Exploding Head Syndrome...

...and Other Sleep Disorders You Don't Want


Sleep disorders are not uncommon – in fact, they encompass over 80 distinct categorized disorders, most of which are easily treatable. There are a few, however, far more exotic – and unpleasant – than a simple case of insomnia, or a dash of RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome), with consequences from simple sleep disturbance, to coma and death.



Exploding Head Syndrome: We’ll start off with the sexiest named, and probably most innocuous of our motley crew of sleep disorders. Those unlucky snoozers with EHS (my abbreviation) experience “heightened hypnagogic auditory hallucinations” right before the moment of sleep – this means that right before they fall asleep, they experience the sensation of an extremely loud, sudden noise inside their head. Sufferers describe the noises as anything from a slamming door, to the blast of a bomb. Fortunately, pain is not often coincident with the disorder, and sufferers are capable of (somewhat) normal sleep patterns.

Sleeping Beauty Syndrome: Also known as Kleine-Levin Syndrome, this sleep disorder causes sufferers to sleep up to 23 hours a day for weeks at a time. Most common among adolescent males, the syndrome is chronic and can last for longer than 8 years, with periods of normal sleep punctuated by weeks of inescapable drowse. As if that weren’t bad enough, sufferers often experience hallucinations, wild sexual urges, disorientation, flu-like symptoms, and excessive eating behaviors.

Sleep Paralysis: Less a chronic sleep disorder than a sleep ‘experience’, sleep paralysis has effected up to 40% of the adult population in the US. That’s not to say it’s not a terrifying experience – sleep paralysis occurs when one wakes up, but is completely unable to move. You might experience visual and auditory hallucinations, feel a presence in the room, or even as if someone is lying atop your chest, pinning you down. It’s believed that old tales of the succubus and incubus are the result of sleep paralysis, and some theorize the same for tales of alien visitation and abduction. Why does it happen? In order to protect the body from harm during REM sleep – the stage of sleep in which we do most of our dreaming – the body is completely paralyzed. In a small freak of sleep, it’s possible for your mind to wake up before your body, causing the experience of sleep paralysis. Fortunately, the paralysis resolves on its own, and being touched or spoken to can end it as well.

REM-Sleep Behavior Disorder: This sleep disorder affects the bedfellows of its suffers just as much as the sufferers themselves. Effectively the opposite of sleep paralysis, REM-SBD (my abbreviation) causes individuals to physically act out all actions occurring in their dreams. Their body does not become paralyzed during REM sleep, and actions like kicking, punching, cursing and running are common. Interested in a first-hand accounting of life with REM-SBD? Comedian Mike Birbiglia shared his own experience in the comedy Sleepwalk With Me.

Sleep Related Eating Disorder: OK, it’s less disturbing than the other disorders on this list, and I’m kind of wondering if it’s more of a phenomenon than a disorder. Those living with SRED (my abbreviation) get up at all hours of the night, compelled to eat sugary, high-calorie foods, often while sleepwalking. Occurring often enough, the disorder can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and empty freezers.

Fatal Familial Insomnia: Far and away the most disturbing sleep disorder on this list, FFI is caused by a genetic mutation and effects only a few dozen family bloodlines in the world. It begins, presenting as a case of simple insomnia, but one that is completely resistant to treatment. As it persists, sufferers begin to show signs of dementia, loss of energy, acting out dreams, until they fall into s strange state between sleeping and waking. Death comes a few months or years after this coma-like state presents, often in the form of side-effects like infections.

wFeeling better about your sleeping habits? Jonesing for some quality disorder-less Z’s? Grab yourself a Wrap-a-Nap, and get sleeping anywhere, anytime.