4 Facts About Exploding Head Syndrome That Will Blow Your Mind

What is Exploding Head Syndrome?  Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash
What is Exploding Head Syndrome? Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

Imagine for a moment you’ve had an exceptionally long day; you’re exhausted, and all you can think of is crawling into bed and getting some much-needed sleep. You quickly finish dinner, hop through the shower, and get dressed for bed. You’ve just gotten comfortable, cleared your mind, and started to drift off to sleep.

Then Bam! Right as you were fading into sleep, you see a flash of light and hear a sound like an explosion when off right inside your bedroom, and it jolts you right back awake, your heart racing at a thousand beats per second, and the adrenaline pumping through your body means you’re surely not going to be able to get back to sleep any time soon.

This isn’t some mean prank where a kid set off a firework outside your window or a freak accident explosion across the street.

In fact, it turns out that it was all in your head.

What is Exploding Head Syndrome?

This may sound like something from a horror film, but it is actually a real-life phenomenon known as Exploding Head Syndrome. This disconcerting sleep disorder—belonging to a group of disorders known as parasomnias—will be experienced by as much as ten percent of the population at least once in their lives, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A person who experiences Exploding Head Syndrome will typically experience a jarring physical, auditory, or visual sensation such as flashes of light or sounds of explosions or firecrackers in the moments they begin to transition between awake and sleep states.

In many ways, it is similar to the more common phenomenon of jerking awake right as you are about to fall asleep, though it is often much more intense.

Signs & Symptoms of Exploding Head Syndrome

One of the most common symptoms people experiencing Exploding Head Syndrome describes is hearing loud noises such as explosions, crashes, banging metal, or fireworks as they transition between awake and sleep states.

There have also been reports of symptoms affecting other senses, such as extremely bright flashes of light or feelings of muscle spasms, though these are less common than auditory sensations.

Though the sensations of hearing explosions or seeing bright lights are not real, they can lead to real-world changes that can have a detrimental effect on the individual. Being suddenly jolted awake can lead to secondary symptoms such as increased heart rate, anxiety, fearfulness, increased sweating, and in cases where a person experiences Exploding Head Syndrome for an extended period of time or has multiple episodes over a short period, the person can develop issues related to having too little sleep such as fatigue or mild memory impairment.

Causes & Treatment for Exploding Head Syndrome

Though doctors still don’t fully understand what causes this rare disorder, one leading theory suggests that it may be the result of abnormal surges of activity in the neurons of the brain stem during the transition between wakefulness and sleep.

Following a series of more recent studies, some researchers believe that Exploding Head Syndrome may be related to other sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, or sleep paralysis.

Though there are no specific treatment guidelines for this disorder, people who have experienced Exploding Head Syndrome at the same time as another sleep disorder have seen improvements in symptoms related to Exploding Head Syndrome while being treated for other sleep disorders.

Exciting Facts About Exploding Head Syndrome

There is a lot about this unique phenomenon that seems a bit strange. Here are four interesting facts:

Not Only When Falling Asleep?

Although the majority of cases of Exploding Head Syndrome occur during the night time while the person is falling asleep, there have also been cases reported where a person experiences the loud noises and bright lights associated with this disorder in the morning when waking up and transitioning from a sleep state.

Men May Be Able to Rest Easy.

According to a meta-analysis of previous literature combined with an investigation into six additional new cases, one study conducted in 2014 found that females are 50% more likely to experience symptoms of Exploding Head Syndrome than males.

Younger People Are Less Prone to EHS.

While just about anyone can experience Exploring Head Syndrome, younger people are less likely than older adults to suffer from this jarring sensation. Studies have shown that the average age of a person reporting symptoms for the first time is 54 years old.

Is it Caused by Aliens or a Government Plot?

Of course, it isn’t, but that hasn’t stopped people from coming up with conspiracy theories about the origins of Exploding Head Syndrome after mistakenly attributing the strange sensations to such things as aliens, energy weapons, and even government operatives.

What to Do if You are Suffering from Exploding Head Syndrome

Exploding Head Syndrome in itself is not harmful or dangerous in any real way, other than causing freight and possible anxiety in those who experience it.

However, in severe cases where the symptoms are interfering with sleep in a serious way, this lack of sleep can lead to harmful side effects.  

If you are experiencing Exploding Head Syndrome and feel like it is having a severe negative impact on your quality of life, please reach out to a medical professional for further inspection.

A doctor may ask questions about your medical history, sleep habits, and even your emotional state in order to rule out other sleep disorders, which may be causing the symptoms.