Again, this can be linked to our sleep - this time explained by “exploding head syndrome”, a term coined relatively recently by the neurologist JMS Pearce. When we fall asleep, the reticular formation of the brainstem (a part of our brain involved in consciousness) typically starts to inhibit our ability to move, see and hear things. When we experience a “bang” in our sleep this might be because of a delay in this process. Instead of the reticular formation shutting down the auditory neurons, they might fire at once.
As with sleep paralysis, this phenomenon is also under-researched. For this very reason, in 2017 my colleagues and I joined forces with BBC Focus and Brian Sharpless, a leading expert on this phenomenon, to collect data on this topic.
Imps and ghouls
Finally, what might scientists make of precognitive dreams? We might dream of a friend we haven’t seen for years only to have them call us the very next day. French thinks science can provide an explanation for this too. Referencing work by John Allen Paulos that focuses on probabilities, he explains how such an occurrence may be surprising on any single day, but over time, quite likely to occur.
Researching my book, I spoke to Mrs Sinclair, who is 70, and lives alone. She told me about what she had thought was a ghost living in her house, an imp throttling her during the night and other things that had left her petrified. Having scientific explanations provided her with immense comfort and she no longer believes in paranormal explanations for the things that she experienced.
Our hope is that scientific explanations of paranormal experiences might help others by lowering anxiety. Decreasing anxiety has also been hypothesized as a potential method by which to reduce sleep paralysis. So, perhaps providing more information about these unusual experiences might even mean that things are less likely to go bump in the night.