"Exploding head syndrome" may sound like something from the imagination of body horror godfather David Cronenberg, but it's a very real condition.
A parasomnia in the same cluster as night terrors and sleepwalking, exploding head syndrome has the sufferer hearing loud "explosion-like" noises as they're drifting off or beginning to wake, often being wrenched from their slumber and feeling exhausted for the experience.
No one's really sure what causes these hostile, vivid hallucinations but, as is the case with so many of the mysterious blights of modern life, stress is thought to be involved.
The massive blast that shook our house awake a few weeks ago seemed to have the properties of just such a mirage. Apparently originating out in the cold, dark bush, the gaslighting phenomenon left us second-guessing ourselves in a state of semi-consciousness; wondering if we actually heard what we thought we'd heard. We were reduced to soap opera actors scrambling for lines, sniffing the air, as if detecting something even more malodorous than that being served up by the script department.
Groggy with flashbacks of the 1989 Newcastle earthquake when it announced itself to us folk farther up the valley with a deep orthopaedic crack, I rushed to the verandah and scanned the night for any aftershocks - but met only those noises of the south I now, somewhat treacherously, find even more familiar than those of my northern formation.
A supposedly diurnal beast, our place stirs unnaturally until dawn; its many feet padding the hallway, its many fingers flicking switches.
Luckily, with access to another of those blights of modern life - social media - we were able to learn many others in our dozy precinct had also heard and felt the eruption.
"Meth lab?" was one jocose suggestion, and actually quite soothing in its credibility because at least it meant we weren't going mad.
And as much as I would have liked to ponder more thoroughly the comforting reality that I'd chosen to raise our children within spitting distance of a bikie ice station (not to mention congratulate myself on my property ladder acumen) I was too tired because this latest interruption was just another jump of the needle charting our family's fractured sleep patterns.
Different ages, different sexes, different workplaces, different schools, different schedules, different diets, different dramas, different desires ... it all adds up to a circadian circus of bedtime bedlam and as the self-appointed ringleaders (and animal tamers) under our tin big top, my wife and I run the show from the king-size; tossing and turning and perpetually tuning in to what's transpiring outside (possums, mostly) and, more importantly, inside the rooms and even the minds (TV, mostly) of our restive offspring.
Once saddled with kids, REM no longer stands for Rapid Eye Movement, it's acronymic for Relentless Emergency Mode and, like the Phantom, we sleep with one eye open, poised to pounce whenever someone needs our help ("Empty bladder before bed": Old jungle saying) and, like ghosts who walk, we wear black masks all day long to show for it.
But, by the sound of it, no one in the 21st century is satisfied in the bedroom, especially busy families, and now that coronavirus has allowed us an existential reboot, it seems sleep is also up for renewal.
Having seen their children thriving from not having to rise early for school during isolation, some parents are already advocating for a more free-range arrangement; one where kids find their own rhythm; go to bed later, sleep longer and surface around lunchtime.
And although such innovators may be a little too devoted to the teachings of The Dude, there could be something to this slacker approach to soporifics, particularly when looking at the results of longitudinal studies which suggest school kids are already racking up the kind of deficit they may never claw back, something their parents know only too well as Thursday morning strikes like a cobra.
Of course, the first time we consider the constant of sleep as being under threat is in the abstract of embryonic maternity and paternity and, right about now, having just welcomed baby No. 1 into the world, my brother and his wife would be beginning to grapple with that very concept.
The drip-fed introductions have been coming via photos of the hairy chubber curled on his proud dad's tummy, a similar scene painted by autofiction godmother Rachel Cusk in the climax to her Faye trilogy. When we farewell the novelist's inscrutable avatar, she's floating serenely in the ocean ... The water bore me up, heaving, as if I lay on the breast of some sighing creature ... before surprising us all with one final, piercing observation.
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While, like all dads, my brother is destined to morph into a hapless "sighing creature", for the moment, his older sibling's entire house, with its five uneasy pieces, lays a greater claim to such a moniker.
A supposedly diurnal beast, our place stirs unnaturally until dawn; its many feet padding the hallway, its many fingers flicking switches - on, off, on, off - an animal of bioluminescent confusion signalling for some kind of saviour.
No doubt, my brother and his wife are being peppered with good-intentioned advice and probing to which all new parents must be subjected and, yes, chief among them is the perennial: "How's the baby sleeping?"
As we all know, this is just code designed to ascertain the state of the parents' suffering and, once satisfied someone else is being suitably punished just as we were, we'll end the pantomime with a reassuring aphorism along the lines of "They eventually settle down".
I want to tell my brother this just isn't true. I want to tell him now that he has a child, he'll never sleep properly again. It's broken.
Jason Robards was on the same page when he told Steve Martin in Parenthood: "It's like your Aunt Edna's ass. It goes on forever and it's just as frightening ... There is no end zone. You never cross the goal line, spike the ball and do your touchdown dance. Never."
But I won't tell my brother this, because it's a cruel thing to say to a new dad.
Instead, I'll just say that little boy will fill you with so much love, it'll blow your mind.
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