Complete Guide to Exploding Head Syndrome

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We are all familiar with sleeping disorders. Nightmares, night terrors, and sleepwalking are some of the bizarre, yet mainly harmless, nighttime disruptions that most of us have encountered.

Of all the sleeping disorders, however, perhaps the most alarming of them all is exploding head syndrome. Despite its name, the disorder isn’t necessarily painful or harmful.

hearing loud noises that aren't there

Instead, exploding head syndrome refers to the feeling of your head exploding, because of a loud noise that comes from the inside of your head.

What is Exploding Head Syndrome?

While the experience of exploding head syndrome may be concerning, it isn’t always as alarming as it sounds.

The main characteristic of this disorder is hearing loud noises that aren’t there. Most of the time, this noise is the sound of an explosion, which is where the syndrome takes its name.

However, the sound can also be any other loud noise, like yelling, cymbals, or doors slamming.

The second important characteristic is that it’s a parasomnia, occurring just as a person is coming into or out of REM, the deepest stage of sleep.

It is possible to experience exploding head syndrome while awake, but these instances usually occur when a person is about to fall asleep, like some cases of narcolepsy or exhaustion.

Exploding head syndrome can also occur with other symptoms. Here are some of them:

Loud Noises

Exploding head syndrome takes its name from a sudden, loud noise that is seemingly coming from inside the person’s head, or from out of nowhere.

People who suffer from exploding head syndrome commonly report a bomb going off; other reports include a gun going off, fireworks, thunder, doors slamming, or people chatting.

The sound happens quickly, lasting no more than two seconds.

Headache

Exploding head syndrome is commonly painless; however, people have reported sharp, quick pain in the head.

The loud noise may also be followed by a lingering headache.

Bright Flash of Light

The loud sound heard during an episode of exploding head syndrome can also be accompanied by a bright flash of light, bright enough to be momentarily blinding.

Electrical Sensations

On some occasions, an electrical sensation coming from the torso to the head has also been reported by patients.

Feelings of Anxiety

While this disorder does not present immediate harm, feelings of concern and anxiety brought on by the syndrome can make it hard for you to go back to sleep.

Exploding head syndrome is characterized by sounds loud enough to scare you awake. Regular occurrences of the disorder can lead to a lack of sleep and other sleep disruptions, like insomnia.

exploding head syndrome while awake

Who Gets Exploding Head Syndrome?

Because of how unreported this disorder is, there’s a great deal of mystery surrounding it. However, it’s possible that the disorder may be more frequent, despite its lack of reporting.

Professionals theorize that this low number of reported cases is due to the fact that people can experience exploding head syndrome just once or twice, then write it off.

In this way, isolated cases often go undiagnosed. This means that there is a good possibility for you to experience exploding head syndrome; on the other hand, it also means that it won’t happen frequently.

Specifically, studies estimate that about 10 to 18 percent of the population have experienced exploding head syndrome at least once.

There are still many studies that need to be made to find a more accurate representation of how often this disorder occurs in the population.

When it comes to specific risk factors, there is also little knowledge to determine what puts people at higher risk.

Professionals believe that there is no one thing you can do to completely avoid exploding head syndrome; everyone is susceptible. However, there are a few factors that put you in more danger of experiencing it, such as:

Age

The risk of experiencing this disorder becomes greater when you reach the age of 50. On average, exploding head syndrome first occurs at 58 years old.

However, children as young as ten have reported experiencing this disorder.

Gender

Women are believed to be more susceptible to exploding head syndrome than men, but a recent study has proven otherwise.

High Levels of Stress and Fatigue

Of all the factors that come with exploding head syndrome, high levels of stress and fatigue are the most common trigger.

Medical professionals theorize that exploding head syndrome is caused by a seizure in the temporal lobe, which may be a result of high levels of stress.

Exploding Head Syndrome Causes

Of all the things that we have yet to understand about exploding head syndrome, perhaps the most mystifying is the cause. What we know of parasomnias and sleep as a whole is still in its infancy.

Despite our lack of knowledge of the causes behind this disorder, professionals still have a few theories.

what is exploding head syndrome

The most popular include:

  • Minor seizures in the temporal lobe of the brain.
  • Sudden shifts in the parts of the middle ear.
  • Compromised functioning of the brain due to stress and anxieties.

Reticular Formation Issues

While the above theories explain much of what we know about the phenomenon, the leading theory is a cause similar to sleep paralysis: an issue in the brain cell, specifically reticular formation.

Reticular formation is responsible for transitioning you between wakefulness and sleep. It also controls your reflexes and muscle control.

During sleep, the reticular formation puts your muscles under paralysis to prevent you from acting out your dreams. When it fails, sleep disorders like sleep talking, sleep-walking, and sleep paralysis occurs.

While your muscles are paralyzed, your sense of sight and hearing are also ‘put to sleep’ by inhibiting your auditory and visual neurons. This is the reason why some people can still sleep amidst loud noise and bright lights.

However, researchers believe that instead of being inhibited, these neurons fire; a sudden burst of neural activity in the visual and auditory neurons creates the illusion of a loud sound or a bright light, two common symptoms of exploding head syndrome.

This ‘burst of neural activity’ is caused by a delay in the reticular formation; while the reticular formation shuts off (or, in the case of waking up, turns on) the different parts of the brain, there’s a delay in switching off visual and auditory neurons.

This means that, as you feel like you’re falling asleep, parts of your brain are still ‘awake,’ resulting in a ‘glitch’ in your auditory and visual processing, leading to loud noises and bright lights.

This video explains more details about exploding head syndrome.

Getting a Diagnosis

Exploding head syndrome can be an isolated occurrence. However, for people who are regularly awoken by exploding head syndrome, you can seek a diagnosis from a medical professional.

When you go to your doctor, they will ask you a few questions, including:

  • When you experienced your first occurrence of exploding head syndrome.
  • How often you experience exploding head syndrome.
  • How long they last.
  • How they are affecting your day to day life.
  • Any other sleep disorders.
  • Any mental disorders.

For this reason, it’s best to keep a log of when you experience exploding head syndrome, including the duration and symptoms that accompany each occurrence.

If you can, try to log your sleeping patterns, even on the days where you don’t have exploding head syndrome.

An overnight sleep study is also helpful for determining whether you’re suffering from exploding head syndrome or another sleeping disorder.

After all, sleeping disorders are often accompanied by hallucinations – both visual and auditory. An overnight sleep study will track your pulse, brainwaves, and breathing while you are asleep, and will help determine if your symptoms are caused by a different sleeping disorder.

Treating Exploding Head Syndrome

Because its cause is still up for debate, there is still no official treatment for exploding head syndrome.

Rather, medical professionals seek to create a better sleeping environment to lessen the chances of disorders.

Here are the common treatment options for those suffering from exploding head syndrome.

Medication

Medication is rarely necessary to treat exploding head syndrome, but when it is needed, clomipramine, a type of antidepressant that can lessen anxiety, has been used with success.

Your doctor may also prescribe you with calcium channel blockers to help you get better sleep. However, the risk of exploding head syndrome ultimately lies in the quality of sleep that you have throughout the night.

For these reasons, it’s best to combine any prescribed treatments with activities that will ease your anxiety.

Home Remedies

Exploding head syndrome is often triggered by high levels of stress and anxiety. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to lessen your anxiety without having to go to a medical professional.

head exploding

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Remember That It Is Just a Hallucination

While it can be concerning in the moment, hallucinations are primarily harmless. Assuring yourself that it is just a ‘glitch’ in the brain that happens for no real, alarming reason can bring great relief to those who suffer from exploding head syndrome.

If you are still anxious about whether your symptoms are a sign of greater issues, a doctor’s diagnosis may help.

Sometimes, a doctor telling you that it is nothing to worry about is enough to send the syndrome into remission.

  1. Watch Your Diet

Other than stress and anxiety, a diet lacking in important nutrients has also been linked to higher chances of suffering exploding head syndrome.

Multivitamins and supplements can help you gain all the nutrients you need in lieu of a balanced diet.

When it comes to food, you should also keep an eye on how your diet is affecting your sleep. People react to caffeine differently, but, on average, it stays in the body for at least eight hours.

If you need caffeine throughout the day, be aware of how much it affects you and plan accordingly. Drugs and alcohol can completely wreck your sleep, leading to disorders and a heightened anxiety level long-term.

Try to incorporate foods that lead to better sleep. Nuts, fish, leafy greens, and whole grains are some of the foods that can help you snooze properly at night.

  1. Reduce Stress

As it is the leading factor for higher chances of exploding head syndrome, reducing stress can lessen occurrences of this disorder.

Stress relief can come in many different forms, and it’s best to find one method that works best for you. Ultimately, a bedtime routine can be an ideal way to lower your stress levels before sleeping.

Yoga, reading, taking a warm bath, and listening to relaxing music can help alleviate stress, and are great activities to do before turning in for the night.

what is exploding head syndrome

  1. Have a Regular Sleep Schedule

The needed hours of sleep per night can vary from person to person, but getting enough sleep is imperative when it comes to exploding head syndrome.

Going to sleep and waking up at the same time is just as important as the number of hours you rest at night.

Eventually, you’ll be able to find a sleep schedule that works for you, and you can wake up without any disruptions.

  1. Create a Good Sleep Environment

Sleeping in a room that promotes good sleep is also a great help if you suffer from exploding head syndrome.

Keep the room as dark as possible, and maintain it at a good, cool temperature.

This video explains more about how to relax before bed.

Conclusion

While there is no one specific, proven cure for exploding head syndrome, the good news is: It tends to go away on its own.

Studies have shown that repeated occurrences of exploding head syndrome lessen as time goes on. An awareness with what is happening to your body, as well as a diagnosis from your doctor, can help stop the occurrences entirely.

Hopefully, this has helped you figure out how to deal with exploding head syndrome. With less stress and more sleep, chances are, your exploding head syndrome disappear entirely – no advanced treatment necessary.

Just remember to take it slow and easy, and be kind to your body. Your exploding head syndrome is bound to resolve itself with enough time.


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