PULLMAN, WA (WVUE) - A new study has revealed that an unexpectedly high percentage of young people experience "exploding head syndrome." The phenomenon occurs when they are awakened by abrupt loud noises or the sensation of an explosion in their head.
Nearly one in five college students interviewed said they had experienced it at least once, according to the study from Washington State University.
The condition can significantly impact a student's life.
"Unfortunately for this minority of individuals, no well-articulated or empirically supported treatments are available, and very few clinicians or researchers assess for it," said Brian Sharpless, a WSU assistant professor and director of the university psychology clinic.
More than one-third of those who had exploding head syndrome also experienced other sleep problems, like sleep paralysis.
People with this condition will dream with their eyes wide open.
Exploding head syndrome tends to happen as people are falling asleep. Researchers believe it stems from problems with the brain shutting down. They compare it to a computer that should shut down in stages, but instead shuts down all at once.
"That's why you get these crazy-loud noises that you can't explain, and they're not actual noises in your environment," Sharpless said.
Other studies suggest that exploding head syndrome is a rare condition found mostly in people older than 50.
Sharpless started to think the syndrome was more widespread in 2014 when he reviewed other studies on the disorder.
The syndrome can last just a few seconds, but can lead some to believe they are having a seizure or brain hemorrhage.
"Some people have worked these scary experiences into conspiracy theories," Sharpless said. He said that can lead people to believe they are experiencing an unnatural event or hallucination.
"For this scary noise you hear at night when there's nothing going on in your environment, well, it might be the government messing with you," Sharpless said. Some blame it on possible aliens or other things that go bump in the night. It can be so terrifying, some patients are afraid to tell their spouses or loved ones about the condition.
Neither disorder has a well-established treatment yet, though researchers have tried different drugs that may be promising.
The results appear online in the Journal of Sleep Research.