“Exploding head syndrome”? You mean your head literally explodes?
Nah, hear me out. It’s a very distressing psychological phenomenon in which the sufferer is awaken by sudden loud noises, sometimes with the feeling that there’s an explosion happening inside their head.
Although the syndrome is not medical news, its frequency among young people is. Washington State University researchers, led by Brian Sharpless, director of the university psychology clinic, discovered that an alarming 18 percent – almost one in five! – of the interviewed college students said they had experienced the symptoms at least once.
Sharpless explained that the unfortunate minority suffering from this syndrome has little hope, as there is no well-articulated treatments are available, and research in this field is very low.
During the study, researchers found that approximately one in three participants who had exploding head syndrome also frequently had episodes of isolated sleep paralysis, a terrifying experience in which the sufferer’s body is still in sleep-paralysis mode even after waking up, leaving them unable to move or speak.
Those who suffer from this condition are taking “dreaming with your eyes open” to a whole new unsettling level. This study covered 211 undergraduate students in its research, making it the largest of its kind. The participants were examined by psychologists or graduate students who had followed training in order to be able to recognize symptoms of exploding head syndrome and isolated sleep paralysis.
Previous, smaller studies led researchers to believe that exploding head syndrome is a very rare condition that only occurs in people older than 50. Because Sharpless felt the biological factors could not lead to such a conclusion, he decided to do a more comprehensive study on the matter.
Doing some reviewing work for the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews on what little scientific literature was available on the disorder, Sharpless started believing it might be more widespread than anyone thought.
Medical experts started wondering why the symptoms usually appear when the subject is falling asleep, and they eventually suspected it comes with a faulty shutting down of the brain. Instead of turning off its motor, auditory and visual neurons in phases, the brain shut down its auditory ones all at once, causing the blasting sounds.
The same part of the brain that causes the loud noises light up in people with isolated sleep paralysis as well, explaining why some people suffer from both maladies. The bad news is that treatment is yet to be discovered, even though progress is underway with various promising drugs.
So far, they found a drug for exploding head syndrome that unfortunately doesn’t make the sounds go away for good, but it definitely turns the volume down, so they become less distressing.
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