Exploding Head Syndrome: Have You Ever Had It?

Exploding head syndrome is a very common problem and, fortunately, is treatable with medication and relaxation techniques.
Exploding Head Syndrome: Have You Ever Had It?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Exploding Head Syndrome is a type of parasomnia. It consists of a sudden awakening where the person experiences an intense headache followed by a violent sound, like an electric shock.

It’s possible that someone that has never experienced it could see it as something weird or unusual. However, it’s actually a frequent phenomenon and it usually happens with a feeling of panic that’s difficult to forget.

Exploding head syndrome is not pleasant. On the other hand, it’s not a serious condition either, nor a neurological problem. In reality, exploding head syndrome has a lot to do with anxiety and stress. 

In this article, we want to spread awareness about this type of reality that interferes with a good night’s sleep of thousands of people every night.

Exploding Head Syndrome: What Is It?

exploding head syndrome

There are people that say it’s like a bomb going off; for other, it’s more like a heavy thud or an electric shock similar to being struck by lightning.

This is the sound that, without knowing how, appears in someone’s head just after entering the first sleep cycle.

Imagine this: you’re asleep, and all of a sudden, you hear a roar that makes you violently wake up.

Also, as if that isn’t enough, this sound is accompanied by an intense headache and the sensation that you’re seeing lights in your peripheral vision.

The first thing that these patients think is that they’re dreaming or that they’ve lost their minds. However, it’s neither of those things.

A Strange but Common Sleep Problem

The first time this problem was described was in 1876. It was done by Dr. Silas Weir through recording the cases of 50 patients in a medical journal.

This syndrome is usually more common in women.

Additionally, it’s important to know that there are some people that only experience it once in their life. Other patients, however, suffer from it every day.

On the other hand, there’s a particular detail that we should emphasize. Since they are hearing a sound that doesn’t come from outside their body, but rather an auditory hallucination, many people decide to not say anything about it.

They’re afraid of being labeled as having a mental illness, and because of that, there could be many more people that suffer from exploding head syndrome that still haven’t been diagnosed.

What Causes Exploding Head Syndrome?

Remember that we’re talking about a sleep issue. It’s not, by any means, a neurological or psychological condition.

So far, there are a few different theories about what could cause exploding head syndrome.

Keep reading to find out.

Stress and Anxiety

Stress and Anxiety

This is the consensus that we have at this moment.

Your brain disconnects the “conscious part” of your mind in order to fall into a deep sleep. Then, all of a sudden, an electric shock interrupts your neuronal activity.

When you have periods of intense stress, your brain is hyperactive. This excitement is elevated and so, when the time comes to rest, you can’t reduce this “energy” because there is too much brain activity.

Therefore, right when you go to bed, this neuronal activity reacts with a sudden jolt (like a sharp pain or power surge) stimulating various areas: auditory and visual. Then, you hear thunder and see lights.

Sleep Paralysis

Another point to keep in mind is related to sleep paralysis, another type of parasomnia. There are scientists that have the idea that both sleep problems are related.

In both cases, the person experiences a sensation of panic and alarm, as well as visual and auditory hallucinations.

Inner Ear Problem

The last theory related to this type of condition is related to a possible inner ear problem, specifically in the Eustachian tube.

It’s possible that there may be a small alteration, a lesion or inflammation that causes auditory hallucinations and headaches.

However, this doesn’t explain the lights that the patients also see.

Treatments for Exploding Head Syndrome

Any sleep problem affects your quality of life. Therefore, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor about any irregularity, bother or unusual situation that you’re experiencing.

As we mentioned earlier, there are many people that don’t talk about their symptoms associated with exploding head syndrome out of fear or embarrassment.

How do I tell my doctor that I wake up in the middle of the night hearing things that aren’t real and seeing lights in the corners of my eyes?
Don’t be afraid. Many people suffer from this problem and it’s treatable. There are medications such as clomipramine (a type of antidepressant) which is very effective.

Additionally, stress reduction techniques that help relax your muscles and your mind are also very useful.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about your experiences.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.