My daughter and I have both been diagnosed with Exploding Head Syndrome.
After many years of just dealing with what we call 'sleep firecrackers,' we finally asked the doctors about it. We were both pleasantly surprised that there was an actual name for the firecrackers that often interrupted our sleep.
Medical researchers don't know how many people have it because relatively few report it. They believe it's because most people who do experience sleep firecrackers don't know that it's an actual medical diagnosis. However, researchers have learned that exploding head syndrome occurs in all age groups but is more common in females.
So I decided to write this article because those who experience it may find relief in both knowing they are not alone and learning it's nothing serious.
What is Exploding Head Syndrome?
Cleveland Medical Center describes it as, "Exploding head syndrome (EHS) is a type of sleep disorder in which you hear a loud noise or explosive crashing sound in your head. The sound isn't real or heard by anyone else. The episode typically happens suddenly either when you're beginning to fall asleep or when you wake up during the night. Along with the loud sound, EHS can occur along with flashes of light and muscle jerks (myoclonic jerks). Unlike its painful-sounding name, the episode is painless and not serious. EHS is a parasomnia, which is an undesired event that happens while sleeping. It's also called episodic cranial sensory shocks."
What are the symptoms of sleep firecrackers?
Our doctors told us that most people feel frightened or anxious, wake up sweating, experience breathing difficulties or have a racing heartbeat right after the firecracker episode. Although neither my daughter nor I experience those anymore, we were startled the first few times it happened.
Doctors also say that those who suffer from sleep firecrackers usually experience a sudden muscle jerk. Neither my daughter nor I recall that ever occurring, although possibly did so initially.
Another symptom is that the individuals who experience this have difficulty falling back to sleep. Although it hasn't happened for years, we both recall the first few times it occurred. We could not return to sleep because we were concerned it could be something serious.
Our only symptom really has just been hearing the firecrackers in our head, which others have described as gunfire, thunder cracks, bombs, or other loud 'war sounds.'
She and I are so used to it that, when we hear it, we semi-wake up for a second before instantly returning to sleep. Although it's not nightly, dealing with this for decades is of no concern anymore.
What causes sleep firecrackers?
Medical experts don't know the exact cause since few people report this phenomenon. Although doctors don't know the exact cause, the common theme so far is that it occurs most in those who feel overly exhausted or excessively stressed.
However, there are some theories about it, such as inner ear damage or dysfunction, abnormal brain processing, migraine-related auras, serotonin reuptake or benzodiazepine side effects, and increased brain activity in the sensory neurons.
Although my daughter and I have experienced this for years, we still haven't been able to relate it to anything specific. We've kept track of stress, dietary, and other possibilities with no rhyme or reason. However, the one thing she and I do share is a history of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
How is Exploding Head Syndrome diagnosed?
- Polysomnogram: measures brain and body activity during sleep while it also records your brain waves, heart rate, eye movements, and breathing during your sleep cycle.
- Magnetic resonance imaging: uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to create detailed brain images.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): records the electrical activity of your brain and detects nocturnal epilepsy.
What can you do about it?
Cleveland Medical Center offers some tips.
My questions for you are:
- Do you think those with a history of PTSD or headaches are more susceptible?
- Have you ever experienced sleep firecrackers?
- Could it be hereditary?
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. This content should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.