Imagine trying to fall asleep and being met with the deafening sound of a bomb exploding. Most people would try to evacuate or turn on the news to find out what is happening. However, for those with exploding head syndrome (EHS), it is not even a reason to get out of bed.
EHS is a little known sleep disorder characterized by loud auditory hallucinations that occur on either end of an individual’s sleep cycle. Brian Sharpless, Ph.D., of Washington State University, explains, “It usually happens just as you’re going to sleep, or when you’re about to wake up… some people even feel the sensation that their head is actually exploding.” The disorder was believed to primarily affect individuals over the age of 50 but a 2015 study conducted by Dr. Sharpless indicates that the disorder is increasingly common among younger populations. The study found that as many as 16.6 percent of college students had experienced recurrent episodes of EHS.
The causes of EHS are highly debated among the scientific community. Dr. Sharpless believes it is most likely due to malfunctioning in part of the brain stem that is supposed to shut down when an individual falls asleep. Instead of shutting down, it sends out high volumes of auditory neurons. The American Sleep Association suggests that the disorder is more likely to occur in those experiencing high levels of stress or fatigue, a possible clue as to why Dr. Sharpless’ study found high rates of EHS among students. As the organization explains, “What actually causes the sensation in individuals is still unknown, though speculation of possible sources include minor seizures affecting the temporal lobe, or sudden shifts in middle ear components.”
A United Kingdom-based writer named Michael Segalov periodically experiences episodes of EHS in which he hears the sound of his sister screaming for help. He explains, “My heart was racing and, for maybe ten seconds, I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move or make a sound. Then it passed; my muscles relaxed, I stopped jerking, the piercing scream died away and my eyes welled up.” While there is no physical pain associated with EHS, the sensations can cause anxiety, insomnia and a fear of sleeping.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety or other mental health issues related to sleep disorders, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals facing mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer