If you Google your symptoms and the results point to something called “exploding head syndrome,” should you see a doctor, a demolition expert or someone who can make you a cement hat?
The correct answer is “a) see a doctor.” Exploding head syndrome is a hypnagogic condition that occurs in that mysterious transitional state between sleep and full wakefulness. We’ve all experienced the “hypnagogic jerk,” that embarrassing spasm that cause your body to twitch and head to snap back, usually during sermons in church. Exploding head syndrome is a more serious condition which causes sufferers to hear extremely loud noises like gunshots or explosions as they are falling asleep or waking up.
New research by the American Sleep Association (ASA) is helping to identity the causes and possible treatments for exploding head syndrome. While causing no pain, it interferes with sleep and can trigger severe anxiety. Some sufferers hear the noise in only one ear, others in both and many people hear it coming from inside their heads. While anyone can experience it, it’s most common in women and people over 50.
Possible causes include anxiety, extreme fatigue, minor seizures in the brain’s temporal lobe or hearing disorders. It may also be an evolutionary leftover from our ancestors whose brains jerked them awake with spasms or noises when they might be in danger or falling out of a tree.
After ruling out fireworks or trigger-happy neighbors, those suffering from exploding head syndrome are advised to try yoga, meditation or a hot bath before bed. The ASA reports that many drugs interfere with sleep and can be a possible cause, so refraining from taking them, after checking with a doctor first, may alleviate the symptoms. Clomipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, is sometimes prescribed for treatment.
The good news, for both you and your sleeping partner, is that “exploding head” is just an expression.