Understanding Exploding Head Syndrome—and How to Avoid It

Understanding Exploding Head Syndrome—and How to Avoid It

If you think The Big Bang Theory is an explanation of how the universe came into being or a nine-time Emmy Award winning comedy staring Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons, you’d be right. But there’s another Big Bang that’s neither theoretical nor amusing. It’s Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS), also known as episodic cranial sensory shock, and it’s characterized by a loud bang or crash inside your head that jolts you just before or as you’re falling asleep.

If you’re one of the 10 to 15 percent of the population that’s experienced this eerie phenomenon, don’t worry, you’re not losing your mind. Some researchers believe this thunderous noise no one else can hear results from a minor temporal lobe seizure, brain stem dysfunction, a shift in middle-ear components or impaired calcium signaling (a neuro-transmitting problem). Others think it’s a malfunction of how the brain shuts down as you enter sleep mode. In other words, it’s a sleep disorder.

The remedy? Do your best to help your body make the transition from wake to sleep slowly, shutting down one system at a time, like your laptop does. Keep digital devices out of your bedroom and control your heading-to-sleep environment: avoid alcohol and caffeine before turning in; make sure the bedroom is cool and quiet. If you’re still bothered by EHS, you can consult a neurologist to see if there is any treatable disturbance causing the symptoms.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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