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Exploding Head Syndrome

So, uh, yea… how’s that for a title.

For the past several months, I’ve been plagued by a strange occurrence. When I’m just about to fall asleep, I’ll hear a loud noise. Sometimes, it’s a loud boom, other times it sounds like someone beating on a door. Sometimes it sounds like a gun shot while others it’s someone yelling. There is no rhyme or reason to what I’m hearing, it just occurs and startles me.

I’ll wake up with my heart beating so fast it feels like it’s going to explode and try to figure out what happened. I’ve gotten up more than a few times to check the apartment, verify the doors are locked, and that no one is inside. I feel a bit stupid doing this, because my wife is sound asleep next to me and the dog hasn’t moved. It’s clearly not something they have heard, but it’s so real to me.

Hearing strange noises is terrifying. It’s terrifying because it’s unexpected and terrifying because I’m pretty sure it’s all in my head. It’s made me wonder a few times if I was losing it, but I decided to try and examine what happens when this occurs.

I’ve noticed it mainly happens right as I’m about to drift off to sleep, but occasionally does happen in the midst of a dream. I’ve noticed the sound does not fit anything that happens in the dream, which is part of why my brain and heart get so confused. It would be one thing if I was standing next to an explosion in my dream, but instead I’ll be doing something relaxing or having a conversation when suddenly this sound occurs. No one in the dream reacts, so I believe I wake myself up thinking it must be something in the real world that created such a noise. Then I noticed my wife and dog have not heard this noise and it’s just confusing.

Last night, this occurred once again. I’d been asleep a few hours when suddenly there came a boom. The best way to describe it would be like someone kicked a door hard.

I woke up startled and checked my surroundings. I told myself it was in my head and to go back to sleep, but then I realized I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t get up and check out the apartment. So, I grabbed my flashlight, verified everything was safe and no one was outside and then tried to get back to sleep.

I couldn’t. I tossed and turned, still startled and frustrated. I mean, this makes no sense. I must be going crazy right? I decided I would see a doctor regarding this, and I did a quick search to see if anyone else has ever encountered this type of thing.

I was relieved to learn that I’m far from alone. There is even a name for this sort of thing: exploding head syndrome.

I won’t recap the Wikipedia, you can read that for yourself here, but the cause of it is unknown although there are theories such as temporal lobe seizures, nerve dysfunction, or genetic changes that may play apart. Stress is also a potential risk factor and it’s classified as a sleep or headache disorder.

There are no proven treatment options, but reassurance seems to help. I know it did for me. This sort of behavior is suspected to effect ten percent of the population and it seems to come and go throughout their lifetime.

Realizing that I’m not going crazy has helped take some of the pressure off. At least, I have a name (albeit a dramatic one) for what is going on. I know it’s not going to change the confusion and racing heart when it occurs, but at least I can rest easy knowing that this is a disorder.

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