Exploding head syndrome: causes and treatment

Exploding head syndrome is a sleep disorder in which people hear loud noises when going into or out of deep sleep.

While hearing loud noises can cause distress, panic, or anxiety in some people, exploding head syndrome is not a serious or life-threatening condition. However, it can disrupt a person’s sleep, leading to excessive daytime fatigue.

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

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A person with exploding head syndrome may hear loud noises during sleep transitions.

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
  • nightmares
  • eat sleep

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

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

The exact cause of exploding head syndrome remains unclear. However, some theories suggest it may be due to small seizures in the temporal lobe or parts of the middle ear moving at night. Anxiety, emotional stress, or anxiety can also contribute to the condition.

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

Case study findings suggest that exploding head syndrome may be associated with other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea and sleep paralysis.

People who experience a lot of stress and those with a history of insomnia may also be at a higher risk of experiencing exploding head syndrome.

People who experience exploding head syndrome imagine loud noises that resemble explosions and crashes when 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 sounds.

Although these sounds are not real, they can cause distress, fear and anxiety in some people. Noise attacks may occur one or more times during the night, but usually stop when a person is fully awake.

According to the findings of a 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 heartbeat
  • headache
  • to sweat
  • anxiety, agitation or anxiety
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • daytime fatigue
  • mild memory impairment

There are no standard treatment guidelines for exploding head syndrome. Doctors may recommend counseling or talk therapy if they think stress or anxiety may be a major contributing factor.

People with other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, may notice less intense or less frequent episodes of noise after a doctor begins treating the underlying sleep disorder.

Specific medications can also help treat exploding head syndrome.

In a case study, doctors treated exploding head syndrome in a 39-year-old woman. She experienced loud thumping and buzzing noises – as well as involuntary jerking movements in her head, arms and legs – as she drifted off to sleep. These symptoms occurred at night and persisted for 3 years.

Her doctors performed a neurological exam, as well as imaging and other lab tests. All her results were back to normal and her doctors found no evidence of epileptic activity.

They decided to treat her condition with topiramate, an anti-migraine medication. After 2 months of treatment, she reported that the loud popping sounds had diminished to a low buzzing. Although the noises were less disturbing, she continued to experience symptoms every night.

Other medicines that may help reduce the symptoms of exploding head syndrome include:

  • tricyclic antidepressants
  • medicines for anxiety
  • anticonvulsants
  • calcium blockers

Some people may not need treatment. In a Case study from 2013, a 57-year-old man reported four separate episodes over 2 years. He described his symptoms as “explosions in [his] head.” However, he denied that he had felt any pain or headaches after these episodes.

His doctor did not prescribe any treatment and the man reported no new episodes at a follow-up appointment 6 months later.

A person may want to contact a doctor or sleep specialist if they experience symptoms of exploding head syndrome, especially if these symptoms cause anxiety or interfere with their sleep quality.

A doctor may ask about the person’s medical history, current emotional state, and sleeping habits. If a doctor thinks someone has a sleep disorder, he or she will likely refer them to a sleep specialist for further consultation, testing, and treatment recommendations.

A sleep specialist can perform polysomnography or a sleep study. This measures various bodily functions during sleep, such as a person’s brain waves, muscle activity, heart rate, and eye movements.

Doctors may use other lab tests to diagnose underlying medical conditions that may contribute to exploding head syndrome. This may include MRI imaging, blood tests, or an electroencephalogram.

Exploding head syndrome belongs to a group of sleep disorders called parasomnias.

It causes people to hear loud noises, such as pounding cymbals or claps of thunder, when going into or out of deep sleep. Some people also report seeing bright flashes of light at the same time.

Despite its name, this condition does not cause pain. However, some people report episodes of exploding head syndrome before the onset of migraines.

Possible causes of exploding head syndrome include other sleep disorders, sleep deprivation, and high levels of stress or anxiety.

A person should speak to a doctor or sleep specialist if their symptoms significantly affect their sleep quality or cause emotional distress.

Practicing relaxation techniques and meditation can reduce stress and help people fall asleep faster.

Exploding head syndrome: causes and treatment

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