Brian Sharpless, Director, Psychology Clinic
Brian Sharpless

Exploding head syndrome may sound like a made-up condition, but it’s a real and frightening medical disorder that’s also surprisingly common, according to a study led by Brian Sharpless, assistant professor of psychology at WSU.

People with exploding head syndrome (EHS) hear loud noises when going to sleep or on waking up. The type of noise can vary from explosions and fireworks to slammed doors, the sound of a gun firing, an enormous roar, shouting, thunder or a crack of lightning. The noises start suddenly and last for a few seconds.

“It can be very frightening and scary for those who do not know what is happening,” Sharpless said. It can lead to sleeping problems and worse: an attack may cause temporary tachycardia.

The study published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews suggests that the disorder may affect as many as one in 10 people at some time during their life. The most likely explanation  is that there is some kind of temporary blip in the nerve cells of the brain during the switch from being awake to sleeping, Sharpless said.

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