Exploding Head Syndrome

It’s not nearly as alarming as its name makes it sound, but neither is it pleasant for sufferers. Allow me to shed some light on this odd condition from which I’ve suffered for as long as I can remember, although I didn’t realise that it was out of the ordinary until recently.

EHS is a condition where the sufferer has an auditory hallucination of a loud noise (often like a gunshot or an explosion) whilst on the verge of sleep; jolting them awake. It feels quite similar to a hypnagogic jerk (something that almost everyone experiences) where you’re jolted awake, feeling like you’re falling.

It’s not known how many people suffer from EHS as many people, like me, think little of it and don’t report it. Furthermore, it isn’t typically a chronic problem, ie it’s rare that sufferers will experience it constantly, every night indefinitely.

Here is how I experience it, when I do – There is a rushing feeling and sound followed by a loud jarring noise after which I feel awake, but dazed often seeing stars – as if somebody’s just turned the lights on and off, dazzling me. The loud noise can manifest in different ways, most of the time it’s a sharp thud, like a door being slammed or a gunshot. Occasionally it sounds like someone’s shouting into my ear which can be quite disorientating to a tired brain in the dark.

EHS is often described as being scary – I don’t find it particularly so; perhaps partly because I remember it having happened at various times, since as young as I can remember, so I’m used to it. Perhaps it’s the rushing sound before that gives me just enough warning to steel myself, or perhaps it’s that it’s different enough to a real sound that I know it’s just inside my head.

It can be wearing though, especially if you have it for several nights in a row – you can dread trying to go to sleep. There have been some nights where it’s happened several times in succession, at which point it becomes annoying.

There isn’t any readily available treatment as the condition is benign, and for the vast majority of sufferers it doesn’t impact upon their lives.

The cause of the condition is debated, but hopefully I can give you some tips.

Theories range from sudden changes in fluid in the ear, high levels of stress, small seizures (don’t worry, orgasms or sneezes are also small seizures in their own ways) or something disrupting the shut down of sensory organs. Some scientists link EHS to other sleep related problems such as insomnia (obviously), sleep paralysis and night terrors.

For fluid or seizures, I can’t suggest a great deal. For stress, it may help if you stay up for a bit and do something to help yourself feel relaxed. I’ve found that I tend to have EHS when I’m trying to stay awake, or I have exerted myself to stay awake earlier. In this case, try not to use anything with a screen directly before you go to bed (laptop/phone/TV); don’t read a dramatic or scary book directly before and don’t go to bed straight after doing a load of stressful work. Have a beer/hot chocolate/cigarette whatever first and wind down.

If you’re going through a period of more EHS one thing I couldn’t recommend less is LSD. If you think EHS is bad now, just you see what it’s like on an acid comedown! Maybe you’d like the experience, as it is really quite visceral…

In all seriousness, though, mind altering substances will probably not help. As well as Acid, I’ve found EHS to be worse with Caffeine and Alcohol and especially a combination of Alcohol and Marijuana. What you take is entirely up to you, but I’d recommend you lay off these things if going through a period of experiencing EHS frequently.


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