The Journal of Sleep Research this month published the results of a limited study of Washington State University students and their sleep habits. Among other things, the study noted that 18% of the 211 undergraduates involved had some form of Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS).
The name Exploding Head Syndrome dates to research conducted by neurologist J.M.S. Pearce in 1988, but the disorder itself, noted in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition), has been recognized for over a century.
EHS is a condition where the sufferer is awakened by a loud noise that apparently originates within their own head. Though the cause(s) of EHS are unknown, EHS usually occurs just after falling asleep or as a person is starting to wake up. Previously EHS was believed to be both rare and limited primarily to people over the age of 50. Though not harmful, EHS can be frightening. There is no known treatment though various medications including antidepressants have been tried, said WSU’s Brian Sharpless who led the study and is co-author of a forthcoming book: Sleep Paralysis: Historical, Psychological and Medical Perspectives.
People who think they have EHS should consult a doctor to rule out any other problems, Sharpless said. For many sufferers, however, it is reassuring to know that this is a real and apparently somewhat common disorder.