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What Is Exploding Head Syndrome?

Loud Noises During Sleep Transition May Occur with Stress


Updated June 14, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Is Exploding Head Syndrome?

Exploding head syndrome may almost sound like a made-up name. But for the people who have this rare and unusual sleep disorder, the drama that name conjures up is very real. Those with exploding head syndrome may hear loud noises during sleep transition -- so loud that they may parallel something you'd imagine coming from a special effects sound stage.

This parasomnia involves the experience of hearing a loud bang within one's head. This may vary, sometimes sounding like a bomb explosion, gunshot, or even a clash of cymbals; on occasion, some may also experience a bright flash of light. The condition can be greatly upsetting and distressing. Fortunately, there is no pain or other physical symptoms.

Exploding head syndrome, or "sensory starts" as it is sometimes known, commonly occurs in the transition period around deep sleep. It seems to occur more often in women, especially after age 50, but it has been reported in a child as young as 10. Its cause is not known.

Exploding head syndrome often occurs in association with extreme fatigue or high levels of stress. The attacks may vary over time, and sometimes abruptly cease for long periods. The condition is not dangerous, and treatment is generally limited to stress management.

Following general sleep guidelines can be helpful as well. In some cases, the tricyclic antidepressant called clomipramine may be a useful option.

If you think this may be affecting you, speak to your doctor about your options.


"Exploding Head Syndrome." American Sleep Association. Accessed February 5, 2014.

Mowzoon, N et al. "Neurology of Sleep Disorders." Neurology Board Review: An Illustrated Guide. 2007;742.

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