Well, this makes me not want to complain of headaches waking me up almost on a nightly basis. If you have ever heard a loud ‘boom’ in the night that wasn’t there, you’re not alone.

It’s called exploding head syndrome, and according to researchers, it’s pretty common. Washington State researchers estimate that one in five people suffer the psychological and sleep phenomenon known as exploding head syndrome. It is characterized as being awakened in the middle of the night by an extremely loud noise that isn’t there.

The syndrome occurs just as you are falling asleep. A normal start to your sleep pattern is your brain shutting systems down in a methodical fashion. Motor, visual and auditory sensors all ‘click’ off.

With an ‘exploding head,’ the brain crashes. Imagine someone hitting the emergency power switch to turn everything off at once. The auditory neurons crash all at once, and you get the bang.

sleep exploding head syndrome

“That’s why you get these crazy-loud noises that you can’t explain, and they’re not actual noises in your environment,” says researcher Brian Sharpless, an assistant professor at Washington State University.

Exploding Head Syndrome Research

Before the study, in the Journal of Sleep Research, the prevailing theory was that the syndrome hit older people – 50 plus. Now? That’s not the case at all. The new study used 211 undergraduate students to identify the syndrome.

Psychologists trained in identifying exploding head syndrome found that 18 percent suffered at least one episode of the syndrome.

The sleep disorders just grew from there. One-third of the participants reported isolated sleep paralysis – a condition where you can’t move upon waking or dreaming with your eyes open.

Exploding Head Syndrome Stigma

A big hurdle with the syndrome? It has a serious stigma attached to it. It can lead to hallucinations or other unnatural events. In the Middle Ages, people would claim they had seen witches or demons.

Others will think they have suffered a brain aneurysm or stroke. Not exactly the feeling you want waking up.


“Some people have worked these scary experiences into conspiracy theories and mistakenly believe the episodes are caused by some sort of directed-energy weapon,” Sharpless says.

This explains the stigma surrounding it. Unless you’re an Alex Jones fan, how many people are going to rush to tell someone about the episode.

What this research does show is that you’re not alone if you suffer from the episodic syndrome.


Treating options for exploding head syndrome are few, but they do exist. So, definitely talk to your doctor.

Drug options are available to dull the noise and help you fall asleep. Clomipramine has been suggested as a possible drug option. Sedatives and even stimulants have shown promise in treating the condition.

Everyone is different, so it may just be a case of trial and error on finding the right medication for you.

Even just knowing about the condition may help. According to Sharpless; “There’s the possibility that just being able to recognize it and not be afraid of it can make it better.”

So, if you hear loud bangs that aren’t there, talk to your doctor if the episodes recur.

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