A Scary-Sounding Sleep Disorder: Exploding Head Syndrome

Written by

Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, DABSM, FAASM , Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert
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Exploding head syndrome may sound like something out of a science fiction movie—but in fact it’s a very real sleep disorder. People with this sleep phenomenon are prone to experiencing loud and sudden noises as they transition in and out of sleep.

Researchers at Washington State University recently published a review of existing literature on exploding head syndrome, a first step toward raising awareness and better understanding this little-known sleep phenomenon. Their analysis of the syndrome reveals a range of symptoms reported by patients:

  • Noises are loud and jarring, resembling the popping sounds of firecrackers or gunshots, the slamming sound of a door closing violently, or the boom of an explosion.
  • These sounds may be perceived in one or both ears.
  • Sometimes the sounds of explosive head syndrome are accompanied by flashes of light.
  • In some cases, people will experience mild pain in addition to the noise disruption.
  • Women appear to be more likely than men to suffer from this sleep disorder.

Exploding head syndrome appears not to be linked to any serious health consequences. But that doesn’t mean it’s not disruptive to sleep and well being. These episodes can be highly disconcerting and frightening, creating anxiety about going to sleep that itself may become an obstacle to a regular routine of healthy rest.

This sleep disorder has received scant attention from the scientific community, but it’s not a new phenomenon. Mention in scientific literature of the distinctive symptoms of what’s now known as exploding head syndrome date back roughly 150 years.

The scientists who conducted the recent review speculate that this sleep phenomenon occurs when the body’s process of transitioning to sleep fails to unfold in proper sequence. Rather than slowing down, certain areas of the brain may actually become more active during the movement from wakefulness to sleep, leading to the perception of loud noise. Other sleep disorders may contribute to an increased likelihood for this phenomenon, as may stress, fatigue, and psychological conditions.

Treatments for exploding head syndrome often include relaxation and exercise to relieve stress, avoiding alcohol, as well as treating other possible sleep issues.

Have you ever experienced this sleep phenomenon? If so, rest assured that the problem is not all in your head. Seek out the advice of a sleep specialist to help you find relief for this very real disorder.

About The Author

Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, DABSM, FAASM

Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert

Michael Breus, Ph.D is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, and Good Night!

  • Position: Combination Sleeper
  • Temperature: Hot Sleeper
  • Chronotype: Wolf

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