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Exploding Head Syndrome (wikipedia.org)
87 points by warent on March 8, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 70 comments

I find stuff like this really interesting, a large (double digit) percentage of the population has the condition, and may or may not assume it is normal. I don't have Exploding Head Syndrome, but I do have the Photic sneeze reflex [1], which affects ~20-30% of people. People with the reflex tend to sneeze when they see bright things such as the sun.

My father and I both have it, and it felt great when I told him about it. He was as surprised as I was that it didn't happen to everyone! In a weird way I'm grateful for it, as I'm sure the reflex urged me to stay inside and cultivate my love for computing :). It's too bad it made me dislike the beach as a kid though -- these days I make sure to bring sunglasses.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photic_sneeze_reflex

I have this, too - found out when I started doing astronomy and looking in the sky all the time. I also have a rarer one: the cough-ear reflex, which affects something like 2%. I involuntarily cough when I put in earplugs. The human body is weird!

That seems pretty reasonable/possibly explainable though. Putting eaebuds in deep I can feel a light gag reflex, ears and back of the throat are closely connected.

That's interesting if so, as I have some sensoneural hearing loss in inner ear, and had a period in past where I felt like was choking or some unexplained swallowing problems. Thought I was going bonkers when they couldn't find a problem.

I have the photic sneeze reflex too (didn't know there was a name for it!), and I've always known it was fairly common, but last summer I mentioned it to my grandfather, who had the opposite reaction as your father; he never knew it happened to anyone besides him! I wasn't aware he had it; he's my first relative that I've discovered has it as well.

I was shocked at the number of middle aged people who has never experienced heartburn. Around half of folks I surveyed. All the OTC anti-acid commercials led me to believe it was one of those conditions everyone suffered once in a while. Also surprising amount of people who never experience headaches.

I have photic sneeze reflex, hypnic jerk, and TIL exploding head syndrome. I associate hypnic jerk with a sensation of falling, whereas exploding head syndrome is a loud bang and bright flash. They both make you jump. I didn't know there was a different term for the loud bang/flash type.

I also have photic sneeze reflex but it only happens once per day when I expose myself to direct sunlight. Though typically I sneeze twice in a row and then it stops.

> People with the reflex tend to sneeze when they see bright things such as the sun.

I have this and I also sneeze every time I eat peppermint.

Do you or your father have deviated septum's? I ask as if you will actually know lol, apparently 80% of us have deviated septum's and there's a direct correlation between that and photic sneezers. I've had it for years but I only found out recently during a routine inspection that I do indeed have a deviated septum.

My septum was surgically corrected but I still have the sneeze thing.

Apparently this is very common with infants and young children. My two-year old sneezes in sunlight all the time. I mentioned it to our doctor (not because I was worried, just as an interesting comment) and he said most kids do this and some grow out of it.

I have it. Every daytime movie experience (that I haven't been to in a while) results in my sneezing 1-2 times. My ancestors must've evolved to live in some dirty caves. ;)

I had a similar experience when I learned that "aphantasia" is a thing (or rather, that having a "mind's eye" isn't just a figure of speech).

Similar for me with “musical anhedonia”. It blew my mind to find out that “sad songs” actually make people feel sad - it doesn’t just mean “low tempo” or “appropriate to play at a sad time”.

When I have been stressed out for longer periods of time, I start to get weird problems with sleep. This has included hearing many indistinct voices when going to sleep, waking up to a sleep paralysis with the demon sitting on me / next to me, and sensation of falling immediately after falling asleep (which makes it impossible to sleep). In all of the cases, it seems like the unconsciousness is so occupied that it doesn't want me to rest. Every time, when I have talked about my worries hence processed them, the symptoms have gone away. So to at least to my anecdotal experience, the sleep disorders seem to be caused by held back emotions.

If you haven't already, you might want to get checked for sleep apnea. Many of those symptoms, especially sleep paralysis are symptoms of sleep paralysis. And sleep apnea is also known to get worse with stress and anxiety.

Another 'interesting' thing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis

(Tell me, Mr. Anderson, what good is waking up if you are unable to move?)

It happened twice to me and still scared the heck out of me the second time. Been there, done that, can't recommend.

I used to get this quite a bit when I was in college and had a lot of bad sleep habits. I noticed it happened a lot more when I would take a nap or go to sleep super late. Definitely freaked me out a lot at first, but eventually I learned that fighting was futile and made it worse, while the best thing to do was surrender, relax, and just drift back to sleep a little more.

Nowadays I have better sleep habits and this only happens sometimes after overnight travel, but I still usually remember what's happening and can convince the lizard brain we're not dying and to chill out until we can wake up for real.

I’ve also experienced this a couple times and it was terrifying. It was exactly as in the depiction on Wikipedia. A demon came over me very quickly as I laid in bed and I was unable to move.

Got this three times yesterday. Not a fan. Probably had 4 or 500 incidents total in my life.

Might be sleep apnea.

I have occasionally experienced this. I once woke up to what sounded like a very loud gunshot right outside of my bedroom window. I actually called the police, half in a fog, until I realized half way through the call that it may have been a hypnagogic hallucination of sorts.

I experience this frequently. Right on the edge of loosing consciousness, I sometimes hear what reminds me of an old wooden screen-door slamming into a doorframe. If you know the sound it's unmistakable. It is preceeded by a woosh, like when your blood-pressure suddenly increases.

It usually jolts me awake for a brief moment. I rarely see flashes of light but it sometimes happens.

Oh man a wooden screen-door spamming shut is a good descriptor. When this happens to me I’d say the sound is similar to that, but there’s like a large cracking sound as well.

I've got the door slamming version. It was most common first year of uni, when I was convinced it was the wardrobe door next to the bed. Still get it once or twice a year even now. No lights though.

Because it happens at the same time in the sleep cycle, it really feels like the auditory equivalent of a hypnic jerk.

Reading the thread, it sounds like there are two rough categories: "door slam" and "guitar feedback". I wonder if they're two different phenomena.

First time it happened to me i thought some one had break in the house and grabbed a knife. Just like the movies...

I've had this happen a few times!

It'll happen usually while falling asleep - a sudden very loud ("overwhelming" is probably a better word since its obviously not auditory) static rising rapidly, sometimes with the image per the page. I never found it frightening, possibly because its so brief. I can imagine it would be terrifying if it continued for longer than a second or too.

Having just read "Fall, or Dodge in Hell" (Neal Stephensons latest novel), this is what I expect he describes when Dodge first gains consciousness. Just... overwhelming random static.

This happens to me from time to time! It really is bizarre. I’m hyper attuned to sound, particularly which direction sounds are coming from. When a sound seems to be emitted from within your own head, it creates a disorienting sensation that I experience as a sort of extreme vertigo. For me the sound is never really abrasive and usually manifests as a woman’s voice calmly saying one or two words. The disturbing part is just how “clear” the sounds are, like every other sound I’ve ever heard seems distant in comparison.

Weird - I just experienced one of these as I was waking up about 20 minutes ago!

I say "weird" b/c it's not a regular thing, but I have experienced this a few other times, along with similar sudden full-body "spasms" while drifting to sleep. It's not usually alarming, just a strange feeling.

The full body spasms are normal, they’re called “hypnic jerks” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnic_jerk)

I’m guessing the exploding head thing is related but involves auditory nerves rather than the semicircular canals?

One hypothesis for the sudden contraction of muscles is that your brain is losing feeling of the bed supporting your body when going to sleep: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnic_jerk

When this happens to me, it always feels like I'm about to fall forward. The best I can describe it is as the feeling that I just took a step forward but instead of my foot finding the ground, the surface I was walking on ended (as if I stepped off a ledge or something).

For me it's the opposite: it feels like someone pushing me out of a tree swing or a chair that has no backrest (I'm sleeping on my side).

There are also many other things that could happen when you are going to sleep, for example you can hear voice or see someone. It is called hypnagogic hallucinations.


I had one of the most incredible dreams ever last week. I was laying on the couch watching something, not feeling too great, and I fell asleep, I think. Thinking I was still awake, I began to see this city by the sea/ocean, and I remarked to myself how incredible it was that I was able to visualize this city so well because I've never hallucinated before. Then I wondered if I could manipulate it like a 3D level, and I could, so I spent some time moving my mental camera around this space, flying like superman kinda but at low speed. Then a Telsa rocketship took off from the city and crashed into the sea, but it didn't explode, it burrowed like a torpedo and turned back towards land. A woman was on a bench by the ocean and it should have hit and hurt/killed her but the rocket just disappeared. Then I realized this must be a dream and woke up. It was so bizarre, I thought I had been awake the whole time.

It looks like you enjoyed it which is great!

Mine are always triggered when life stress and anxiety build up and it makes me even more stressed.

Yeah very much so, it was like I was in a holodeck visualizing things with my mind. My dreams are always weirdest when I'm sick too.

I've had this before, combined with sleep paralysis. It sounds like a load rushing river combined with the sensation of falling, and I can't move. Was pretty scary the first time. If you don't fight sleep paralysis though, it's mostly just like lucid dreaming.

The sound that happens during sleep paralysis is a different phenomenon to this, this sound is a very short “shock” sort of sound.

Have this one, usually it happens every few years; I've correlated it to stressful / extreme tiredness situations.

For me it's always: All black -> loud bang -> flash of light

A few times there were a heat sensation, tingling.

Once I hard punched a friend who was sitting beside me after "waking up":/

Disorders of the waking-sleeping “interface” can be really weird.

Mine: occasionally, when I’m really really tired, as I fall asleep I experience a buzzing in my head that starts out soft and gets louder and louder. After a few moments it’s accompanied by extreme panic, temporary whole-body paralysis, and an uncontrollable need to wake back up. This happens over and over and over again, until I finally get out of bed, eat something, wait half an hour, and try again.

I have never seen a medical authority acknowledge this particular disorder, but over the years I’ve seen individuals on reddit mention the same thing. I have to believe it’s due to parts of the brain shutting down in the wrong order as it attempts to transition to sleep.

I often get what can only be described as lucid nightmares. I can feel every sensation in my body (down to sexual impulses) but when the nightmare kicks in I won't manage to wake up without screaming.

The thing is, I live alone so in my dream the screaming is muffled and almost useless. I have no idea if its actually loud in 'the real world'. I am almost certain its connected to past trauma given the subject matter in the dreams.

It's crazy what the mind can do when you try and get a good night's sleep.

Used to happen to me, somewhat frequently as a child, less and less with age (I probably haven't had it in the past ten years). As I was falling asleep I started to hear some soft rhythmic noise repeating over and over, slowly at the beginning, then faster and faster until it ended in a really loud "bang" after which for a second my head felt entirely empty. (However the bang didn't feel like a real noise, more like an explosion inside my head).

After I while I learned to recognise the pattern of speeding rhythmic sound and sometimes I would be able to stop it before the bang- lifting my head from the pillow was enough to break the sequence.

Yep. I know someone that has this almost everyday of his life and he hears a gunshot or a cannon that doesn't exist. It maybe related to spinal cord compression from a genetic anatomical abnormality in the skull or cervical region between the skull and thorax.

Oddly enough, I accidentally induced this effect on myself by falling asleep laying my neck on the corner of a hard surface. It sounded like someone beating hard once on the wall, but as I woke up, I realized no one was around and no sound had actually happened (no echo).

I used to get this quite frequently when I lived in the heart of downtown Toronto and had an extreme drinking (alcoholic) habit.

It scared me half to death the first few times it happened, then it was just annoying once I realized what it was.

Moved out of Toronto and stopped drinking heavily and I don't get them at all anymore.

I remember being woken up constantly at 2/3/4/5am to police/ambulence sirens and car horns. So psychological stress (as wikipedia suggests) was most definitely a factor in my having had this imho.

Just my 2 cents.

Had no idea what it was called. Never thought it was abnormal. Once a month or so I am awaken with the loudest possible "bang bang bang bang". It puts me into a state of terror where I must carefully check every door and window for someone banging to get in. So much worse now that I have kids to protect.

I will also get a similar gunshot sound if I'm dozing off in the afternoon. Makes napping impossible.

I always just wrote it off as being caught in a semi dream state.

I have this. Interesting note: I hear different types of loud noise, doors slamming, cars backfiring, banging on the front door etc. - they're nearly all believable, which is incredibly annoying as I often end up having to get out of bed to check whether it was a real noise or not. I sometimes get the bright flashes of light too, I like those as it's a good hint that the accompanying noise wasn't real.

This happens to me very frequently. It’s kind of freaky how accurate the description of the symptoms are in this Wikipedia article - even down to the gif depicting the flashes I see. Reassuring to know it’s a known condition, especially one with such a dramatic name.

It comes and goes for me, but it’s pretty frightening during the periods when it happens. The stress explanation sounds plausible.

Easy to miss but worth seeing: the first item under the Treatment in the quick facts box is "Reassurance." Quite a pleasant treatment and it's administered as easily as a link to Wikipedia!

I've had them now and then. Maybe once a year now, but when I was working nights at a casino and studying during the day I would have them very often. Sleep deprivation and stress.

Sometimes when I'm drifting off, before I start dreaming I get this weird vibrating sensation, accompanied by a sensation that things are progressively getting more intense. It usually causes me to jolt myself awake out of fear. When I can push through it and stay asleep I usually end up having a lucid dream. I wonder if this is the same thing?

Oh wow, I didn't know the name for this but absolutely experience it. The most disturbing part for me personally is the gasping for air part, or as the article states, " sensation that feels as if they have stopped breathing and have to make a deliberate effort to breathe again."

When I was very little, I used to have nightmares that consisted of this bang and flash, repeated, indefinitely. They didn't happen every night, thankfully, and eventually they stopped but I don't know why.

In the last twenty years, it's come back exactly once.

Ah. OTOH, EHS is "hearing" an extremely realistic-sounding loud "noise" that wakes you up, but then realizing the "noise" never happen. It's like your body is gaslighting yourself.

I had this a couple of times when having a nap. I call it the cracking of the sun.

I experience this occasionally. It sounds like microphone feedback but with a sort of metallic ringing to it. I didn't realize there was a name for it. I also assumed most people experience it which I guess is wrong.

Can happen to alcoholics during steep withdrawals.

Similar to a Hypnic Jerk. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnic_jerk

I've heard people have them when stepping down ssris as well.

I regularly experience during falling asleep a burst of static noise like sound that repeats in short variable intervals (let's say 20 seconds). It seems to last about a second or less.

I had this when I used to be anxious . The slightest noise is amplified 100x . When I first had them I thought some one had dropped kicked my door . Didn't really mind it

I've had this a few times and it was pretty jarring - almost sounds like listening to white noise as loud as you possibly could for about 1/10 of a second.

I've been having those for quite some time and was never able to pinpoint the reasons that could cause it. It's kind of fun when you get used to it.

Is it something you can control in anyway? I've experienced sleep paralysis for years (it's pretty terrible) but I've seen a lot of people harness that to enable lucid dreaming. Curious if it's similar with this.

I had this for a few years. Was awful. Glad it went away.


I had this a handful of times.

But I also had sleep paralysis and panic attacks a few times.

Never was a constant problem.

Hmm. I think I get this on occasion. It sounds like a heavily distorted electronic crunchy buzz like if you touched a guitar jack to some random metal while hooked up to an amp.

I had previously thought these might be “brain zaps” that people describe after stopping anti depressants, even though I never started

I get both of those sometimes. In my experience they aren’t the same.

Did not need to know about that one.

This would happen to me when my monitor was right next to my bed. (I believe the flash part, while the exploding/popping sound is external).

I would use my computer an hour or more before going to bed, so the monitor would run warm (or even hot).

When I'd turn it off and go to bed, the monitor would cool down over the next, I don't know, between 15 minutes to an hour.

And at some point during the cool down, the plastic would make a popping sound (just once). This would be around the same time I'd be about to fall asleep. And that's when a flash would go off in my head.

This happened pretty much everyday. Now I don't have my monitor sitting next to my bed.

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