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Exploding Head Syndrome 101

by Ultimate Sleep Staff

While it seems like a gory thing to happen, exploding head syndrome doesn’t involve human head actually exploding, either from the inside or from an external object’s impact. Instead, it’s a parasomnia wherein the affected person hears a loud imaginary explosion either before falling asleep or upon awakening; the explosion can sound like cymbals clashing, a bomb exploding, and a door banging. Every episode can be frightening because it feels like the affected person has a brain issue, such as an aneurysm or a stroke.

But as traumatic as it sounds, exploding head syndrome can be treated – or at least, its symptoms including their frequency, duration and severity can be managed so you can enjoy better quality of sleep and, thus, better quality of life.


The term for the parasomnia is as descriptive as it can get so even a layman can understand it. The symptoms of exploding head syndrome includes:

  • You hear a sudden loud explosion or noise, albeit only in your head (i.e., only you hears it), just before you fall asleep or just after you wake up in the odd hours of the night.
  • You hear these sounds but you don’t typically feel any pain even when the explosion seems to be at its loudest.
  • You wake up suddenly feeling frightened and you may not even be easily comforted by others afterwards.

While the noise can be less alarming, the sudden onset of the sound can still cause intense fear and distress, partly because you feel like you’re having a stroke or something similar.

To add complication to the matter, the number of attacks can vary widely. You may have experience the loud explosion rarely during the week or you may experience it several times in a single night. You can go for several weeks or a few months without a single episode and then experience the syndrome again.

You will likely find that you’re suffering from the negative effects of disturbed sleep, too. In extreme cases, you’re suffering from sleep deprivation since you may be afraid to go back to sleep again.

But it isn’t just the loud explosion that bothers affected persons. Some people report a flash of light that accompanies the sound while some say that a muscle jerk also happens. Some even report a sudden stab of pain in the head.

While exploding head syndrome can occur without an explanation or cause, it can also be caused by another sleep disorder, a medical condition, or a mental health disorder. It may also be caused by substance abuse and as a side effect of certain medications.

Scientists have yet to determine the risk factors for exploding head syndrome as well as give an estimate on the number of people with it.


If your exploding head syndrome causes anxiety, sleep disruptions, or sleep deprivation, you should consult with a sleep specialist. You may want to be prepared with the answers to possible questions in determining whether you have the syndrome or not. A few of these questions include:

  • When did the loud sound in your head begin?
  • When do you experience it (e.g., stress, insufficient sleep)?
  • How long does it last?
  • How do you feel afterwards?
  • What’s your medical history?

In case of the latter, you have to be candid about the drugs and medications you have used in the past and continue to use in the present, the underlying medical conditions (e.g., high cholesterol, depression, or hypertension), and family history in relation to sleep-related issues including sleep disorders. You should ideally keep a sleep diary for two weeks where you can write down your sleeping habits and patterns; your doctor will then have clues about your sleep issues and the ways to address them.

You may or may not undergo a polysomnogram, an overnight sleep study wherein your heartbeat, brain waves, and breathing patterns while sleeping are analyzed. Your arm and leg movements are also studied to determine other issues.


For now, there’s no surefire way of treating exploding head syndrome. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no set of treatment choices that can be combined to achieve the best possible results either.

You and your doctor will discuss the best ways to manage your symptoms and these can include most or all of the following:

  • Get more sleep every night, especially if you’re sleep deprived. You should aim for six to eight hours of restful sleep every night.
  • Consider relaxation techniques if your symptoms seem to be related to or triggered by stress. You can engage in yoga exercises, take a warm bath before bed, and meditate as well as listen to relaxing music.
  • Try taking clomipramine, an antidepressant, and calcium channel blockers. But take them only when prescribed by your doctor and, if they are, you have to follow the dosage recommendations.

Of course, you should ensure that your bedroom is conducive to restful sleep. Start with a comfortable and supportive Restonic bed, and then follow it with a dark, quiet and cool bedroom where the television and gadgets aren’t allowed to be used.

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