I’m finding myself a bit behind on this topic. Since I last posted Part III, where I hinted that I had finally flown, I have also seen Inception, and each of those easily merit their own post. I’m prompted to write today after experiencing another sleep phenomenon, not directly related to lucid dreaming, but which also bridges the gap between fantasy and reality in sleep.
The phenomenon in question is called “exploding head syndrome”, a curiously melodramatic name for a condition whose cause is as yet unknown. EHS manifests itself as a ear shatteringly loud phantom sound, created by the brain in sleep, that causes the person experiencing it to wake up, often in a state of panic.
The first time I experienced EHS, the sound created by my mind was that of glasses and dishware shattering. I woke up, panicked, thinking that someone had broken in to my house, or that a shelf had fallen in my kitchen, or something along those lines. I have since experienced it a couple of other times.
This morning, however, I was woken up by the sound of a single ear splitting dog bark in my left ear. It was so loud that I felt pain and discomfort for a while afterward. I didn’t wake in panic, because I knew right away that this was some form of EHS (and I think, but I’m not certain, that I had another EHS symptom a few dreams earlier, when I was awoken by being shouted at in my dream). Needless to say, however, it was extremely uncomfortable and alienating, it its own way.
Which brings me to the only other person that I’ve ever discussed EHS with, comedian Mike Birbiglia. A large part of is standup act is dedicated to the dangerous parasomnias he suffers from, and hearing him speak both made me feel better (since at least I’ve never thrown myself from a 2 story building while in my sleep) and freaked out (since I possibly could?). As I’ve mentioned elsewhere here, my main parasomnia is sleep talking, though I’ve had extremely limited bouts of sleepwalking and night terrors in childhood.
Why mention all this? Well, I’ve often wondered if there is a link between lucid dreaming and these kinds of parasomnias. While it might seem counterintuitive (since, in theory, if one was conscious of dreaming, then one wouldn’t physically act out in real life), I think it is possible that the conscious cognitive behavior needed to identify dream states while sleeping could also manifest itself in real world behavior. Meaning, if a person is more likely to be able to identify that they’re in a dream state while sleeping, then that person might also be more likely to be able to act out while in that dream state.
I’ll end this with an embarassing sleeptalking anecdote, from the period of time during which I would regularly take the overnight bus down to New York. I had no problem sleeping on the bus, and was generally sound asleep for the entire 7 hour journey. During one of these trips, I had a two seater all to myself until Albany, when I was woken up by a burly construction worker. Half conscious, I recurled myself into the single seat as he settled in next to me. My next memory is of the tail end of sentence escaping my lips as I slid back into consciousness. Even at the time, the sentence itself wasn’t clear to me, in fact, I have no idea what I said, but I was immediately hit with the impression that what I had just said, quite audibly in fact, was not just foul mouthed or inappropriate, but possibly also incredibly suggestive… this feeling was not alleviated by the fact that, only seconds later, the construction worked turned to me, and with a big smile on his face, started a conversation with “so, do you come here often…?”.