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WTF Is Exploding Head Syndrome—and Could You Have It?

Plus other freaky sleep disorders that make insomnia sound like a cakewalk

DrLullaby's founder, Lisa Medalie, PsyD, DBSM contributes to this Women's Health article, explaining different sleep disorders, such as exploding head syndrome, sleep paralysis, sleep eating, sexsomnia, and sleep terrors.


“The abnormal sensation lasts only a few seconds, but the fright from the event often causes problems returning to sleep and symptoms of insomnia,” says Lisa Medalie, a doctor of psychology and a behavioral sleep medicine specialist at the University of Chicago, who was not part of the study. It’s thought to be caused by problems with the brain shutting down at bedtime, and stress and sleep deprivation can both be a cause, according to the American Sleep Association (ASA).


Sleep Paralysis

This happens when you wake to find that your mind is alert and you can hear and see what is in your environment, but you can’t move your body, says Medalie. The sensation lasts seconds to minutes, and you often come out of the events spontaneously or as soon as someone talks to you or touches you. Sleep deprivation, narcolepsy, and stress can make you more prone to it, she says.


Sleep Eating

Technically known as Sleep-Related Eating Disorder, this is when a sleeping person gets out of bed and begins chowing down, and they’re either totally or partially aware of their actions. “They may eat odd combinations of food or inedible substances and put themselves into dangerous situations and be injured while trying cook food during sleep,” says Medalie. No surprise, weight gain can be a consequence...as well as food poisoning, she adds. Sleep eaters may have an underlying sleep problem that drives them to sleepwalk into the kitchen, or it could be a side effect of meds like sedatives.


Sexsomnia

Sexy dreams are one thing. But people with this issue engage in sexual activity while they are actually snoozing away. They have no recall of their sex session, which can involve initiating sex with a sleeping partner or prolonged, even violent masturbation. “These behaviors receive lots of attention, as some have said to commit adultery or sexual assault to adults or even minors while asleep,” says Medalie. The cause is unclear, but getting enough sleep can cut down on episodes.


Sleep Terrors

What used to be called night terrors cause a person to flail, kick, and scream—making this condition truly terrifying to the people who suffer from them, as well as their bed mates. They happen during slow-wave sleep, a sleep stage that occurs in the first third of the night, and a person will not remember the events the following day. Kids tend to have them, but sometimes they persist into adulthood, as well. “Increased stress, illness, and decreased sleep quality or quantity can increase the frequency of sleep terrors,” says Medalie.

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