Exploding Head Syndrome a Real, but Understudied Sleep Disorder
An unusual sleep disorder known as exploding head syndrome is under-researched and merits more study, according to Washington State University psychologist Brian Sharpless, who recently reviewed all the published scientific literature on the provocative disorder.
Exploding head syndrome is not as gory as it sounds, however for people afflicted with the condition, life can be quite unpleasant.
People with exploding head syndrome say they hear abrupt, loud noises such as slamming doors, gunshots or fireworks as they are falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning.
These incidents are harmless, but they can be very disruptive for people with the syndrome.
"I've worked with some individuals who have it seven times a night, so it can lead to bad clinical consequences as well," Sharpless said in a statement.
"Some people start to become anxious when they go into their bedroom or when they try to go to sleep," he said. "Daytime sleepiness can be another problem for people."
People with exploding head syndrome appear to experience the condition with varying levels of intensity. Some report mild pain, other report hearing the explosions in just one ear, while other report loud exploding noises in both ears.
It's unclear how many people may suffer from exploding head syndrome, however Sharpless said it appears to be more widespread than what had been presumed. However, the reason why people experience loud exploding noises while falling asleep or waking up remains a mystery.
"In layman's terms, our best guess is that it occurs when the body doesn't shut down for sleep in the correct sequence," Sharpless said. "Instead of shutting down, certain groups of neurons actually get activated and have us perceive the bursts of noise. Behavioral and psychological factors come into play as well, and if you have normally disrupted sleep, the episodes will be more likely to occur."
Sharpless published his research on exploding head syndrome in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews.