Exploding head syndrome: What you need to know

Although hearing loud noises can cause distress, panic, or fear in some people, exploding head syndrome is not a severe or life threatening condition. However, it can interfere with a person’s sleep, which may lead to excessive daytime fatigue.

Keep reading to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for exploding head syndrome.

What is it?

Exploding head syndrome is a type of sleep disorder that belongs to a group called parasomnias. These cause unwanted physical, verbal, or behavioral symptoms during sleep transitions.

Other parasomnias include:

  • sleepwalking
  • nightmares
  • night terrors
  • sleep eating

According to the authors of one 2018 review, 4–67% of adults experience parasomnias.

Despite its name, exploding head syndrome is not a dangerous medical condition. This sleep condition does not cause pain or any serious side effects.

Causes

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.

Symptoms

People who experiencing exploding head syndrome imagine loud noises that sound similar to explosions and crashes as they transition into deep sleep or when they wake up in the middle of the night. Flashes of light and muscle spasms may accompany these noises.

Although these noises are not real, they can cause distress, fear, and anxiety in some people. Noise attacks can happen once or multiple times during the night, but they usually stop when a person is fully awake.

According to the findings of one 2019 study, between 3.89% and 6.54% of people with exploding head syndrome have at least one episode per month.

Some other symptoms of exploding head syndrome include:

rapid heart rate

headache

sweating

fearfulness, agitation, or anxiety

difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

daytime fatigue

mild memory impairment

Treatment

There are no standard treatment guidelines for exploding head syndrome. Doctors may recommend counseling or talk therapy if they think that stress or anxiety could be significant contributing factors.

People who have other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, may notice less intense or less frequent noise episodes after a doctor starts treating the underlying sleep condition.

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