"Exploding head syndrome" much more common than thought: study

02 April 2015

Exploding head syndrome, which may sound like a mock malady, actually affects one-fifth of college students, a study published recently in the Journal of Sleep Research reported.

The syndrome did not actually involve heads exploding; it is characterised by hearing sudden, loud noises when going to sleep or waking up. Not much was known about the condition, but the study disproved a theory held that only older people were affected by it.

The study conducted by Washington State University involved 211 students, who were checked for exploding head syndrome and sleep paralysis. Eighteen per cent of the students reported exploding head syndrome at least once.

The study further found that exploding head syndrome frequently resulted in a clinically significant level of fear, as many who experienced it were not able to rationalise what they heard.

According to Brian Sharpless, who spoke to Medical News Today and the author of the study, some people had worked the scary experiences into conspiracy theories and mistakenly believed the episodes were caused by some sort of directed-energy weapon.

Sharpless said he decided to look into the condition as the existing research just did not add up. The condition was considered rare and was believed to happen mostly in middle age.

"I didn't believe the clinical lore that it would only occur in people in their 50s," Sharpless said in a press statement. "That didn't make a lot of biological sense to me." He suspected the disorder had not received the attention it deserved.

Sharpless theorises that the noise some people heard in their heads originated from a momentary neural hiccup as the brain transitioned into sleep mode. He compared it the shutting down of a computer, with the brain's motor, auditory and visual neurons turning off in stages.

Once in a while, instead of shutting down properly, the auditory neurons fired all at once.

He added that was the reason one got those crazy-loud noises that one could not explain, though they were not actual noises in one's environment.

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