Exploding head syndrome is a condition in which you may hear sounds of explosion or other startling noises in your head while falling asleep or waking up.

Although its name and symptoms sound scary, exploding head syndrome isn’t a dangerous medical condition. It belongs to a group of sleep disorders called parasomnias. Parasomnias cause abnormal behavior during sleep like sleepwalking, sleep-talking, or doing other unusual things in your sleep.

Keep reading to learn the causes of exploding head syndrome, its symptoms, treatment, and other helpful information.

Scientists aren’t sure what causes exploding head syndrome. It’s more likely to occur when you’re extremely tired or under stress. Some researchers believe that exploding head syndrome may be linked to:

Scientists used to think that exploding head syndrome mostly affects people over the age of 50, specifically women. However, an older study that included 30 people with exploding head syndrome has found that some people begin to experience symptoms during childhood. In addition, a 2014 study has found that exploding head syndrome is also common in college students of all genders.

Although there are no known risk factors, some research suggests that exploding head syndrome can occur in people who’ve experienced sleep paralysis.

If you have exploding head syndrome, you may experience the following:

  • sudden loud noise in your head as you’re drifting off to sleep or right before you wake up
  • sounds that don’t cause any physical pain and can’t be heard by other people
  • sounds that startle or frighten you and cause you to wake up
  • sweating, a rapid heartbeat, or trouble breathing after waking up

Some people also describe seeing flashes of light and feeling muscle twitches that accompany the noises. Exploding head episodes can happen once or several times during the night, but they stop when a person is fully awake.

According to a recent study, around 4% to 7% of people with exploding head syndrome have at least one noise episode per month.

You should contact your primary care doctor or a sleep specialist if you believe you have exploding head syndrome, especially if it causes you anxiety or prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep.

The main sleep specialists that can help you manage your exploding head syndrome are psychologists and psychiatrists with training in sleep disorders. These specialists treat thoughts and behaviors related to sleep. While psychologists mainly use talk therapy or behavioral therapy, psychiatrists can prescribe medications to help with your symptoms.

Let’s look at some of the questions that people with exploding head syndrome often ask their doctors.

How is exploding head syndrome diagnosed?

To make a diagnosis, a doctor may ask you about the following:

  • a detailed description of your noise attacks
  • your other medical conditions
  • family history of sleep disorders like sleep apnea, insomnia, or parasomnia
  • medications you take

They may also order a sleep study called polysomnography. This study is performed while you’re asleep, and it helps identify various sleep disorders, including exploding head syndrome.

Doctors may also run some tests to rule out any underlying medical conditions that might be causing your symptoms. These include blood tests, brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or electroencephalogram (EEG).

How is exploding head syndrome treated?

There’s no standard treatment for exploding head syndrome. Your doctor will suggest a treatment plan based on your age, the severity of symptoms, and the presence of any other medical conditions.

For many people, treatment isn’t needed. However, some find that the following nonpharmacological solutions help reduce the frequency and intensity of their exploding head episodes:

For others, certain types of medications that influence neurological activity might provide relief.

What does exploding head syndrome feel like?

People that have exploding head syndrome describe their noise attacks as the following:

  • explosions
  • gunshots
  • crashes
  • thunder

There can be other sounds you might hear, but they are almost always pain-free.

Is exploding head syndrome dangerous?

The good news is that despite its alarming symptoms, this condition isn’t dangerous. Your doctor will rule out any underlying medical conditions that might cause similar symptoms before arriving at this diagnosis.

Despite a scary-sounding name, exploding head syndrome isn’t a dangerous condition. It may be caused by stress and anxiety or imbalances in the neurological activity in your brain. Although scientists used to think it’s more common among women older than 50, newer research shows that it can happen at any age and in all genders.

Make sure to speak with a doctor if you experience loud noises during your sleep that cause you to wake up. Your doctor will rule out any underlying medical conditions. Although there’s no special treatment for exploding head syndrome, relaxation and stress reduction techniques are often helpful.