Sleep scientists from Washington State University are calling attention to a rare and little-understood sleep disorder with a particularly frightening name. Exploding head syndrome sounds a lot worse than it is. Though the experience is certainly unpleasant for those who are experiencing it, at least it is not quite as bad as the visual image that the condition evokes. Exploding head syndrome is characterized by experiencing extremely loud and sudden noises during the onset of sleep.
It is not known how many people actually experience this sleep disorder, as there is not a great deal of research on the topic. The study gathered and reviewed all of the existing literature on the topic in order to raise awareness of the phenomenon. Their research yielded a clearer picture of exactly what those who suffer from the condition experience. Symptoms include very loud and disruptive noises being heard. Patients have described the sounds as being similar to the sound of firecrackers going off, slamming doors, explosions, and even gunshots. They may experience the sounds in either one ear or both ear and the sounds are sometimes accompanied by bright flashes of light.
Though exploding head syndrome is not generally a disorder that is accompanied by any physical symptoms, some people do indicate that they experience slight pain at the same time that they hear the noises. Women seem to be more likely to experience the syndrome than men are.
Despite the fact that exploding head syndrome is not connected with a physical malady, its impact is obviously disruptive and cause for tremendous anxiety for those who suffer from it. Not only is the experience frightening, it also creates a heightened sense of tension and stress regarding going to sleep each night, a situation which can lead to other sleep disorders, insomnia, and sleep deprivation. Remarkably, though there is literature regarding exploding head syndrome going back as far as 150 years, it has not been the subject of much research.
The Washington State University researchers believe that exploding head syndrome occurs when there is some kind of disruption in the normal sequence of falling asleep. As the body falls asleep, many of the brain processes slow down. The scientists believe that the brains of those experiencing this sleep disorder may actually speed up when they are supposed to be transitioning from alertness to drowsiness, and this is the cause of the noises in their heads. They theorize that the reasons this may be happening can range from exhaustion, to mental disorders, to stress.
Exploding head syndrome has been seen in both men and women, and in children as young as ten years old. Treating the condition may include prescribing antidepressants, though the first line of defense is often the introduction of relaxation exercises and other behavioral interventions, including avoiding alcohol.