Are Brain Sparks bad/dangerous?
April 19, 2006 4:55 PM   Subscribe

What, why and how are Brain Sparks?

I used to get them a lot, espically during meditation. A kind of jolt/zap all throught the brain region. They never felt "healthy", neither did they feel all that bad, but I can't seem to find anything on them. The Google is broken on the subject, due to a semi-popular blog on usabilty with the name "Brain sparks".

Are they bad?
Where do they come from?
Will they work as a cool party trick?
posted by slactoid to Science & Nature (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not sure what you are talking about, could you describe in detail what these brain sparks feel like etc.
posted by bigmusic at 5:29 PM on April 19, 2006


Yikes. Go get an MRI.

Maybe SSRI withdrawal?

On the other hand, you don't seem to be the only one getting them during meditation.

But it could be more serious.

Seriously, ask your doctor.

Also, if you use a minus sign, you can avoid some of those Google floods. I found that first link by searching for
brain sparks -UIE

posted by mzurer at 5:32 PM on April 19, 2006


is this what you are talking about?
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_shivers

i remember i had them when coming off an anti-depressent about a year ago
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 5:34 PM on April 19, 2006


Whoa.

I get these every once and a while. The way you describe them is EXACTLY the same for me. I get them, typically, while lying down. But I get one about, oh, 4 times a year or so. They don't HURT, but they feel strange, and not really "healthy". For me, it feels more like my whole body, but, yeah, kinda like it starts in the brain.

Whoa.

I had once thought that it would be cool to become friends with a doctor or something who had access to an MRI, but then i realized that it happens so infrequently that there would be no way to predict when it would happen, etc.

Maybe it's just you and me, bigmusic...
posted by gregvr at 5:36 PM on April 19, 2006


I don't know if it's good or bad, but I don't get them anymore. I've never been on SSRI's (or any anti-depresants). However, when I was getting them more frequently, and even able to will them on, I was on Ritalin.

A better description.... Ok, imagine there is a room, and you're standing just outside the closed door. Inside the room is a pedistal, and when charged and fired - has a rapid discharge that produces and audible zap and fills the room with lighting-white light.

Almost like a flash on a camera, that fast and intense.
posted by slactoid at 5:41 PM on April 19, 2006


yeahyeahyeahwhoo:
I was with Wikipedia up to a point, then it didn't describe my (very old) experience very well.

This is not a pressing concern, as I don't have them anymore, but I will try to induce one tonight.
posted by slactoid at 5:45 PM on April 19, 2006




Bigmusic: Yes, sounds right. The symptoms match up, but the cause was different - I wasn't on any drugs.
Good find.
posted by slactoid at 6:45 PM on April 19, 2006


I've never been on any drugs, but I still get them once and a while.

A camera flash is a good analogy, too.
posted by gregvr at 6:51 PM on April 19, 2006


I've gotten them very infrequently (once or twice a year) for as long as I can remember. I don't think they have anything to do with medication or recreation drugs, as I definitely got them before partaking.

For me, it just feels like a big zap of electricity in my head, and throughout my entire body. It lasts about a second, isn't painful, but feels weird. I hear it as well as feel it. I'm completely normal before and afterwards, and have most often got them lying in bed, about to go to sleep.

I always thought everyone got them, but now I'm a little concerned.
posted by discokitty at 6:54 PM on April 19, 2006


gregvr and slactoid, if the sensations are being caused by some physical abnormality, a brain scan might be able to detect it even when the feeling isn't being triggered.

I am not a doctor, though, so all my advice should be taken with a grain of salt... Maybe an entire salt-lick.
posted by mzurer at 7:02 PM on April 19, 2006


I always figured this sort of thing was a tiny little seizure. Which, somehow, has never motivated me to look into the matter (I get them, and always have). Odd, now that I think of it.
posted by aramaic at 7:50 PM on April 19, 2006


Not sure if it's the same things, but I get jolts sometimes (like maybe once every 4-5 months). They usually happen when I'm halfway between wakefulness and sleep. Sometimes I have a very short snippet of a dream that precedes them, like a car about to hit me, a falling dream, or basically "something big coming". For some reason that I can't quite put into words, I don't think the dream causes the sensation, but it feels more like some part of me knowing that the jolt is coming and making up a reason why as part of a dream.

At other times, mostly while awake and definitely more often when I'm sleep-deprived, I get this bright flash and kind of a "wah" type sound that lasts a fraction of a second. I think of them kind of like seeing a burn mark or a hair in a film - just a brief flash that doesn't really distract your train of thought or attention to other things, it just happens and most of the time you ignore it.

By the way, I'm not on any meds nor have I been diagnosed with epilepsy or other conditions that might be associated with weird symptoms like this.

Are either of these similar to what you're experiencing?
posted by tkolstee at 8:21 PM on April 19, 2006


This may not be very helpful to answer your question, but is related and interesting.

There is an awesome PBS program called "Secrets of the Mind" (which includes some brilliance from this guy) that talks about temporal lobe seizures and how they relate to intense feelings of spirituality and divine connection.

You can read the transcript here or purchase the video here. Scroll down to John Sharon - he is the one with the temporal lobe seizures.
posted by mojabunni at 8:26 PM on April 19, 2006


I've had them on and off for years as well. The descriptions above sound pretty accurate. I'm not on medication or use any drugs, so I know it's not due to that.

However, I *do* get them a lot along with episodes of sleep paralysis . To me it's more of a buzzing feeling that I can hear/feel... hard to explain since I know there's no sound, but there's a feeling of resonance in my head and actually my whole body as I lay there unable to move. Also, if I sorta 'mentally flex' or focus on it, it feels like I can intensify the feeling... but like others have noted, after a few seconds it begins to feels 'unhealthy' so I tend to get scared and ease up and either fall back asleep or gradually come out of the sleep paralysis.

not to derail, but I tend to get sleep paralysis very often after sleeping late immediately following an all-nighter or a few days with little or no sleep, so people using drugs that keep them awake or very active for a long time might simply be wearing themselves out so much that they are slipping into a sorta sleep paralysis state which, at least for me, helps trigger a 'brain spark'.

Now, I've also gotten them during 'meditative' moments too... hard to explain though since I don't meditate. But if I experience a weird deja-vu ish moment or have an 'ah-ha' moment or something where it feels like my thoughts are 'jolted', I can feel the spark momentarily. But this might be more of an adreniline effect perhaps.

Glad to know I'm not the only one. Friends and family have looked at me like I was crazy when I've mentioned them before. It's too bad none of us can find any medical sources though. One of the links above mentions 'partial' siezures, but I wonder if they misspelled 'parietal' since when I researched this on my own a few years ago, I came across that reference.
posted by johnstein at 8:31 PM on April 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


I know you said you weren't taking anything, but I got these coming off of Paxil, an SSRI. I called them brain zaps. It was horrible. They made me want to jump out of my skin. I've never experienced anything remotely like that before or since. That stinks that you get them sans any weird drugs. I would say, just because of the nature of SSRIs, that it's got to be some kind of brain chemistry thing. But what could spark off yours absent any medicine? Could it be something seemingly normal that you're ingesting? Stumped.
posted by kookoobirdz at 8:32 PM on April 19, 2006


mojabunni, I actually read a book by that guy, but not the one you linked. It was about phantom limbs and finding ways to study why some people feel pain in limbs that have been removed and finding ways to relieve that pain. But I know he touched on issues similar to sleep paralysis and those temporal lobe siezures. Maybe that's where I got the parietal lobe siezure idea from.

Thanks for the reminder of his name and the links. I would probably agree that anyone interested in the brain sparks to check out his stuff. I don't know how much he actually talks about the sparks or how reliable his data is, but it was a really interesting read.
posted by johnstein at 8:38 PM on April 19, 2006


I started having these a couple years ago, maybe once a month or so. I never knew how to describe it to anyone, but the descriptions here do pretty well. A little "electric" BZZZZZZZP in my head, lasting only a fraction of a second. Always happens in bed just before falling asleep. Sometimes accompanied by a flash of light. Very weird. (No drug use here either.)
posted by AstroGuy at 8:53 PM on April 19, 2006


One night coming down from mushrooms I had them for several hours, felt like a lighthouse & they came regularly as it rotated in my direction, a buzzy zap, not painful, but not comfortable, through my brain.

The boomers had long worn off, but I had a hard time sleeping because of this.

That was years ago, still remember it pretty vividly.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:08 PM on April 19, 2006


There's no sensory nerves in the brain, so this can't be anything actually occuring there; it's really just a sensation and not seated in your brain, except in the usual way.


Two other zap-related posts: 1, 2.
posted by abcde at 10:48 PM on April 19, 2006


Sounds like it might be a sort of "myoclonic jerk." I'd consider seeing a neurologist.
posted by mert at 5:57 AM on April 20, 2006


Thanks for all the replies. I marked the ones that seem the most simliar to mine as "best". I'll mention it to my doctor next time I swing by there.
I did try to bring them on myself last night, and was marginally successful. I'm not sure if they were the same as I felt years ago, but they seem close.
posted by slactoid at 7:31 AM on April 20, 2006


Totally hypnic. Totally normal.
posted by zonkout at 8:06 AM on April 20, 2006


I get these too! Except they go down my spine and actually feel kinda good. Like a jolt of energy. I've been off mediation for over two years, and my brain scans are normal.

Hmm!
posted by divabat at 8:22 AM on April 20, 2006


I've always just thought of it as "the bug zapper noise", and assumed if it was significant, I'd've fallen over by now.
posted by cookie-k at 8:23 AM on April 20, 2006


As a neuropsychiatrist, I endorse what has been said about the need to consider seizures as a possibility. The fact that, unlike other people who have gotten similar symptoms, you were not on recreational drugs or coming off SSRI antidepressants doesn't mean it is not the same phenomenon; seizures are a common final pathway of many different brain processes. An MRI does not show anything, during an episode or between, in most seizure disorders, since they are usually not caused by gross (anatomic-scale) brain pathology. A brainwave recording (EEG) often is not abnormal between episodes. The reason to pay attention to this possibility is that, the more seizures a person has, the easier it becomes to have more seizures, so it should not go unassessed or untreated. The place to start would be a careful neurological exam by a primary care MD who, on the basis of exam and story, would decide whether to do further investigation or refer to a neurologist for consultation. Do a search on "limbic kindling" or "limbic kindling disorders" as a starting point for further information.

Now, putting on another hat, these are not that uncommon in meditators, and may not be seizures at all. Look thru the literature on "spiritual emergencies".
posted by emg at 9:05 AM on April 20, 2006


About a dozen people in this thread, including the original poster, have described the subjective experience of myoclonus.

The causes of myoclonus are myriad, and mostly benign.

I confess to a touch of sorrow as I read this thread. Humanity has known about myoclonus for hundreds of years, and looking at the responses to this thread, it's sort of sad how everyone is reinventing the wheel.

reinventing the wheel.

reinventing the wheel.

reinventing the wheel.

reinventing the wheel.

reinventing the wheel.

et c. ad naus.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:32 PM on April 20, 2006


I certainly didn't mean to kill off the entertaining conversation in this thread. Here is the NINDS page about myoclonus; the Wikipedia entry on myoclonus suffers from being an anecdotal collection of facts pertaining to myoclonus, despite my best efforts to organize it into some kind of coherent whole.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:35 PM on April 22, 2006


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