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Keywords:

  • exploding head syndrome;
  • parasomnia;
  • sensory sleep start;
  • sleep disorder;
  • sleep–wake disorder;
  • snapping of the brain

Summary

Exploding head syndrome is characterized by the perception of loud noises during sleep–wake or wake–sleep transitions. Although episodes by themselves are relatively harmless, it is a frightening phenomenon that may result in clinical consequences. At present there are little systematic data on exploding head syndrome, and prevalence rates are unknown. It has been hypothesized to be rare and to occur primarily in older (i.e. 50+ years) individuals, females, and those suffering from isolated sleep paralysis. In order to test these hypotheses, 211 undergraduate students were assessed for both exploding head syndrome and isolated sleep paralysis using semi-structured diagnostic interviews: 18.00% of the sample experienced lifetime exploding head syndrome, this reduced to 16.60% for recurrent cases. Though not more common in females, it was found in 36.89% of those diagnosed with isolated sleep paralysis. Exploding head syndrome episodes were accompanied by clinically significant levels of fear, and a minority (2.80%) experienced it to such a degree that it was associated with clinically significant distress and/or impairment. Contrary to some earlier theorizing, exploding head syndrome was found to be a relatively common experience in younger individuals. Given the potential clinical impacts, it is recommended that it be assessed more regularly in research and clinical settings.