Have you ever been asleep and suddenly woke up to a loud bang, the sound of gunfire, or a woman screaming? This is a known phenomenon and it’s called “Exploding Head Syndrome”. I’m serious. Trust me.
Several years ago, my dad was napping in his recliner, and he startled awake saying, “Who’s screaming?!” He was convinced a woman was screaming. As my dad and I processed his experience, I mentioned that sometimes I think I hear gunfire and it’s very disturbing. We both agreed that it happens when we are either falling asleep or waking up. I then mentioned this to my sister, who said she also has this happen and revealed that our middle sister had experienced it as well.
Aha! It must run in families, right? Well…there’s no proof of that. As I researched the topic this week, I was surprised to find that this syndrome isn’t very well studied. So let’s grab A Cup of Coffee and talk about what we do know about Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS).
What Is It?
Exploding head syndrome is an under-recognized parasomnia sleep disorder defined by episodes that typically occur during the transition period between sleep and wakefulness. These episodes create the perception of a loud explosion, gunfire, door slamming, and possibly a flash of light, in the sleeper’s head. They are brief, usually lasting less than a second.
This syndrome doesn’t accompany any painful symptoms but can be very disturbing to the individual who believes something bad just happened. When this happens multiple times a night, it can lead to significant sleep loss.
What Are The Symptoms?
According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, patients must meet all of the following criteria to receive an Exploding Head Syndrome diagnosis:
1. Complaints of loud noises or sensations that mimic the effects of an explosion in the head during transition periods between sleep and wakefulness.
2. Feelings of intense arousal, and possibly fright, following these episodes.
3. No significant physical pain during or following the episodes.
Some people may also experience flashes of light or involuntary twitches that affect groups of muscles.
What Causes EHS?
The cause of this syndrome is basically unknown. Although EHS has been documented since the 1870s, the disorder has not been extensively studied. The largest study to date was done in 2020, and it concluded that “those with EHS had shorter sleep durations, longer sleep onset latencies, poorer sleep quality, and less sleep efficiency, but effect sizes for these differences were small. Females were slightly more likely than males to endorse EHS. 44.4% of individuals with EHS experienced significant fear during episodes, but fewer reported clinically significant distress (25.0%) or interference (10.1%) as a result of EHS”.
MedIndia believes that Individuals are more prone to this syndrome when they are experiencing fatigue or high-stress levels. Other causes could be movement of the Eustachian tube and seizure of the temporal lobe complex.
The Sleep Foundation states, “Studies suggest a strong link between EHS and insomnia, as well as sleep paralysis, but more research is needed”.
How Do You Manage EHS?
The primary management of the disorder includes education and reassurances about its benign nature. EHS is only an issue if it is keeping you awake so much that you are experiencing daytime sleepiness or other issues associated with lack of sleep. If this is the case, you are encouraged to consult with your doctor.
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