Disorders and DiseaseHealth BehaviorsHearingStress and CopingThe Brain and Nervous System

Exploding Head Syndrome, Not Science Fiction!

Have you ever shot out of your bed because of a loud bang or crash?  Perhaps a flash of light accompanied the heart-stopping sound?  After hearing the noise, did you then walk around the house to investigate only to find nothing seemed to be out of place?  No windows were broken, nothing fell off any shelves, and your dog or cat was fast asleep.  If so, you may actually have something termed “exploding head syndrome”.

It sounds like stuff of science fiction but it is very real.  So real in fact, it’s estimated one out of 10 people deal with this bizarre condition!

The symptoms of exploding head syndrome vary from person to person, but there’s usually little or no physical pain associated with the condition, according to the American Sleep Association (ASA). Some people describe bright flashes of light accompanying the loud sounds. Anxiety, an increased heart rate and shortness of breath are also common after the loud noise.

The exact cause of exploding head syndrome remains unclear. However, some theories suggest that it could result from minor seizures in the temporal lobe or parts of the middle ear moving during the night. Fear, emotional stress, or anxiety may also contribute to the condition.

Historically, researchers believed that exploding head syndrome mainly affected females over the age of 50. However, in one 2017 study, researchers evaluated 49 college students who reported having symptoms of exploding head syndrome.

Findings from case studies suggest that exploding head syndrome may be associated with other sleep conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea and sleep paralysis.

People who experience high levels of stress and those who have a history of insomnia may also have a higher risk of experiencing exploding head syndrome.

sleep medicine specialist can help figure out if you have it. They’ll ask:

  • When the sounds started
  • How often they happen
  • How long they last

Be sure to tell your doctor about any other sleep problems you have. They’ll need to know about any medicines you take and if you have any other health problems.

If you do have sleep problems, a sleep diary could help to chart your sleeping patterns.

Usually, there aren’t tests for exploding head syndrome. But your doctor may want you to do an overnight sleep study if you have sleep problems. It tracks your heartbeat, breathing, and brainwaves while you sleep. It also records how your body moves. The study can help discover if the sounds you hear are due to another sleep disorder.

So, what can you do if you think you may be suffering from EHS?

First, start keeping a sleep diary so you can track the frequency and description of your episodes to share with your doctor. During your appointment, they will ask you other follow up questions to ensure the hallucinations arenot related to another sleep or psychiatric disorder. For instance, individuals with PTSD may be roused by a bomb going off in a nightmare; this is distinct from EHS because the sounds associated with EHS are random and without context.

When you wake up from EHS, remembering that the sound is not real, and that it is harmless, can provide relief. In fact, some researchers believe getting the reassurance from your doctor can be enough for many to go into remission (see tip #1).

Eat a healthy diet of foods that promote sleep, like nuts, fish, leafy greens, and whole grains. Avoid heavy meals before bed, and limit your intake of caffeine, and anyoverly fatty, spicy, or sugary foods. Likewise, moderate your drug and alcohol use. These substances interfere with your ability to get quality sleep and contribute to sleep disturbances such as EHS.

Because of the association between stress and EHS, researchers advise sufferers to engage in stress-relieving activities like yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques. Establish a calming bedtime routine that includes a warm bath or aromatherapy.

Since lack of sleep can contribute to stress, do what you can to make sure you are getting at least 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep each night. Go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Remove electronics from your bedroom and avoid using them in the hour before bed.

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