Exploding Head Syndrome

By Alec Trembath

A parasomnia is a general term for an unwanted effect that occurs while sleeping or trying to go to sleep. One parasomnia, sleepwalking (or somnambulism) is a very well known, and often widely ridiculed, form of parasomnias. However, there are others that we might experience but never hear about.

Exploding Head Syndrome. Exploding Head Syndrome is a title used to describe a person hearing sudden loud crashes during sleep. People often describe them as gunshots, cymbals crashing, or explosions. One might also hear the sound of someone yelling their name, screaming random words, or completely random shouting. These auditory hallucinations can sometimes be accompanied by flashes of light or muscular twitches. People experiencing an episode may also frequently experience myoclonic jerks.

The experience itself is not quite as dramatic as the name suggests. The person experiencing it suffers no pain from the episode itself. However, Exploding Head Syndrome can cause suffers to awaken in a state of panic. Making it difficult, if not impossible, to go back to sleep.

Exploding Head Syndrome Causes

There have been limited studies on EHS. There has not been a definite cause that has been identified but there are other things that might make you at risk for having EHS episodes:
  • Women experience EHS more than men
  • EHS often happens in conjunction with other sleep disorders
  • If you are taking a sleep aid
  • Individuals with a history of mental health issues may be at greater risk
  • People experiencing a period of a lot of stress
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Substance abuse
The leading theory of what causes EHS came about by an Assistant Professor at Washington State University named Brian Sharpless. In a study that Sharpless created, he found that when we are falling asleep parts of our brain shuts off in different stages. He theorizes that sometimes instead of the auditory neurons shutting off completely they will just fire all at one time.

As said before the episode itself is painless, however, if you are experiencing these problems and they interfere with your daily life or in some other way greatly disturb you, it is recommended that you seek professional help for treatment options.