it’s not believed to cause real physical harm.

It was first documented in 1920 by the scientist Armstrong-Jones, who described it as a ‘snapping of the brain’.

Compared to many other sleep disorders, there hasn’t been so much research into the causes or prevalence. But scientists are slowly starting to understand it better.

How common is exploding head syndrome?

In 2014, researchers in Germany reviewed multiple cases and previous research, with some interesting findings:

  • The average age of onset is 54
  • More women report experiencing it than men
  • The average frequency of attacks is between once a day and once a week
  • The most common symptoms are noise, fear and sudden sensations of light

Many young people experience it

Researchers at Washington State University in 2015 found that many young people also experience exploding head syndrome.

And their research provided some different insights:

  • 18% of the 211 undergraduates they interviewed had experienced it in their lifetime
  • 16.60% experienced it on a regular basis
  • There was no difference in how often men and women have it
  • 2.8% had clinically significant levels of distress or reduced ability to function

The differences in results could be explained by how the research was conducted. Perhaps more women have it later in life, but an equal number of men and women when younger.

It doesn’t cause physical harm

The name exploding head syndrome itself sounds very dramatic, but is somewhat misleading; it conjures up all kinds of horror film images.

The reality is that it’s seen by sleep experts as benign, and not usually associated with pain, even though it can be unsettling.

To understand why it has such an emotive name, let’s take a look at the symptoms.

Exploding head syndrome symptoms

There are several possible symptoms commonly reported. They can occur either when falling asleep or waking up:

1. Hearing a sudden and loud noise that isn’t real

The main symptom is the hallucination of a loud and sudden sound. It can feel like it’s coming from inside your head, somewhere in your house, or even outside.

People often describe it as one of the following:

  • The sound of an exploding bomb
  • The sound of a gunshot
  • A loud clash of cymbals
  • The sound of a door slamming
  • A rushing sound
  • People screaming or shouting
  • An electrical buzzing sound
  • Any other loud sound which can’t be described exactly

2. Seeing a flash of light

Exploding head syndrome is sometimes accompanied by a sensation of a flashing light. Like the noise though, there’s no actual light source causing it.

flash of light

3. Feeling scared, anxious or upset

People don’t usually report feeling pain with exploding head syndrome. They may describe it as painful initially, but then reveal it’s just extremely loud.

However, the sudden noise and other symptoms can be very disturbing. So it’s not uncommon to wake up feeling scared or upset by what just happened.

4. Heart palpitations and breathing difficulty

Some people report waking up with a fast or unusual heartbeat, and sometimes the feeling that it’s hard to breathe.

5. Accompanying sleep paralysis

People may experience an episode of sleep paralysis, sometimes taking the form of an out-of-body experience. In fact, researchers have found it’s more common in people who regularly have sleep paralysis.

Back in 1989, the researcher J M Pearce conducted a detailed study of 50 patients with exploding head syndrome.

He analyzed the different kinds of symptoms they experienced, which you can read about here for further information.

Poll results

I ran a poll of readers for three months to see how often they felt they experienced symptoms of exploding head syndrome.

Out of 7,752 readers who voted, a combined total of 53.5% said they experience it at least once a month. 41.9% said they experience it very rarely though.

chart showing the results of a poll about how often readers experience exploding head syndrome

Causes of exploding head syndrome

The causes of exploding head syndrome still aren’t properly understood. But several theories have been proposed:

  • A neurological condition, such as minor seizures in the temporal lobe
  • A sudden movement in inner ear parts, such as the tympanum (the eardrum), or the tensor tympani (the muscle involved in reducing sound – e.g. the sound of chewing food)
  • Related to fear, stress or anxiety
  • Calcium signaling impairment

In his study, Pearce believed it would be better to classify it along with other biological mechanisms that occur when falling asleep, such as hypnic jerks.

And in 2010, the researchers Thorpy and Plazzi also wrote that they believe exploding head syndrome is a variant of hypnic jerks. They reported that:

The EHS is a benign, usually self-limited, condition that is likely a sensory variant of the hypnic jerk. No testing or medications are necessary when the history is typical. Education and reassurance are the cornerstones of therapy. If the symptoms occur multiple times a night and cause insomnia, a hypnotic may be useful.

Treatment

Treatment options are limited due to the fact that it’s currently seen as physically harmless.

Just knowing what it is, and that you’re not the only one who has it, can be helpful. That might be reassuring enough to help you cope with it better in the future.

However, you might like to consider the following options if you remain concerned:

1. Talk to your personal doctor or physician

Speak to your doctor or physician if you’re concerned by your symptoms.

They might want to check for other causes, such as headache disorders or seizures. But they can also help reassure you that it’s harmless.

It might help to keep a sleep diary of what happened, how you felt, and what you ate or did each day. You can then show that to your doctor.

2. Medication

There’s isn’t a cure as such, but in severe cases, your doctor might prescribe a tricyclic anti-depressant or calcium channel blocker.

3. Reduce stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety can increase the frequency and intensity of some sleep disorders. If you’re under a lot of stress and/or suffer from anxiety at night, it’s a good idea to find ways to tackle it.

I highly recommend trying mindfulness techniques. And you might find it helpful to do some simple relaxation exercises in bed.

4. Practice good sleep habits

Sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and many lifestyle choices can increase the likelihood of disturbed sleep. So try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, and practice good sleep hygiene.

5. Try not to worry about your sleep

It’s important not to become anxious about falling asleep. Try not to worry that you’ll experience another episode or that something bad will happen to you.

That might be easier said than done, but some positive auto-suggestion at night can be helpful.

Your thoughts

Have you experienced exploding head syndrome? What symptoms did you have, and how did it make you feel?

Feel free to share your story and thoughts in the comments below.

1,768 thoughts on “Exploding Head Syndrome – Harmless But Disturbing”

  1. I will usually wake up to the sound of someone screaming. I’m also a very stressed person so this makes sense. I didn’t even think to google my symptoms at first but I’m glad I’m not the only one who experiences these things, I’m glad I have a better understanding. Thank you.

  2. I have had a ton of experiences like this. Not consistently but it has occurred more times than I can remember. Very often its been a voice, usually female, saying, ‘Wake up!’, or yelling my name. Other times I have been woken up by a really bright flash of light. It actually has hurt my eyes. It’s like when a sunbeam reflects off of something and goes right in your eyes. It usually follows a very strange, intense or disturbingly frightening dream. One time the dream was so intense and long (and I mean really long. Literally felt like years) and elaborate that I was in absolute disbelief that it was all a dream and that I had just woken up in my bed. Practically felt like I had gone back in time because to my senses, I just woke up in my life several years previous. I laid there frozen, staring at the ceiling for about 20 minutes just in shock. I don’t know if that could have been a form of sleep paralysis possibly? My chest is always pounding when this happens. This time was especially bad. I was having a really frightening dream, too weird to even explain. Woke up to the voice and was just confused and filled with dread, practically felt like I was having a heart attack and until I fell back asleep about 10 minutes later I seemed to be having some kind of hallucination. Not sure how to explain this. It was as if the light in the room was just subtly brightening and dimming with sort of a pulse. Seemed like it was going along with my own pulse which I was quite aware of, in that moment. Is there any further information about the link between this and neurological disorders?

  3. I was woken up by a woman screaming, but no one was home. It caused rapid heartbeat, but went back to sleep. Was woken up again, felt like someone shaking my bed. 1st time it ever happened and I do not live in a house with history nor have I played with anything stupid like Oujia boards. And that goes for the few family members that live in my house. So it has gotten my attention, maybe its “exploding head syndrome.” But I get a distinct feeling “gut feeling,” this isn’t in my head, but a message, and that has me bothered.

  4. I woke up to a loud crashing sound like something heavy falling down. Looked everywhere and found nothing – quite alarming at 4 am. Trying to go back to sleep, have another look in the daylight!

  5. This happens to me most nights about 40 minutes after going to bed. Just as I’ve entered a deeper sleep there is an extremely loud snapping noise. The only way I can describe it is like a very strong elastic band snapping very quickly like a whipcrack. It feels like my brain is snapping right inside my head at the back, but then it’s gone. I used to be frightened but it seems unrelated to danger.

    I do however have extremely loud tinnitus that sounds like 30+ televisions all squealing at once. I think I am hearing everyone’s mobile phone signals. This becomes more pronounced in the silence of night. No idea if these two things are related.

    1. Patsy Johnson

      I am a 54 year old woman and for the first time, I experienced something like this when I woke up at almost 2am, this morning, went back to sleep and experienced it much stronger as I woke up this morning. It sounded just like and reminded me of like rifles in a battlefield going off. It would start with pow pow pow pow pow, then pow pow, repeatedly but all n my head while on the toilet.

  6. Hi. I came across this site because I was trying to make sense of what happened to me last night. I’ve had my fair share of sleep paralysis that I can swear physically happens to me, until I fully wake up and process what horror I felt was all too well. Last night, I believe this happened when I was falling asleep. I felt my entire body jerk from this loud gunshot, which sounded like it was right next to my ears. Also, I experienced this bright white and yellow explosion of the sorts. I immediately woke up and felt like quite possibly I was shot. It was a mix of terror and confusion. I had to walk that one off. There was no way I could sleep after the anxiety it caused.

  7. Valerie Patmore

    I have experienced this several times, although thankfully it’s not a regular occurrence.
    I will wake up suddenly after hearing a tap, tap, tap on the front door. At the time it seems very real.
    I now know that I am not going mad and it’s reassuring to know that others have had this experience.

    1. Same here – I hear tapping on the window! If I’m falling asleep or waking up, whatever room I’m in, I hear tapping on the window! It seems very real too!

    2. Twice now I’ve had it, and both times it’s been a loud knocking sound right next to me, most recently being 10 mins ago. Hence looking into it, I’m glad I read that yours was “tap tap tap” because the main description doesn’t mention knocking. Now wide awake and having a cigarette, every hair is stood on end.

  8. Hi
    I have experienced loud noises in my sleep for about 5-6 years. Initially, it started with a loud trumpet sound. I used to get up and look outside and i was baffled. It stopped for a while but on and off for the past 6 months i hear knocking between 3-5 times. Usually it seems like its the front door. Last night i thought it was the bedroom door. I don’t snore by the way or drink! I do smoke cigarettes, females and not sleeping too well at the moment because of stress. Although this takes about the exploding head syndrome, i suspect it is related to an inner ear issue?

  9. I wish people would stop promoting this ridiculous, useless name, clearly coined by someone with no personal experience – or good verbal skills, for that matter. The “syndrome” part itself is just a fancy-sounding translation of “here’s a mixed bag of symptoms, some possible unrelated among them, but we have no idea what they could mean”.)
    What could be a better name? Almost anything, I daresay. I would suggest something including “auditory hallucinations” – although the term “hallucinations” is in itself more unreliable and scientifically lax than it may seem.
    I came across it when I was researching curious occurrences of sudden loud noises in my ear. It was as if a bug – a fly, a cricket – were suddenly caught in my ear, making frantic crackling noises. The first time it happened I was actually walking down the street (and no, there was no real bug in my ear). then it happened several times when I was in bed (but not sleeping). The later occurrences did coincide with a very stressful time in my life, but the first time did not.

    Thank you for this website. It is very valuable.

  10. I am 39 and for a long time now, i have been hearing noises, loud noises that i find no explanation for. My husband said that i might have hypersensitivity of my ears. And it sounded about right since i never found the source of such loud noises. I also suffer from migraines and body aching that has not been connected to any diagnosis. This morning at about 230 am i was woken up by this very loud scream on my right ear. It was very scary, i had a niece and a nephew staying at my house. And my son and nephew were just across the hall from me, while my daughter and niece were staying in the basement bedroom. I sat up in my bed and started asking “are you guys ok,” my husband woke up and asked what was going on. I was confused and asked him about the loud scream but he said he did not hear anything. I went and check on everyone but they were sleeping no signs of trouble at all. I guess this site explains what has been going on with me for years now.

  11. I’m usually a great sleeper. I get 7.5-8 hours usually per night. I’m 28 years old. I’m glad I came across this site as it happened to me last week where I thought one of my smart plugs that turn on my lights popped and made this very loud noise. My dog looked at me like I was crazy as he didn’t hear anything. This was around when I program my lights to turn on around 7:15 am.

    I just woke up tonight (around 5:26 am) after having a nightmare and being very stressed out in my dreams to a super loud lightbulb popping noise along with a flash of light. Scared me too much so now I can’t fall back asleep being the hypochondriac that I am.

  12. I guess mine seems so different but this is the only thing that seems to explain it. I woke because I thought I hit my head on something. It hurt! But then I realized that it hurt on the inside. I felt like a sledgehammer hit my head but only on the inside. It was loud and painful. Hmm. I guess everyone’s is different.

  13. I have been dealing with this for a while now and a few minutes ago it happened again. I have always heard the slamming of a car door outside and it happened again just now. Being my paranoid self I couldn’t help but look it up. I’m so glad to have found this I have been reading all of the stories and I am terrified. While laying in bed I am currently hearing a repeated noise of a gurgling stomach mixed with a growling sound. I can not sleep and I am afraid to. Also only last night I was laying in bed after experiencing a paranormal episode of seeing things that weren’t there, I heard a crackled voice that I made out to whisper my name and hold on the ‘e’. My name is sophie so it sounded something like “sophiiieee” if you can imagine that. It sounded almost teasingly like whatever was speaking knew I was scared already. Again I’m not sure if I’m just paranoid but I honestly don’t believe any of this is normal. I’m afraid this is going to leave me traumatized.

  14. I am so happy to have found this. I’ve been experiencing symptoms of this for around 3 years. I see a single flash of light, as the sound of an explosion occurs, and then I hear a single “goodbye” and I jump awake in complete panic and terror. It almost feels like I’m being electrocuted… I was wearing a Fitbit last time it happened and it showed my heart rate go from 58BPM to 120BPM in a matter of seconds, the first time it happened was around 2016 and I thought I was having a heart attack it was so intense. It is definitely an interesting phenomenon, and I look forward to more research on it!

    1. Ever since I have been taking Seroquel 30 years ago, I experience it at least twice a week. Clangs, loud music, screams, screeching metal sounds, someone calling my name, are just a few of the different sounds I experience. It is always accompanied by a bright light sensation, pain, feels like someone tapping on my head, and my heartbeat is very fast.

  15. I think this is happening to me. I sometimes get a big rush in my head and I jerk awake. I heard a noise, it seemed to be amplified and it felt like it was directly to my ear, but it was actually far away. Like a woman laughing or a car driving through the ice which sounded like applause.

  16. Hi, I’m so happy to have found this side although not that I recognize myself completely in these stories. Some similarities and otherwise so different. I know my triggers … stress, anxiety, stimulants as coffee and/or alcohol. I also know my best chances to avoid it … lifestyle changes…such as no coffee or alcohol after lunch hour, no exercise after midday, keeping physical and mental stress at bay. These rules have helped me over the last 30 years, but nevertheless 9 years ago, due to extreme family stress, the known symptoms came over me like a storm … no sleeping due to Hypnic jerks through my body until the early morning hours when I finally would fall asleep. Sleep deprivation went on for weeks and I was put on a medicine Rivotril (a benzodiazepine) to kill the beast. This medication is given for epileptic seizures (which I don’t have) but as well for muscle relaxation. It has helped me but since I’m on this medication for 9 years my body is so used to the dose that its effect is gone and the next episode of stress will bring on all the symptoms. (I refuse to take more than 0,5 mg). Where I don’t recognize myself with what I read is the exploding head noise, mine goes with little noise, such as a crack of the door, the click of noise my partner makes by switching off the light …gives me an uncontrollable injection of adrenaline?/ cortisol? release through my body which causes the body jerk, being fully awake until dozing off till the next jerk, heart palpitations, sweating. It will take about a week to 10 days to find the rhythm of falling asleep without this anxiety. Is anyone out there that would have these symptoms and what you would advise me? Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

    1. Hi. I had a similar experience. Same sound of a door closing – sounds very close by yet I wake and nobody there. Sometimes at the same time of day. Definitely in a time of stress right now so I’m thinking maybe I am dreaming it.

      1. I have been experiencing the same thing alone with spiritual sensitivity lately it really freaks me out and I want it to stop but it wont

  17. Last night I awoke to the sound of a man’s scream. I felt something bad was happening but realized it was nothing as this has happened to me before. It took me about 15 minutes to go back to sleep. It’s usually a women’s voice like my mother or my sister desperately shouting my name like something terrible is happening and they need me. Those kind are more disturbing. I’ve had these throughout my adult life but not often. When I was a child and young adult I would often dream I would stumble or trip and wake up startled trying to avoid the fall. Those would always happen when I would first start to fall asleep.

    1. I have recently been experiencing the man voice making a growling or grumbling angry noise in my head right as I wake up. Usually in the middle of the night. Palpitations accompany it and it confuses me. I never had this before. I have had the jerking body symptoms at certain times. It’s flippin me out. I thought I was crazy recently.

  18. I’ve experienced the noise of a gun or loud knock for several years. I’m 75 now and it’s very unsettling. I do fall asleep shortly after when I realize nothing real caused it.

  19. It is 6:02 AZ time. At 5:30am there was a flash of light with flash bang right in my face it just woke me up. It scared the heck out me. It is the first time it has happened but I am under a huge amount of stress and my younger brother recently passed. I don’t sleep much anyway. Not painful just scary. I am 57 it’s never happened before I hope it’s a one time occurrence. Thank you for this site. I know I am not crazy.

  20. I experience this when just falling asleep it’s a really loud explosion like a bomb going off &it lights up the Bedroom I then get headache & it takes me a while to get back to sleep because I am scared it will happen again.I am suffering with an ear infection so that could have caused it but this is not the first time.It is reassuring to know I am not the only one who experience this …

  21. I was just falling asleep, when I heard someone call my name very loudly in my ear. I was so convinced I had heard it I called my husband who was still up watching TV, he said no, he hadn’t heard anything. Left me feeling shaken.

  22. Hi. I have been having this EHS for years.
    I did not know what it was. This morning I was half sleep half woke ( drifting to sleep I guess) . It seemed as though i say a line of thin lights falling from the ceiling and as they fell ,they fell on me and i felt in my body a jerk. Then woke up.

    There was a time i was sleep some years ago i saw someone point a gun at me and i heard it shoot. I jumped in my dream to dodge the bullet. I was sleep mind you but my body I fell off the bed into the floor for real. That was so weird. But I dodged the bullet in my dream but in my women state I feel off the bed like I was dodging a bullet.

    I hear pops, or gunshots a lit in my head and it wakes me .

    I happened to come across this article this morning.

    It was very helpful. Thank you.

    And I do see that many people have this too.
    Blessings to everyone in Jesus name.

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