Lanza Blog

THE INCREDIBLE EXPLODING HEAD By James Lanza, CPFI

Incredible? Unbelievable? Maybe it’s an urban myth. Maybe it’s an old legend or wives’ tale. Maybe, just maybe, it’s an old “Ed Wood” movie, circa 1959. (You millennials will have to google that name). You baby boomers will have to ask how to “google”.

Picture it. Ed Wood directing. A mad scientist develops a machine that can send a ray that will literally make the head explode. Or, a mad scientist creates an ear worm that can carry a tiny explosive on its back and will burrow into..never mind. Too gory. How about a frustrated, angry wife that screams at her low life, alcoholic and abusive husband so loud that his head just goes “puff”. I like that one.

But it’s not a myth, a legend or a bad “B” movie. It’s real. It’s a real thing. And I have never told this to anyone  before but I actually have this syndrome. I can freely admit it now because it has a name and it has been researched and it has been diagnosed. For years I thought I was crazy, a lunatic or even special in a freaky kind of way. But it’s been happening to me my whole life.

It goes like this…when you are lying in bed, ready to fall asleep and you’re just about to drift off, all of a sudden…BANG! You open your eyes and bolt upright because someone just fired a gun next to your head. You look around, frightened, waiting for the next shot. But there’s no one there. You’re alone (or next to your spouse, ext.), you sit for a moment trying to figure it all out. Now you’re wide awake, a little sweaty, a little scared. But you’re safe. Doesn’t happen often, maybe two times a year, maybe three times in two years. It’s infrequent. At least for me. I haven’t met anyone who has ever talked about it. Including myself. This is honestly the first time in my life. I had no idea. Until now.

Doctors have given it a name. “Exploding Head Syndrome”. It is a sleep disorder that researchers thought only occurred in adults. But now research has shown that about one in five college students experience this. About eighteen per cent and it has become one of the largest studies of its kind.

The study was done by researchers at Washington State University and published in the Journal of Sleep Research. Researchers studied 211 undergraduate students because apparently they thought that this syndrome occurred in people over fifty years old. Exploding head syndrome was considered rare and happened to people in middle life. But the occurrences happen more often than previously thought. I think it’s because people don’t talk about it. Even to the doctors.

According to Brian Sharpless, a Washington State University assistant professor and director of the university psychology clinic, Exploding head syndrome is one of several conditions described as hypnagogic, or occurring in the transitional state between sleep and full wakefulness. Apparently the nerves in the brain mis-fire between the transition of alertness and asleep. Somewhat of a neural hiccup. He compares it to a computer shutting down, with the brain’s motor, auditory and visual neurons turning off in stages. Once in a while, instead of shutting down properly, the auditory neurons fire all at once.

There’s no danger, no long lasting effect on the brain. Just some momentary stress. Maybe unclean sheets. Just kidding. It’s fine. It’s been happening to me for many years. Now that I know what it is, and that I’m not being abducted by aliens from “Plan 9 From Outer Space” I can sleep better.

Thanks for listening and have a healthy day!

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