Why am I sometimes awakened in the middle of the night by explosions going off in my head?
January 9, 2009 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Do you ever wake up feeling like a cannon just went off inside your head? If so, you may have Exploding Head Syndrome. People affected by this parasomnia experience it as a loud bang coming from inside the head, while sleeping. Think exploding bomb, gunshots, cymbal crashes. Sometimes there's a muscle twitch, or even a bright flash of light. Doctors theorize that stress may be a factor. (Also, it's "The Internet's Newest and Most Exciting New Band!")
posted by ivey (59 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like this has been covered in an AskMe question. I'll try to track it down.
posted by billysumday at 8:17 AM on January 9, 2009

I feel a little better about my tinnitus now. Apparently there are worse bizarre auditory things to deal with...
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:18 AM on January 9, 2009

Interesting -- so this is entirely auditory with these things heard distinctly? Or are these descriptions a metaphor for a sudden "jarring" of the thought processes?
posted by crapmatic at 8:21 AM on January 9, 2009

Not to be confused with Asploding Head Syndrome, which is the result of a meme going off inside your head.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:22 AM on January 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

Hopefully, some company will come up with a drug that targets this particular condition and then run a visible television campaign promoting the drug. I am sure that many people could become convinced they have this condition, share the symptoms the commercial told them about with a doctor, and be cured.
posted by flarbuse at 8:22 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes. Not loud, but distant... as I drift asleep.

Other people get that too? I've been meaning to ask about it on the green ever since I signed up.
posted by popcassady at 8:23 AM on January 9, 2009

I woke from uneasy dreams to find myself transformed in my bed into a monstrous cannon.
posted by stavrogin at 8:25 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you ever wake up feeling like a cannon just went off inside your head?

Maybe you ought to stop sleeping on the job then...
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 8:31 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I get this, too--I wouldn't describe it as a cannon exactly. More like a crashing, metallic sound. It's very disturbing, to put it mildly.
posted by etaoin at 8:31 AM on January 9, 2009

Hmmm. I've had this. I just figured AC/DC were in there saluting me.
posted by bondcliff at 8:32 AM on January 9, 2009

*head explodes*
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:37 AM on January 9, 2009

I often have this sensation on the Internet. Maybe I'm asleep at the keyboard.
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on January 9, 2009

This happened to me exactly once, as I was falling asleep when I was maybe 14. Sound started faint, but grew louder and louder. It sounded like someone was banging on metallic trash cans just out in the backyard... but my sleepy brain managed to realize that, hey, our trashcans are plastic!

So then I lifted my head and kinda twisted my neck a little in both directions, you know, as people do to try to pinpoint the location of a sound... and that's when I realized that HOLY GOD THE NOISE IS COMING FROM INSIDE MY HEAD! That's the moment I freaked out. Panic, tunnel vision, heart racing. The noise went quickly away, maybe 15 or 20 seconds later, but it was definitely scary. Plus people looked at me funny next day when I asked if it had happened to them.

A few years back I stumbled upon the night-hags thread in Ask, and felt much more normal.
posted by papafrita at 8:47 AM on January 9, 2009

You mean it's not a Harrison Bergeron thing?

Guess I'm not as smart as I thought I was.
posted by merelyglib at 8:51 AM on January 9, 2009

Exploding Head Syndrome

Is that what the kids are calling it these days?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:55 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have this when I'm falling asleep, not when waking up. It sounds exactly like an exterior door slamming very hard. On occasion I've gotten out of bed to check the doors. Nice to know I'm not crazy.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:08 AM on January 9, 2009

"Sometimes I hear loud screaming inside my head when I am falling asleep."

Aaaaaah! Aaaaaaah! Oooooooohh ooooooohhhhh...

Breathe. Breathe in the air. Don't be afraid to care...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:09 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I dunno if it's related but I've woken up several times just as I was drifting off convinced that there had been a car/plane crash outside.
posted by Skorgu at 9:10 AM on January 9, 2009

What luck! Thanks for this post. I have experienced this many times- it's incredibly disturbing and it quite literally sounds/ feels like a firecracker has detonated in my skull. I had no idea it was a recognized "thing." I'm hellbound and I have Exploding Head Syndrome...
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 9:18 AM on January 9, 2009

I have had this happen to me a couple times. Just starting to drift off to sleep and i hear what seems like a bomb going off outside my window. Which is great having grown up with "the day after" type tv shows...
posted by tomas316 at 9:21 AM on January 9, 2009

This just started happening to me in the past month or so! So glad to know I'm not losing my mind. It happens when I'm falling asleep, and it jerks me awake. Sounds like a door slamming, or something hitting the side of the house. The first few times it happened I asked my startled spouse "Did you hear that?!"
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:25 AM on January 9, 2009

So now's a good time for The Man Whose Head Expanded.
posted by grounded at 9:28 AM on January 9, 2009

I've experienced this kind of thing, too--although it tends to come and go. Stress may be a factor for me. My own experiences with this, though, are a bit different. For me, it's a sensation like electrical feedback that swells up into what I can only describe as like having a big bug-zapper go off in my head (at which point I usually wake up in a panic). Always wondered WTF!?!?, but figured it was just one of those random quirks of human biology--maybe some kind of inner-ear feedback. Looking forward to reading more.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:29 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

How uncommon is this sleep disorder? Of course, auditory hallucinations while awake could be even scarier.
posted by woodway at 9:29 AM on January 9, 2009

Case Studies
posted by Jezztek at 9:32 AM on January 9, 2009

I get this too, sometimes when falling asleep and sometimes upon awakening. It's a doorslam/crash sound.

'Course, I also have hypnagogic hallucinations, hypnic jerks, sleep paralysis, and hear jumbled music-like sounds in my head as I fall asleep. I figured the crash/slam thing was related to the rest of it.
posted by desuetude at 9:51 AM on January 9, 2009

How weird. I've wondered if I should be worried about that. I get the big explosion with a huge flashbang light, the sounds of a gigantic crash that leads to a racing heart, and the weird electrical build-up thing, and, sometimes, each of these leave a staticky field effect in my head for a few minutes after.

I'm another one with a bunch of other sleep-interruption/stressed system responses in addition to those...I always figured it was just more ways my insomnia has to make me miserable.
posted by batmonkey at 9:57 AM on January 9, 2009

Stress may be a factor for me.

Phenomenal drug intake tended to trigger it in my case. Not while I was actually doing the drugs, but in that period of exhaustion after they'd worn off and I was trying to get back to normal.

I never had the head exploding thing, but I used to get fairly typical sleep paralysis. If I was a mystical type, I would have described it as astral projection, but I'd get so far and then become aware that I was actually still asleep in my bed, and I'd be zapped back into my body, seemingly conscious, but unable to move or get up.

It stopped happening as I got older and stopped getting so relentlessly wasted, but I never had any idea what it was until I came across that sleep paralysis link on Metafilter a few years ago.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:43 AM on January 9, 2009

Do you ever wake up feeling like a cannon just went off inside your head?

Only when I drink whiskey.
posted by ninjew at 11:16 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I occasionally experience something similar while falling asleep. A flash and a pop, like someone has just taken a photo in the room with an old-fashioned flashbulb. It is a slightly annoying hallucination.
posted by moonbiter at 11:20 AM on January 9, 2009

I get this sometimes too. More often though, I get a very similar thing but the noise is someone yelling my name once. Often it's someone in particular, whose voice I recognize, like one of my parents. The weird thing is I never seem to actually hear the yelling, so much as I have the feeling I just heard it. Which I guess kind of makes sense for a noise that I didn't actually hear. It's like there's a tiny lag between hearing a sound and processing the sound that you don't notice unless the "processing the sound" part happens without the original "hearing" part.

This has happened on and off since I was really little. I always assumed it was just some weird thing your brain does, like the occasional "almost asleep" spasm that most people get sometimes.
posted by rusty at 11:39 AM on January 9, 2009

I have occasionally experienced this or something similar when falling asleep. What happens to me is like a sharp, short, solid bang that fills out my entire head space for a split second drowning out everything else in that moment. But it's not unpleasant or literally deafening or anything. It's like an auditory experience without any auditory after effects.
In a strange way it's not unlike the occasional muscle twitch one can experience when the body relaxes while falling asleep. Joints popping/cracking on their own also comes to mind. It feels like the mind's equivalent of these.
A bit surprising when it happens yet strangely relaxing.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:46 AM on January 9, 2009

rusty Yes, I too used to hallucinate my name being shouted as I fell asleep. It was always either my mother or father.

I don't think I've experience that since I was a kid. Nowadays the sound is similar to that of distant cannon fire or a large firework.

Incidentally, I also experience an occasional rushing, none-too-pleasant feeling of departing my body. That always shakes me awake. I sometimes have OOBEs and once had an encounter with the 'Old Hag'.

I'm always tired.
posted by popcassady at 11:58 AM on January 9, 2009

Ok weird...I don't get loud noises, I get people talking loudly. Like a big group of people all trying to talk over each other, right in my face, except my face is in my brain. I can never make out what they're saying. I had no idea this was a Thing!
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 12:00 PM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Metafilter: I had no idea this was a Thing!
posted by rusty at 12:05 PM on January 9, 2009

Has anyone alerted Dave Barry yet?
posted by tommasz at 12:30 PM on January 9, 2009

Holy crap, this has a name?*
I've experience this since I was in my late teens. It's a horrifying experience. I always imagined that it's what having a stroke must feel like. The noise is so loud that I swear it feels like my whole brain is rippling from the shockwave.

*of course it does, it probably even has a Rule 34 somewhere...
posted by lekvar at 12:48 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I tend to wake up feeling desperately afraid that I am falling, just as I am about to go to sleep. I have always thought of it as my brain "slipping" as it changes gears, like a badly tuned automatic transmission.

In college I had a rather vicious auditory hallucination. I woke in the night, thinking that I heard the sound of a helicopter, loud and insistent, within the room; I was in the upper bunk in my dorm room, and tried to ignore it, thinking (irrationally) that one of the helicopters from the nearby hospital had landed in the road. This persisted for some indeterminate period of time, until I climbed down and turned off the air conditioner; the noise dissipated, but clearly hadn't been originating from the A/C. I went to the bathroom, then came back and drank a bottle of water.

I'm sure my roommate thought I was creepy as hell.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:32 PM on January 9, 2009

saulgoodman: For me, it's a sensation like electrical feedback that swells up into what I can only describe as like having a big bug-zapper go off in my head (at which point I usually wake up in a panic)

Oh man, this is exactly what I get...and when it happens, I feel like I'm about to die, like something in my brain is killing me, and I'm seconds away from my heart stopping. The fact that another person on the planet experiences this makes me very, very relieved.
posted by Jimbob at 2:01 PM on January 9, 2009

Phenomenal drug intake tended to trigger it in my case. Not while I was actually doing the drugs, but in that period of exhaustion after they'd worn off and I was trying to get back to normal.

On the two occasions I've done speed, I had the experience. I decided that the drug really was frying my brain, and swore never, ever to touch the stuff again. But other times I've had it I think it's stress related. It was quite common when I was finishing up my PhD.
posted by Jimbob at 2:07 PM on January 9, 2009

rusty - I get that people calling my name thing as well, sudden screams, someone speaking straight in my ear - and have heard the occasional "door slam". I thought it was a door slam, except, gee we don't have a door to the bedroom at all.
posted by dabitch at 3:14 PM on January 9, 2009

it's a sensation like electrical feedback that swells up into what I can only describe as like having a big bug-zapper go off in my head

Exactly so. This happened to me for the first time about a month or so ago. While falling asleep and seemingly at the point when your brainwaves shift from (i think) alpha to theta; that point where you would normally feel your body sort of deeply relax and know that sleep is near. When it happened I likened it to a big spark gap going off in the center of my skull. It was really disturbing and caused me to sit bolt upright wondering just what in the hell had happened.

And now, for your amusement, I can relate the following anecdote which would have been impossible to tell without this thread. A couple weeks ago a condo construction project down the street had some kerosene heaters explode in the early morning hours, right as I was falling asleep. With my eyes closed I saw this flash and heard this weird ringing pop. For a moment or two in my half-conscious state I thought it was the spark gap thing again and wondered how the fire trucks roaring up the street knew about it.
posted by well_balanced at 3:24 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

For me, it's different every time it happens. Sometimes it's an explosion/gun sound. Sometimes it's like a huge load of metallic garbage falling from a great height onto the ground into a pile. Loud words, or someone addressing me, occur more rarely.
posted by Jpfed at 3:39 PM on January 9, 2009

well_balanced - hahaha, I love sleepy-brain logic.
posted by dabitch at 3:42 PM on January 9, 2009

Argh. I was sure I hadn't experienced this, but then someone described the sensation of having heard something but not actually hearing it, and now I'm sure I have. Not sure what, though. Not explosions.

The loud hubbub of voices I only get when I'm incredibly low on sleep (<2 hours) and trying to get ready for work.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:44 PM on January 9, 2009

Ooh, I have had the electrical charge thing. It totally freaked me out for a while but my doctor was very "feh" about it so I stopped thinking about it. It hasn't happened in years.
posted by lunasol at 5:05 PM on January 9, 2009

Yep, I get it falling asleep sometimes. It always jolts me awake, and often think it will be really hard to get to sleep after that, but sleep tends to come soon after.

I bet this thread is kinda boring for those who can't relate.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:22 PM on January 9, 2009

On the two occasions I've done speed, I had the experience.

Usually speed with me as well, though I've had the stress-related variant once or twice as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:01 PM on January 9, 2009

lunasol, jimbob & co.: i'm relieved i'm not alone, too. and yeah, jimbob, although i've had the experience under all kinds of different circumstances over the years, i've also noticed a possible link to speed use (well, i wasn't on speed at the time exactly, but concerta, an extended-release methylphenidate--basically a fancy-pants version of ritalin).
posted by saulgoodman at 6:15 PM on January 9, 2009

Yeah, I occasionally think I hear a loud bang outside just as I'm drifting off to sleep. It sounds like something fell over or hit the wall. It's frustrating.
posted by homunculus at 6:44 PM on January 9, 2009

nthing JimBob.

When I was using ecstasy frequently, years ago, for days afterwards I'd have incredibly vivid auditory hallucinations as I was falling asleep. Explosions, loud music (and not even recognizable songs, almost free jazz), voices, etc. It was usually loud and disturbing enough to stop me from fully falling asleep for hours. I had to turn on music to drown it out some nights.

Less often-- really vivid, frightening, hallucinatory dreams, too, and it was also accompanied by panic attacks some nights. It even would happen while I was fully awake, if I started getting a little tired during the day (which could be inconvenient, to say the least). It took months of not using it for it to stop happening. None of those things had ever happened to me before, and none of them have happened to me since I quit taking it regularly.

I wonder if it has to do with dopamine or serotonin levels. The association with speed (not something I did) in others makes me think it has to do with dopamine.

I wonder if SSRI's would cause it, too?
posted by empath at 8:56 PM on January 9, 2009

I've had this quite a few times, and I've noticed two distinct types (at least for me). One is the very loud bang, which sounds like nothing less than a .44 Magnum being shot off next to my head. The other is almost as loud, but is a weird metallic buzzing sound, complete with Doppler effect, like the sound is a wave that passes through my head or through my body. It's not exactly scary, especially now that I know I'm not alone with this, but it's certainly...fucking weird.
posted by zardoz at 10:43 PM on January 9, 2009

posted by metaplectic at 12:04 AM on January 10, 2009

HOLY CRAP. I get this ALL the time. It just sounds like a crash in my head - cymbals, door slams, whatever. And I've definitely heard the name thing a LOT.

I won't be surprised to hear that it's a stress-related thing - I was practically born stressed, and I've had this for as long as I can remember. So long as I'm not literally exploding, I'm good.
posted by divabat at 3:05 AM on January 10, 2009

This speed link is interesting to me, I've never done any kind of speed or x, and have experienced these weird noises when trying to fall asleep since my early teens. I recall that it began happening quite a lot around 14, and at age 17 it was happening basically every night. I get it maybe once a fortnight now and am used to it, but it clearly started when hormones were busy rebuilding my body and brain.
posted by dabitch at 7:37 AM on January 10, 2009

Same thing here, though for me its less of an explosion sound...more of a loud knocking like I'm sleeping next to the door. Very bizarre sensation...I'm glad its not uncommon.
posted by samsara at 8:30 AM on January 10, 2009

Put me down as another person this happens to.

Mine is usually preceded, as some others have noted, by a buzzing that rapidly rises in intensity, culminating in a huge flash & a deafening bang. I also - once - experienced what felt exactly like an electrical discharge rippling across the surface of my brain from front to back.

It has probably happened to me a couple dozen times in my life, so I wouldn't say it's a common occurrence, and it didn't start until my early twenties that I recall (I'm in my early forties now).

Right after I first encountered the name for this condition - as the result of a Google search for the symptoms - I mentioned it to a friend of mine who I knew would get a kick out of the name, and he immediately responded, "Oh, yeah, that happens to me all the time". So, based on that, and the number of people here who apparently experience it too, it can't be all that rare.

The Wikipedia entry for the condition used to contain the observation "Note that exploding head syndrome does not actually involve the head exploding", and I feel the article is the poorer for its subsequent removal.
posted by kcds at 12:48 PM on January 10, 2009

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