Weird, wacky & wonderful

Ciara Ritson-Courney describes the mind-blowing causes and symptoms of exploding head syndrome

9th November 2015

Exploding head syndrome: is it as bad as it sounds? Luckily for the sufferers of this condition it isn’t; there aren’t people whose heads are spontaneously combusting around the world with no medical cure for it, however, it’s still pretty bizarre.

The condition consists of the sufferer perceiving loud noises, flashing lights or an explosive sensation when they are falling asleep or waking up. The frequency of the episodes can fluctuate from once in a lifetime to multiple times in a night and the types of noises heard can vary with some hearing firework noises and others more akin to a  slamming door. While the reality of this condition may not seem as extreme as the name might suggest, the episodes can be extremely distressing.

Patients often confuse it with strokes due to the temporary paralysis some experience during an episode. The condition also interrupts and prevents many from getting the sleep they need, which can significantly impact their entire life. It can also cause palpitations and temporary tachycardia (quickening of the heartrate) which can be extremely dangerous, especially for people with heart conditions.

While being classified as a form of parasomnia in 2005, there is still no full treatment or cure. Antidepressants are used to reduce the frequency of attacks while relaxation techniques can help patients to reach a normal sleep stage. The most compelling theories about how the condition occurs suggest there is a burst of neurological activity during the stages when our body becomes paralysed in preparation for sleep.

“Patients often confuse it with strokes due to the temporary paralysis some experience during an episode”

The condition is surprisingly common with nearly 20% of people experiencing an episode  at some point in their lifetime. Lack of sleep is known to increase the likelihood of experiencing exploding head syndrome and, therefore, it puts students and those in high stress jobs at the forefront of people likely to experience it. So when your parents are asking if you’re getting enough sleep, they are really just showing concern for your increased potential to experience exploding head syndrome.

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