“Exploding Head Syndrome”—Real But Overlooked Sleep Disorder

It sounds like a phrase from the Urban Dictionary, but a Washington State University (WSU) researcher says “exploding head syndrome” is an authentic and largely overlooked phenomenon that warrants a deeper look.

“It’s a provocative and understudied phenomenon,” says Brian Sharpless, a WSU assistant professor and director of the university psychology clinic, in a release. He recently reviewed the scientific literature on the disorder for the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews. “I’ve worked with some individuals who have it seven times a night, so it can lead to bad clinical consequences as well.”

People with the syndrome typically perceive abrupt, loud noises—door slams, fireworks, gunshots—as they are going to sleep or waking up. While harmless, the episodes can be frightening.