If you have already been woken up in the middle of the night by a loud noise in your ears, you have probably already experienced this. Still not well known to specialists, exploding head syndrome is a very mysterious disorder.
Exploding head syndrome is not as frightening as its name might suggest. However it can be disturbing and frightening for the people who suffer from it. Perhaps you have already woken up in the middle of the night, after thinking you have heard a detonation or the sound of a slamming door. This is what happens in people with this syndrome, which is still little known to scientists.
Researchers from the University of Washington's Department of Psychology recently reviewed the various studies conducted on this strange sleep disorder. An opportunity to encourage people with MS to talk about their symptoms, and to try to better understand the causes.
Deafening noises that can wake you up with a start
First described in 1920 by Welsh physicist and psychiatrist Robert Armstrong-Jones, exploding head syndrome results in the sound of a noise in the head, never anchored in reality. Affected people usually hear noises of shots, fireworks, slamming doors, etc.
This usually occurs while you fall asleep, or shortly before waking up, and can affect only one or both ears. It is sometimes accompanied by a luminous flash of light, and in some cases, a slight pain. According to the researchers, women are more likely to experience this syndrome than men.
Waking up with a jolt, the person with the disease usually feels anxious or even afraid, and may experience a sudden increase in his or her heart rate. But the phenomenon is different from a nightmare: in cases of exploding head syndrome, the noise is not related to a dream in progress.
Tiredness and fear of going to sleep
While the syndrome is not dangerous to the body, it can have negative consequences on the well-being and sleep cycle of patients. ‘I have worked with individuals who were awakened seven times a night, and this can lead to bad clinical consequences,’ says Brian Sharpless, professor and head of the department of clinical psychology at Washington University, in a statement.
Like all sleep disorders, exploding head syndrome can cause significant fatigue during the day. In addition, ‘some people become anxious about going into their rooms or trying to fall asleep,’ adds Brian Sharpless. To fight against exploding head syndrome, relaxation-based treatments are being experimented with by specialists. But it is still difficult to develop targeted treatments, as the causes of the syndrome are still very unclear.
Causes still unknown
According to Brian Sharpless, the most convincing hypothesis is that the brain is not able to 'shut down' properly. ‘Instead of turning off, some groups of neurons are actually activated and make us hear sudden noises. Behavioural and psychological factors could also play a role, and if your sleep is naturally disrupted, the phenomenon will be more likely to occur,’ explains the specialist.
But for the time being, studies based on electroencephalograms have only documented manifestations of the syndrome during periods of drowsiness, not deep sleep. The researchers hope that their work will encourage people with exploding head syndrome to come forward to them in order to better understand this sleep disorder.
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