Your Brain Zaps When Falling Asleep? Unraveling the Mystery Behind It

It can be very uncomfortable and disorienting to experience electric shock in the brain. If you’ve experienced it, you’re not the first one to be worried about it.

So, are you wondering why your brain zaps when falling asleep?

The causes of brain zaps are mysterious. At best, we have a few hypotheses to explain why it may happen. Among these causes, abnormal serotonin secretion and stress are notable. It may also be a side effect of some antidepressants. Besides, certain stimulants may also cause it.  

Brain zaps occur as a side effect of medication, particularly antidepressants. People who recently stopped consuming antidepressants or SSRIs report experiencing brain zaps. 

These electric buzzes are disruptive to anyone’s sleep. From this article, you’ll know everything you have to know about brain zaps. You’ll also learn more about a few tips to make them go away. So, keep reading till the end.

What Is a Brain Zap?

Brain zaps, alternatively called brain shake or brain flips, are electric shocks in the head. Several factors may trigger this sensation.

Brain zaps aren’t harmful and won’t damage your brain. But they can result in a night of bad sleep.

Not everyone who experiences brain zaps report feeling the same way. Every individual has a different threshold for various bodily sensations. So, it’s no surprise when people outline different experiences of brain zaps.

For example, some people say they feel the shock only in the brain. On the contrary, others say they feel it in their entire head. Some even say that this sensation spreads throughout their body.

Although rare, some people also report feeling headaches or seizure-like sensations. Brain zaps may come without a moment’s warning. You may also experience lightheadedness and dizziness, which may linger for a while.

You may also feel nauseous after a brain shake. People also report their ears ringing or pulsing after a brain zap.

Though these experiences are very different, a 2018 study establishes some common symptoms. These may include the below:

  • Electrical shock in the brain
  • Losing consciousness shortly or blacking out
  • Vertigo
  • Hearing eye movements
  • Hearing a buzzing sound and a zap together
  • Disorientation

Experiencing brain zaps isn’t an indication of a major illness. There isn’t a well-established neural mechanism that explains this phenomenon till today. But we do have a few hypotheses to consider. 

Why the Brain Zaps When Falling Asleep?

Brain zaps may occur for several reasons. As I’ve previously mentioned, medication is most of the time the most likely cause. However, if you aren’t on any but still experienced it, stress is the most likely cause. 

This section will tell you how medication may cause brain zaps. Besides, you’ll also know about a few hypotheses research findings have to offer.

Medication

Brain zaps occur as a side effect of medication, particularly antidepressants. People who recently stopped consuming antidepressants or SSRIs report experiencing brain zaps.

Abruptly stopping antidepressants may also lead you to experience brain zaps. Three classes of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication are mostly linked with brain zaps.

  • The most common medication that links to brain zaps is serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Notable among them are escitalopram, fluoxetine, and Zoloft. 
  • Benzodiazepines and amphetamine salts may also cause brain zaps. Adderall may also cause brain zaps besides other side effects. Ativan, Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin are the most common benzodiazepines. 
  • Selective Serotonin or Norepinephrine inhibitors or SNRIs such as Effexor can also cause brain zaps. 

Besides these, other medications may also be the reason for experiencing brain shocks. ADHD medications, sleep medications, and drug interactions may also cause them. Some individuals also experience brain zaps after taking MDMA or ecstasy, an illegal drug.

Low GABA and Serotonin Hypothesis

Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid or GABA is another neurotransmitter of the brain with several essential roles. One of its primary functions is to calm down the nervous system. 

When the secretion of GABA is abnormally low, anxiety or depression may result.  Besides these, research suggests that seizures and motor disorders may also occur. 

So, these findings raise the possibility that anxiety or depression may leave you prone to seizures. Some believe brain zaps to be minor localized seizures. The effect of these seizures is small. And so, it may also account for the electric shocks one experiences in brain zaps. 

One of the biggest causes of major depressive disorder is low serotonin, a notable neurotransmitter. Antidepressants restore the chemical imbalance of serotonin in depressed individuals. 

Anxiety symptoms and brain zaps occurring together is a common occurrence. So, don’t worry if you’ve experienced both anxiety symptoms and brain zaps.

In theory, low levels of serotonin may also cause brain zaps. These are, however, just theories. No scientific evidence establishes these theories as facts. In turn, attention has turned to antidepressant withdrawal syndrome. 

Antidepressant Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)

Many researchers have established a link between antidepressants and brain zaps. People who go off antidepressants may experience withdrawal syndrome, which has similarities with brain zaps. 

A meta-analysis suggests that more than 50% of antidepressant consumers experience withdrawal symptoms. 

antidepressant-withdrawal-syndrome

Some studies suggest that brain shocks might occur during this withdrawal period, particularly when moving their eyes side to side. The withdrawal period is also called the discontinuation syndrome. 

Antidepressants cause the GABA and serotonin levels to increase. If you abruptly stop taking the medication, the imbalance returns. The reduced GABA levels are responsible for brain zaps. 

Most people experience brain zaps within days or weeks of discontinuing the medication in this period. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be addicted to antidepressants to experience these symptoms.

Stress and Anxiety

You may experience head zaps even if you don’t take sleep medication. Chronic stress may be a good reason for brain zaps to occur. It’s also called stress-response hyperstimulation

Chronic stress is a common denominator between brain zaps and those who experience it. 

Individuals who experience anxiety disorder struggle with hyperstimulation particularly. And the brain zaps start way before you get on medication. Severe stress can have devastating side effects on the body. 

It’s especially the case for the nervous system, including the brain. 

Hyperstimulation has adverse effects on neuron health and functioning. Additionally, it also affects neurotransmitter levels, including serotonin and GABA. 

Consequently, chronic stress can also result in neural over-excitation. Which, in turn, may cause the seizure we talked about previously. Brain fog may follow brain zaps afterward in some cases. 

Individuals with anxiety disorders may also experience full-blown panic attacks after this sensation. For some, it may occur rarely. And for others, frequently.

You are more likely to experience brain zaps when under consistent stress levels. The more you worry, the more frequent this experience becomes. Anxiety brain zaps can have their symptoms. 

But sometimes, they may accompany other symptoms like shortness of breath, numbness, and tight throat. Since anxiety frequently causes brain zaps, people experience other anxiety symptoms together. 

Anxiety symptoms and brain zaps occurring together is a common occurrence. So, don’t worry if you’ve experienced both anxiety symptoms and brain zaps. It doesn’t mean that they’re two independent or severe cases.

Besides these, other factors like insomnia and extreme muscle tension may contribute to this occurrence. Some lifestyle choices may also cause brain zaps. 

How to Get Rid of Brain Zaps: 5 Effective Tips 

There isn’t a particular treatment or remedy for brain zaps. But there are some things you can try to treat it. Below you’ll find five tips that might help you with brain zaps. 

Adjust or Discontinue the Medication

If you think that your medication might be causing brain zaps, you can consider talking to your doctor. You might want to switch or change the dosage. But the best thing to do is taper off it instead of abruptly stopping. 

Besides, if you’re already in the process of discontinuing it, you might experience AWS. During this time, brain zaps are most common. So, make sure to go through discontinuation safely with your doctor’s guidance. 

You’ll want to consider asking the doctor to establish a timeline that’ll help with the process. They might consider some of these factors:

  • The current dose 
  • The period of your medication 
  • The side-effects you experienced with medication 
  • Experience with the withdrawal syndrome 
  • Your health in general 

When you gradually decrease the medication dose, your body gets time to adjust. Consequently, with these adjustments, the brain can prevent several withdrawal symptoms. 

Exercise and diet play a vital role in extending one’s lifespan. Studies find that the body uses up nutrients faster than the optimum rate under stress. A healthy diet can replenish our body and keep it balanced when stressed. 

If you’re considering getting off antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication, you can follow these tips. These will allow you to transition into its absence more smoothly:

  • Remember why you’re stopping. Try to narrow down the particular cause that prompted your decision. Was it the side effects, or did it not work? Maybe consider a different medication altogether. 
  • Follow a definite plan. The tapering process may last between a few weeks to a month. This period depends on your circumstances. So, your doctor may consider all that and advise you to consume the pills in half. 
  • Make sure to follow the plan strictly. You might want to keep in touch with your doctor all the time. Besides, always try to take the doses in time. Skipping one or reducing one may trigger brain zaps. 

Withdrawal symptoms occur often. But at the same time, it’s important to inform your doctor about them. You’ll soon feel better somewhere along the way as your body settles with the new norm. 

Supplements

You can also prevent brain zaps by including supplements in your everyday meal. These are:

  • Omega-3 fatty food
  • Magnesium 
  • Vitamin B complex foods 

Some users suggest that including omega-3 fatty foods may help with cases of brain zaps. Fish oils have several health benefits. 

These may help with postpartum depression and improve cardiovascular health. Besides, these also improve eye health. 

Omega-3 fatty food can also help with depression and ADHD. And you already know that medications for these disorders may cause brain zaps. 

Besides, magnesium and B-complex vitamins also help prevent brain zaps. Vitamin B12 helps with neuropathy and cardiovascular disorders as well. 

These supplements are generally safe to consume. However, it’s always a good idea to ask the doctor before taking them. 

brain-zap

Diet and Exercise

Exercise and diet play a vital role in extending one’s lifespan. Studies find that the body uses up nutrients faster than the optimum rate under stress. A healthy diet can replenish our body and keep it balanced when stressed. 

Fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and yogurt help improve GABA levels. Science also backs up this practice. 

Supplements can be a good addition to your lifestyle. However, a more permanent solution is changing your diet. Besides, exercise can also impact your mood positively, keeping anxiety at bay.

Consider Therapy 

Individuals with anxiety can’t identify why they feel anxious all the time. Therapy can help you with that. Addressing these reasons from the very root may help you alleviate the symptoms. 

Unhealthy stress frequently leads to chronic stress or hyperstimulation. In turn, brain zaps may result. But it’s important to remember that resolving anxiety issues doesn’t mean that you overcame them. 

Not experiencing anxiety symptoms means that you’ve eliminated unhealthy stress. If you avoid addressing your issues, it’s only a matter of time till they translate into bodily reactions. 

By eliminating the issues, your symptoms are also likely to disappear. Consequently, the brain zaps will also go away. Additionally, cognitive therapy, in particular, helps prevent AWS. 

Research shows that cognitive therapy makes discontinuation easier. If you’re struggling with anxiety disorder, it’s best to seek professional help from those who specialize in it. 

A meta-analysis found that cognitive behavior therapy can be the most effective treatment for anxiety disorders. 

Manage Your Stress

There are several ways you can try to manage your stress naturally. A research finding suggests that self-care can help manage brain zaps. It’s especially the case when you’re going through antidepressant withdrawal syndrome. 

These are only some of the things you can try:

  • Going outdoors and experiencing nature  
  • A healthy diet and regular exercise
  • Getting a sufficient amount of sleep 
  • Self-expression 
  • Researching AWS
  • Doing things that make you happy 
  • Practicing breathing or relaxing techniques 

You can also consider falling asleep to white noise in the background. Guided meditation or reading a book before sleeping may also help curb stress. 

Stress will only shorten your lifespan and take away quality from your life. Make sure to give yourself time to breathe when things get too overwhelming. 

Prioritizing yourself is never a bad idea. So, if you have any hobbies, engaging in them may be therapeutic for you. Anxiety is not easy on the mind, nor is it easy on the body. 

Awareness about the several barriers standing in the way of recovery will help you address your issues. And so, don’t let fear take over you while you’re on the recovery journey. 

Are Hypnic Jerks and Brain Zaps the Same?

No, hypnic jerks and brain zaps aren’t the same things. It is, however, easy to confuse between the two. That’s because they share some common symptoms. 

Hypnic jerks are a common occurrence for the general population. About 60-70% of the population experience them while going to sleep. While drifting off to sleep, you may experience twitching and sudden contraction. And that’s what hypnic jerks are. 

Hypnic jerks occur for a very brief amount of time. So, if you wake up suddenly with a jolt while going to sleep, you’ve experienced a hypnic jerk. These occur between states of sleep and wakefulness. 

Interestingly, hiccups are also a form of hypnic or myoclonic jerks. Besides the twitch, you might also experience the following:

  • Feeling as if you’re falling
  • Sudden hot or cold flash
  • A dream about being in a dangerous situation
  • Accelerated heartbeat
  • Quickened breathing

Like brain zaps are nothing to worry about, hypnic jerks are not dangerous either. These weird feelings while falling asleep are very common and make us human. 

For both cases, a common denominator is anxious thoughts. The more stimulated your mind is at night, the more likely you’re to experience these.

FAQs

Do brain zaps last forever?

Whatever may be the reason for brain zaps, it won’t last forever. You experience brain zaps for medication, stress, or anxiety. Brain zaps will go away soon after you eliminate their cause. 

Can lack of sleep cause brain zap?

Yes, lack of sleep may be one of the causes of brain zaps. When your body doesn’t get sufficient sleep, the cortisol levels go up. Cortisol is a powerful stimulant, which may trigger brain zaps. 

Can anxiety cause weird head sensations?

Besides hypnic jerks and brain zaps, anxiety may cause weird feelings in the head. These may include vibrations in the head, dizziness, and brain fog. 

Final Words

Weird feelings in the night can leave you disoriented throughout the night. Brain zaps when falling asleep aren’t entirely unusual. But they are somewhat mysterious.

If you’ve experienced it, I suggest you not be alarmed. There isn’t a straightforward way to get rid of them. But you can help your case by following the tips this article mentions. Over time, hopefully, you’ll get rid of brain shakes.

Munira Binte Hasan

Munira Binte Hasan

Munira is an aspiring psychologist from the University of Dhaka. She loves reviewing and writing content. In her free time, she loves to read or listen to music. She believes in advocating mental health issues and healthy expression of emotions.

Wholesomealive.com -a blog about Healthy Living
Logo