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Get Some Sleep: Bang in your head waking you? It has a name
Many people have dealt with waking up with a sudden start, called a hypnic jerk. A similar condition adds loud noise to a wakeup.
August 16th, 2011
01:05 PM ET

Get Some Sleep: Bang in your head waking you? It has a name

Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She blogs regularly on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.

Most of us have drifted off to sleep, only to awaken with a sudden start. This is a benign occurrence known as a hypnic jerk.

There is a similar condition in which people awaken suddenly because they hear a loud noise in their head. They usually describe it as a loud bang or an explosion. In fact, this phenomenon is called exploding head syndrome.

Like hypnic jerks (or sleep starts), this is a completely benign condition. A hypnic jerk can accompany the clash of cymbals that people hear. Even though benign, it can be very disturbing to experience, and people often think that they are having a stroke.

It is certainly wise to seek medical attention the first time this occurs, especially if it is associated with a headache, because headaches are not a common feature of this disorder. In fact, to make the diagnosis, there should not be a significant pain component. Patients do sometimes report a flash of light occurring simultaneously with the loud bang.

If the headache is severe and persists, then indeed hemorrhagic stroke is a possibility and emergency services should be sought.

When patients bring this to a doctor’s attention, it is usually because it occurs frequently. Patients become concerned that even if the bomb in their head was not a stroke in the past, perhaps it is a symptom foretelling a stroke. There is no evidence that this is the case, even when the awakenings happen frequently.

It could be a sleep-related migraine (even without pain), and simple partial seizures can present with sensory symptoms. However, the symptom would usually not occur only at sleep onset or when awakening, as is the case with exploding head syndrome.

This can present at any age but is most common in people older than 50. Women report it more than men, but as is often the case, it may be that they are more likely than men to seek medical attention.

If many episodes occur in a night or if they are clustered in a time period of days or weeks, then patients can have disrupted sleep and insomnia. Usually, exploding head syndrome has a spontaneous remission. I know of no cases in the literature where this continued relentlessly, although there are reports of cyclical reoccurrence.

As with many medical problems, people report a worsening of attacks when they have an increase in stress or a decrease in sleep. There is a report that a medication used for seizures and migraines, topiramate, was useful in controlling this unpleasant symptom. Again, the first time this happens, it is important to receive a thorough medical evaluation just to be sure that other disorders are ruled out.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

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  1. iamthefredman

    I've had this happen every 3-6 months since I was a kid. I thought I was dying ...until I realized that it was a dream/bad dream that I just woke up from, and I never felt anything 1 minute after waking. Still it is scary.

    August 16, 2011 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Brian

    I have this every other year and it scares you to death. I awoke to what I thought was an explosion and ran to save my baby girl. I couldn't see in the dark and was disoriented so I ran through my bedroom door. Only to realize as I got to her room that it was only in my head. It turned into an expensive nightmare after I had to pay to fix my door.

    August 16, 2011 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. GuestColin

    I had this happen once. I awoke to what I thought was an explosion and dove off the bed towards the closet and smacked headfirst into the wall. I must've been kneeling on the floor half-naked for a good 10 minutes in an utter painful, paranoid confusion before I realized I had simply been startled awake. Finally got up and crept around the apartment to make sure before dragging back to bed. Very odd.

    August 16, 2011 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Fiona

      i had a dog that would do that kind of thing once in a while. I put it down to night terrors. Next time you see the doctor have your neck checked. Slamming head first into the wall can do more damage than you might think.

      August 16, 2011 at 18:59 | Report abuse |
    • birdinflight

      My alarm goes off at strange times waking me up. I guess I need to learn how to set it correctly. Tonight it went off at 3:30AM. Go figure.....

      September 8, 2011 at 03:36 | Report abuse |
    • birdinflight

      take2 minutes off every day and HOPEEFUlly you will be stressfreee.

      September 8, 2011 at 05:58 | Report abuse |
    • birdinflight

      Okay, maybe you need a nice number like 3,3 minutes off – 5:55 is what I meant to say.

      September 8, 2011 at 05:59 | Report abuse |
  4. Liz

    This happens to me every few months or so – most recently a couple nights ago. I was relieved to find info about it online, but will probably mention it to the doc next time I'm in.

    August 16, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. paden

    Happens to me as well. I just check my dog, if she is still sleeping nothing real happened.

    August 16, 2011 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • birdinflight

      My dog is sleeping with my child. My dog is very fond of my child. He's teaching her tricks. She seems to like it.

      September 8, 2011 at 06:00 | Report abuse |
  6. Fiona

    i read about this a few months ago, and a lot of things just clicked into place. When I was a child I used to - when drifting off to sleep - awake suddenly to a loud roaring in my head accompanied by a flash of green. I thought of the sound, at the time, as large logs rolling toward me. I would usually have a headaches and intense nausea when this happened. I later developed severe, "complicated" migraines that have stayed with me throughout my life. The exploding head episodes tapered off as I grew up...and moved away from my troubled family environment.

    What was most interesting to me was not only learning that these episodes had a name, but that they can be a form of migraine. Seeing the color green is interesting as well, as it is related in acupuncture to the liver meridian. When I began having regular acupuncture treatments I found that many of my physical issues were rooted in problems with the liver meridian. I will sometimes see a flash of green when a needle is placed. There is so much about the brain and the body's complicated neural system that we do not understand (or cannot accept in western medicine?).

    August 16, 2011 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • birdinflight

      Funny you should mention green flash. They say that if you sit at the beach at sundown and watch. At precidely the time the sun goes down you will see a gteen flash. A lot of people go watch that at the beach at sundown/sunset.

      September 8, 2011 at 06:02 | Report abuse |
  7. denise

    This also happened to me. When I got out of my bed and ran out of room, fell down the stairs in the dark, when I looked up I saw my mother and my dog staring at me, it was then that I realize that it was just a dream.What a nightmare!!!

    August 16, 2011 at 19:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sara

      wow how horrible i feel sorry for you :(

      August 26, 2011 at 02:29 | Report abuse |
    • Becky Boland

      I'm SO sick and tired of being tired. I either WORK to fall asleep or suddenly fall asleep when I have no choice. What IS this???!! I feel older than I AM! Anyone? Please help. E-mail me at the above address or call me at 585-229-5865. Ironically, I'm up and not very happy about it!!! , Becky

      January 30, 2012 at 04:52 | Report abuse |
  8. Bianca68

    The first time this happened to me, in my mid-twenties, I shot up in bed and thought, "Oh, they must be shooting the snow off the top of the mountain!". Then my second thought was, "Wait a minute! It's summer and there are no mountains nearby!" It was scary, to be sure. It happened perhaps once or twice more but not since. It wan't until a few years ago I though to look it up on the internet – and was relieved to find it had a name. I still frequently experience hypnic jerk and for several moments will feel very, very scared before I drift off to sleep. It's good to know I am not alone. Thank you, everyone, for sharing your experience here.

    August 16, 2011 at 19:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. pmk1953

    I have the hypnic jerk 3 or 4 times a year. The one that bothers me, is once or twice a month, I hear 3 knocks that wake me. It has done this since I've been in my teens, 40 plus years now.

    August 16, 2011 at 19:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kat

      I started reading this because of those knocks. I've literally gotten out of bed at 5 am to see who was at the door

      August 16, 2011 at 20:39 | Report abuse |
    • birdinflight

      I hate that. My dog's talk talke tale tail hits the wall and it sounds like someone knocking.

      September 8, 2011 at 06:03 | Report abuse |
    • jeanbush

      Glad to hear of someone else. I don't hear knocks, but periodically I'm awakened by the sound like a combined doorbell/buzzer. Never anything there.

      March 29, 2012 at 19:05 | Report abuse |
  10. pmk1953

    Kat, I used to get up. Now that I have a cat, if she's still sleeping on the bed I don't bother anymore. If Powder isn't sleeping with me, I still get up.

    August 16, 2011 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. AGuest9

    I'm amazed to see so many people haven't started experiencing this until adulthood – I've had this since I was young.

    August 16, 2011 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. JeffinIL

    I'd never heard of this before. It sounds like something that would cause a change of pants for me. I'll stick with the sudden, harmless jerking, thank you very much.

    August 16, 2011 at 23:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. B-Box Brody

    This once occured on my knee, however,they think it was a result of bee sting therapy.

    August 17, 2011 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Anthony

    Amazing to read this has happened to others and has a name. I have experienced this twice and both times knew it was "all in my head" and not an actual explosion. It seems to happen on a Sunday night after drinking too much on the weekend. Frightened me enough to cut back on the weekend binge drinking and have not had another episode. Also, I experienced feelings of dread as I was falling asleep, almost like an "awake night terror".

    August 17, 2011 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. justin

    I have had this since I was a kid. It was only about a year ago that I found out it has a name. I hear my name being called sometimes, but usually just a loud bang like a gunshot. It does startle me, but since I know it's just in my head and harmless, I just roll over and go back to sleep. It happens more often then with most people. Usually once or twice a week. I'm used to it by now, but it used to really scare me. It seems to happen more when I drink caffeine late in the day. I'm just glad to see it talked about more and hear other people have it.

    August 17, 2011 at 01:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. PJ

    So glad to have this information. I've been awaken with night jerks, loud bangs and feelings of terrible dread for years.
    Really have a hard time falling back to sleeping afterwards.
    Tried explaining symptoms to several doctors. But all they ever want to do is put me on anti-depressants.
    I am not depressed. Never have been depressed.

    August 17, 2011 at 01:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Brian

    I'm 28 and I've had it for maybe 5 years now. It's typically once a year that it wakes me up, but I can also induce a loud bang while awake by thinking about it. It makes it difficult to get to sleep sometimes if I'm thinking about it!

    August 17, 2011 at 07:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jay

    I'm tired of seeing this condition being referred to as "benign." Go three days without sleep, and then tell me this disorder is benign. And don't bother seeking medical treatment for this. 3 different neurologist had no clue what was wrong with me. After six years, I just randomly ran across an article in Cracked magazine that told me what I had. The literature available on this is sadly misinformed – probably because so few doctors know about it, and so don't report it.

    August 17, 2011 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. kathi

    I've had those jerky things since I was a kid. The first one I ever had, I thought was a ghost whomping on me. Must have been in 4th grade. I think in high school someone said "ohh, that's an alpha jerk," caused by alpha waves in the brain. Right. I had one last week and the dog looked at me funny and my husband didn't even wake up. It was like my whole body exploded just as I was drifting off to sleep and was so violent it made me laugh out loud. I mean really?

    August 21, 2011 at 02:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paone

      Wicked is so fantastic, I saw it on satraduy and I'm still buzzing from it, it was just so amazing. especially Rachel Tucker, her voice is unbelievable. We went to see Lee mainly (he sort of stole our pen again. he did that at Arthur Saville's Crime too but at least he brought it back both times) but even if he wasn't in it the show it would still be the one to see.

      May 26, 2012 at 23:16 | Report abuse |
  20. TexanGal

    That guy in the picture is really good-lookin. :)

    August 25, 2011 at 01:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. sabrina

    wow.... its amazing what sleep can do for you! :D

    August 26, 2011 at 02:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. sara

    i am glad i don't have it :D :)

    August 26, 2011 at 02:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Desirae

    I have this happen to me alot, im not very old (under 18) but its freaky when it happens, you hear it. When it first started happening to me, i would flip and i wouldnt go back to sleep for about two hours, but now the worst part is i dont know if its ever real or just in my head

    October 20, 2011 at 17:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. aj

    I had this same thing happen to me for the first time a year ago. I thought some one had shot a shotgun right outside my window ! The bang was then quickly followed by a weird whooshing noise and my heart was pounding out of my chest. The dogs, cats and husband were all still fast asleep which made me realize the sound came from inside my head. I was too terrified to go back to sleep. It's only happened one other time, but that time was followed by a weird crackly noise like like the 4th of July fireworks that make loud sparkle noises (make sense ?). It's terrible : (

    November 16, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. M. M

    I just started experiencing these. I'm not on any meds. I hear a shockingly loud electric buzzing shock. if I keep my eyes closed, it goes through my body to my feet. If I open my eyes, it suddenly disappears. It happens a few times now before I fall asleep. It takes me 2 hous to fall asleep because I'm afraid they may happen. Since it may be related to not getting enough sleep, I will go to sleep earlier. It's a shame there is not enough research/info about this because it's scary. I thought it could be a stroke or heart attack because sometimes my heart races and have a feeling of jitteriness. Ive never had any sleeping disorders, anxiety that I know of. I'm almost 44 years old.

    January 7, 2012 at 08:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marta Celmina

      Is it possibel that you could answer some questions for my graduation paper about exploding head syndrome? Please, this is urgent, i need help!

      May 16, 2012 at 09:48 | Report abuse |
  26. Becky Boland

    Did anyone get my message? M.M. You're almost 44??? Lucky you.

    January 30, 2012 at 04:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Becky Boland

    It's 5:01 and I'm SOOOOO tired of being awake!! Perhaps I'm not talking to the right people??

    January 30, 2012 at 05:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bridget

      Becky,
      I've had many loud banging noises in my head at the moment I'm about to fall asleep followed by a full body jerking. The jerking feels like an electric shock throughout my body. Just last week I experienced 6 attacks in one night followed by another the next night. After doing some research it looks like it may be linked to a previous Bee sting. I called my doctor to make an appointment and the nurse thought I was crazy. When I was a child I was never allergic to Bee stings but when I hit 40 I became severely allergic and have to carry an Ecpipen in case I'm stung. I'm not sure this is linked but just a thought.
      When you suffer from an attack give praying a chance.

      December 7, 2012 at 10:06 | Report abuse |
  28. Becky Boland

    How ironically weird that we're all up at this early morning hour

    January 30, 2012 at 05:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Becky Boland

    Good morning and hopefully, good NIGHT. Apparently no one can help me. What a surprise. Call me at 585-229-5865. You'll either almost wake me up or I'll just pick up the phone after the ring has almost scared me to death. Adieu,sleep tight, etcetera..............

    January 30, 2012 at 05:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. connedbywallaceindustriesltd

    I thought everyone had bangs in their head from time to time...
    I had it last night (it was like a long and unusual horn sound), and I also had a week before (like an explosion). I've been having this for years so it doesn't bother me. The explosion only happens when I'm dozing off in the morning after a night of insomnia. It's pure anxiety and stress in my case, usually because of work. I don't remember having explosions when I feel calm and relaxed...

    April 2, 2012 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Marta Celmina

    Hello! i`m looking for people who suffers form this wierd syndrome or who had this expirience at least once. if it`s you or you know someone who had it, i`d appreciate some help with answering questions about EHS. This is kind of an emergency!! Any information will be helpful!

    May 16, 2012 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Ann Schwartz

    I have been experiencing the gunshot noises and the whooshing sounds for two months. I made an appointment with a neurologist and brought in the articles about EHS that I found on the internet. After an MRI with and without contrast and an MRA of the brain, a 3mm brain aneurysm was found near my ear. This is very small, but it is the doctor's belief that because of its close proximity to my ear, it's the cause of the noise. I would encourage people with EHS to ask for the MRI and MRA to check for this. I had to really struggle to get an ok from the insurance company, however. They refer to EHS as "thunderclap headaches" and do not deem it worthy of anything other than an MRI without contrast. You really need to have the contrast studies (in particular, the MRA with contrast) to look for an organic cause.

    October 26, 2012 at 01:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Krystal

    Loud noises that wake you up out of sleep, I believe are associated with glitches in the temporal lobe. Most people experience them at one point or another but if it's frequent it could be a sign of temporal lobe epilepsy. I know. I have it.

    December 27, 2013 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. abrewner

    Just wanted to say thank you for clearing this up for me... i thought i was going crazy and hearing things.

    December 30, 2013 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. willem Sedeyn

    regelmatig hoor ik in mijn hoofd luid geklop net of er een trein langs komt. Soms zo harde geklop of er een bom ontploft.
    Eveneens heb ik evenwichtsproblemen. Is er behandeling hiervoor of medicamenten ?
    Bedankt op voorhand.
    W.Sedeyn
    sedadvice@gmail.com

    January 13, 2014 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Arina

    I experience headache many years already when waking up with noise of banged door and high volume verbally demanding response. This is psychologically depressing at time when the headache would not go away.

    April 4, 2014 at 19:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. jason

    this just happened to me for the 2nd time this week prompting me to look it up. i thought i was shot and had a very rapid heart beat.

    May 5, 2014 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. rynalan

    I've been having this off and on for a couple of years, usually around once a month or slightly less. I've also been told I snore very loudly, and I sort of figured it might be related to some kind of sleep apnea event. I will jerk awake in the middle of the night absolutely convinced a gun has gone off or something has crashed loudly to the floor. It is very alarming when it happens. About a month ago, I started a new fitness regime (I was about 50lbs overweight) and after about 20 lbs weight loss, my snoring is not as bad, and I have not had another incident of this (so far, fingers crossed).

    June 30, 2014 at 01:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Cathy

    Very scary experience I've had only one time just last week I am 68 years old. Glad to see others have gone through this and it is usually just a "glitch" in the head. I am going to try to lose weight and exercise more frequently hopefully to keep this from happening again.

    August 31, 2014 at 15:56 | Report abuse | Reply

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