Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS) may sound like something you would read straight out of a Sci-Fi novel, but in reality it is a surprisingly common sleep disorder. While EHS is a largely overlooked phenomenon in the medical field, it is estimated that about as many as one in ten people will be effected at some point during their life. People with EHS may only have one attack in their lifetime, while others can experience around seven attacks a night. Many only experience one attack, and some suffer from attacks over weeks or months, and a few will experience attacks daily for years.
Below is a list of common EHS symptoms, if you are experiencing any of these you should consult a doctor or sleep specialist.
• Noises are loud and jarring, resembling the popping sounds of firecrackers or gunshots, the slamming sound of a door closing violently, or the boom of an explosion.
• Sometimes the sounds of EHS are accompanied by flashes of light.
• These sounds may be perceived in one or both ears.
• EHS may also cause a mild headache and sensations of heat.
• Jerk or ‘jumping’ limbs at the same time.
• The disorder is known to be twice as common in women and typically affects ages 50 and older, though it has also been reported in children as young as ten.
The good news is that while EHS can be scary, it is generally harmless. It’s still unclear why EHS happens and what could be causing it. Dr. Sharpless says the most likely explanation for EHS is that there is some kind of temporary blip in the nerve cells of the brain during the switch from being awake to sleeping. When we sleep, our brains coordinate a switching off of various regions responsible for movement, vision, sound and so on. EHS could occur because of a delay in this shut-down process, resulting in a burst of activity, which could be perceived as loud noises and flashes of light. Other possibilities could stem from ear problems or rapid withdrawals from certain drugs such as benxodiazephines and certain types of anti-depressants.
There are drug treatments for EHS that may be effective, but are generally reserved for patients with frequent and prolonged symptoms.
Sorensen, Eric. “‘Exploding Head Syndrome’ a Real, Overlooked Sleep Disorder – WSU News.” WSU News. Washington State University, 6 May 2014. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <https://news.wsu.edu/2014/05/06/exploding-head-syndrome-a-real-overlooked-sleep-disorder/#.VH3QmzHF_d2>.
“Exploding Head Syndrome – Overview & Facts.” Exploding Head Syndrome. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.sleepeducation.com/sleep-disorders-by-category/parasomnias/exploding-head-syndrome/overview-facts/>.