Last night, I had my first experience with ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’. It was absolutely terrifying. I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared before in my entire life.
What Is Exploding Head Syndrome?
I should probably explain what Exploding Head Syndrome actually is. First off, the name is a bit misleading. And my picture up top didn’t really help. Spoiler alert: your head doesn’t actually explode. Externally, at least.
Exploding Head Syndrome is a parasomnia event in which you experience an unbelievably loud noise that originates inside your head, just before you fall asleep. It’s like a sudden and unexpected explosion of sound inside your mind. “Parasomnia” is a disorder identified by weird/unusual behaviour of the nervous system when you’re asleep.
Apparently, Exploding Head Syndrome affects 1 in 5 people. It could happen because you’re tired or stressed or maybe even sleep-deprived. I don’t know. Nobody’s quite got a solid understanding of this whole phenomenon. It’s really not a well-documented issue. That being said, this article from The Daily Mail is pretty informative.
This is a direct quote from the article, which explains the explosion of sound in your mind:
…when the brain goes to sleep, it’s like a computer shutting down. Motor, sound and visual brain cells turn off in stages. But for people with exploding head syndrome, instead of shutting down properly, the brain cells responsible for sound are thought to fire all at once, creating a blast of energy that the brain interprets as a loud noise.
How Does Exploding Head Syndrome Feel?
Honestly, it’s a frightening experience. Let me walk you through what happened to me. Hopefully, that’ll prepare you if you ever find yourself in the same situation. And if you’ve already experienced it and found this blog post by Googling, I hope you find some small comfort in the fact that you’re not alone.
Bear in mind that it’s very difficult to put into words the kind of rapid thoughts/emotional states I went through, so I’ll be using a lot of GIFs. Hopefully, that’ll help explain the kind of things I was feeling at the time.
It all started as I was drifting off to sleep (roughly around 2:30 in the morning). I was laying in bed, trying my best to get to sleep. As I got sleepier, I felt my body go numb. My eyes were still open and I was still thinking. I was dimly aware that I couldn’t move any part of my body, but I wasn’t too fussed. I’ve dealt with sleep paralysis before.
I couldn’t move my arms, legs, hands, fingers, or my toes. My eyes were still open, but they weren’t focussing on anything. I moved my eyes around, trying to force myself out of sleep paralysis, like I usually do. I could see shadows and dark figures moving around my room, but whenever I tried to look at them directly, they disappeared.
I felt someone watching me. I could hear strange noises. I heard someone crying in the corner of my room, moaning my name. I felt a slight breeze on my cheek, like someone was whispering into my ear. I felt pressure on my chest. My heart-rate went up. My breathing became shallow.
I focussed on trying to force myself to wake up. Whenever I deal with sleep paralysis, I put all my energy into trying to move my jaw. I know it sounds stupid, but my rationale is that by focussing on moving my jaw, the first thing I’ll be able to do is to scream for help if there turns out to be some serial killer/demon thing in my room.
Up until this point, everything was normal. That’s how it is when you deal with sleep paralysis.
But then something else happened.
My brain started throbbing.
I mean actually, physically, throbbing. I could literally feel it pulsating inside my skull. In the GIF above, my brain is that grapefruit. Just being squeezed over and over and over again by some invisible force. It wasn’t painful. It was just surreal. My head felt incredibly heavy. I still couldn’t move.
The whispers in my head became a cacophony of noises. I could suddenly hear people whispering, crying, moaning, screaming, shrieking, shouting, and yelling. Some voices were indecipherable, others were not. I could still hear someone calling out my name, but now they were screaming.
I could hear someone banging on my door, gunshots, grenades going off, explosions, thunder, rain hitting my window, the wind howling, and so much more. It was deafening. The sounds got louder and louder with each and every squeeze. I couldn’t tell where they were coming from but I knew they were coming from inside my head.
My eyes were still open while all of this was happening. I could still see the shadows and dark figures moving, but they began to move faster and faster with each squeeze of my brain. Everything started to go black. I started seeing flashes of light. My eyes started hurting. The pulsing lights were all I could see.
With each squeeze of my brain, the sounds got louder, the flashes got brighter, the pulsing got quicker. Eventually the sounds got so loud, I couldn’t even tell the difference between individual sounds any more. They just merged together into one gigantic sound. It was just pure white noise, drowning out everything.
I COULDN’T EVEN THINK. That, for me, was the scariest part. I didn’t have any semblance of conscious thought. I’m sure there were still thoughts in my head, but I wasn’t thinking them. I don’t know where they came from or what they were, but I knew they were there. I had no control over my own brain. That terrified me more than words can say. I just wanted it all to stop. I wanted it to just go away.
I’ve often compared the brain/body dualism idea to being the driver in a car. This time, It felt like I was strapped in the passenger side of a car being driven of a cliff with no one in the driver seat. I knew where the car was going and what was going to eventually happen, but I was powerless to stop it. All I could do was scream, knowing no one could hear me. Knowing I was going to die. Knowing no one was coming to save me.
Then, before I knew what was happening, with a loud bang, everything went very quiet. Not silent, mind you, just quiet. I could still hear the voices and the sounds in my head, but they were muffled. It was like someone had just slammed the door shut in my mind. The brain squeezing/pulsing slowed down. I felt relieved. I thought it was all over.
How wrong I was.
Without warning, my mind suddenly and violently exploded with sound. I shut my eyes and clenched my teeth, it was so loud. My eyes welled up. It felt like my head had actually blown up. The shock spread through my head to the rest of my body. Even though my body remained paralysed, it felt like I was being electrified.
Then, as abruptly as the explosion began, it stopped. Everything just went dead quiet. Completely quiet. Pure, eternal, silence. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. I felt nothing. I thought nothing. For the most fleeting of moments, my mind was entirely and completely blank. It was empty. I felt hollow.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the explosion that freaked me out. It was the sudden quiet that followed. It scared me so much, it shocked me out of my paralysis. I jumped out of bed gasping for breath, my head throbbing, my heart racing, my body convulsing in fear.
I had absolutely no idea what happened. I felt a sharp pain behind both of my eyes. My head felt heavy, and it was still throbbing. I could still hear the voices, but they sounded more like echoes, slowly fading away. My head felt exactly like what happened to The Red Viper in the scene below:
I was afraid to go back to sleep. In fact, I was absolutely petrified. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I didn’t know why it happened, how it happened, or more importantly, what had actually even happened. I felt completely isolated.
So I paced around my room. I drank some water. I sat on the edge of my bed, clutching my still-throbbing head. My mind was racing. I was sweating. My body was shaking. I took a few deep breaths and tried to clear my mind. Eventually, I calmed down.
I needed to know what happened to me. So I got up, and Googled. I hate not knowing. And that’s how I came across Exploding Head Syndrome. Once you get over the fact that it’s a completely terrifying experience, it’s a fascinating phenomenon. I hope more research gets done on this issue.
What About You?
Have you ever experienced Exploding Head Syndrome? How did you react? And if you haven’t experienced it, what do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!