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Sleep. 1991 Jun;14(3):263-6.

The exploding head syndrome: polysomnographic recordings and therapeutic suggestions.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.


Attention has recently been drawn to a condition termed the exploding head syndrome, which is characterized by unpleasant, even terrifying sensations of flashing lights and/or sounds during reported sleep. Nine patients complaining of sensations of explosions in the head during sleep or drowsiness were investigated with polysomnographic recordings. None of them had any neurological disorder. Five patients reported explosions during the recording sessions. According to the recordings, the attacks always took place when the patients were awake and relaxed. In two cases abrupt electroencephalographic (EEG) and electromyographic changes indicating increasing alertness were recorded at the time of the reported attacks. In the remaining three cases no EEG changes were seen. Thus, there were no indications of an epileptic etiology to the condition. In all patients the symptoms ameliorated spontaneously with time. The severity of the symptoms was reduced by reassurance of the harmlessness of the condition. Clomipramine was prescribed to three patients who all reported immediate relief of symptoms. It is concluded that symptoms of this type are probably not true hypnagogic phenomena but may be an expression of emotional stress in the awake state.

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