Nav: Home

One in 10 people have 'near-death' experiences, according to new study

June 28, 2019

(Oslo, Saturday, 29 June, 2019) Mystical near-death experiences where people report a range of spiritual and physical symptoms, including out-of-body sensations, seeing or hearing hallucinations, racing thoughts and time distortion, affect around 10 per cent of people, according to a new study that analysed participants from 35 countries.

These near-death experiences (NDEs) are equally as common in people who are not in imminent danger of death as in those who have experienced truly life-threatening situations such as heart attacks, car crashes, near drowning or combat situations.

The new findings were presented at the 5th European Academy of Neurology (EAN) Congress by researchers from the Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the Center for Stroke Research, Berlin, and the Norwegian University of Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

Experiences most frequently reported by participants in their study included: abnormal time perception (87 per cent), exceptional speed of thought (65 per cent), exceptionally vivid senses (63 per cent) and feeling separated from, or out of their body (53 per cent).

The study group who reported NDEs variously described feeling at total peace, having their 'soul sucked out', hearing angels singing, being aware they were outside their body, seeing their life flashing before them, and being in a dark tunnel before reaching a bright light. Others spoke of being aware of another's presence before they went to sleep, or of a demon sitting on their chest while they lay paralysed unable to move [see Notes to Editors for selected quotes].

The team recruited 1,034 lay people from 35 countries via a crowdsourcing platform online (to eliminate selection bias) and asked them if they'd ever had an NDE. If they answered 'yes', they were asked for more details, using a detailed questionnaire assessment tool called the Greyson Near-Death Experience Scale, which asks about 16 specific symptoms.

A total of 289 people reported an NDE, and 106 of those reached a threshold of 7 on the Greyson NDE Scale, (which confirms a true NDE). Some 55 per cent perceived the NDE as truly life-threatening and 45 per cent as not truly life-threatening.

Far from being a pleasant experience associated with feelings of peacefulness and wellbeing, as some previous studies have reported, the new study found a much higher rate of people reporting their NDE as unpleasant. Overall, of all the people who claimed an NDE, 73 per cent said it was unpleasant and only 27 per cent said it was pleasant. However, in those with a score of 7 or above on the Greyson NDE Scale (a confirmed NDE), this changed to 53 per cent reporting a pleasant experience and 14 per cent an unpleasant one.

Based on insight gained from previous studies, the researchers found an association between NDEs and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep intrusion into wakefulness. REM sleep is a phase of the sleep cycle where the eyes move rapidly, the brain is as active as when someone is awake, dreaming is more vivid, and most people experience a state of temporary paralysis, as the brain send a signal to the spinal cord to stop the arms and legs moving. When REM sleep intrudes into wakefulness, some people report visual and auditory hallucinations and other symptoms such as sleep paralysis, where they feel conscious but cannot move.

REM sleep intrusion on wakefulness was found to be more common in people with scores of 7 or above on the Greyson NDE Scale (47 per cent) than in people with scores of 6 or below (26 per cent), or in those below the threshold with no such experiences (14 per cent).

Lead researcher Dr Daniel Kondziella, a neurologist at the University of Copenhagen, said, "Our central finding is that we confirmed the association of near-death experiences with REM sleep intrusion. Although association is not causality, identifying the physiological mechanisms behind REM sleep intrusion into wakefulness might advance our understanding of near-death experiences."

Dr Kondziella said that the 10 per cent prevalence figure of NDE was higher than in previous studies conducted in Australia (8 per cent) and Germany (4 per cent). He said this could be explained by the fact they had been conducted on cardiac arrest survivors rather than unprimed lay people, as in this study.

Dr Kondziella said the study replicated the findings of an earlier study by Nelson et al in 20062 that had been criticised for selectional bias, but the new study addressed those potential flaws by recruiting via a crowdsourcing platform.
-end-
Notes to Editors:

Press Enquiries:

For further information or to speak to an expert, please contact Luke Paskins or Hannah Murray at press@ean.org or call +44 (0) 7732 499170.

Selected reports from participants with an experience that reached the threshold of ?7 points on the 3 Greyson NDE scale to qualify as a near-death experience:

Female, 37 years, childbirth: "I felt like I just died, and I went to heaven. I heard voices, and I was sure I would not come back to my life. It was weird. I could not control my body."

Female, 32 years, near-drowning: "I nearly drowned when I was around 8 years old. I felt total peace. Twenty years later I can still remember how I felt. It was an amazing feeling."

Female, 28 years, physical violence: "Sometimes I wake at night, and I can't move. I see strange things, like spirits or demons at my door, and after a while I see them coming beside me. I can't move or talk, and they sit on my chest. I think that it is a dream, count to 3 and close my eyes. Sometimes this helps."

Male, 28 years, near-drowning: "I was at the beach in Florida, I was 10-11. Suddenly, huge waves started pulling me further and further from the shore. As I was fighting, my life started flashing before me in my head. [...] I felt like my soul was being pulled out of my body. I was floating and was [lifted in the air]. After a few moments I felt like I was in an enormous tunnel of darkness, and at its end there was the brightest white light I have ever seen. I remember that my dead relatives were at the gate, including my maternal grandmother. I don't remember what we talked about. But then I felt that I was sucked out of the tunnel and I fell, crashing into my body again."

About the Expert:

Dr Daniel Kondziella is a neurologist at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

EAN - The Home of Neurology:

The European Academy of Neurology (EAN) is Europe's home of neurology. Founded in 2014, through the merger of two European neurological societies, EAN represents the interests of more than 45,000 individual members and 47 national institutional members from across the continent. This year, EAN celebrates its fifth year of fostering excellence in European neurology and will bring together more than 6,000 neurologists and related scientists to the biggest general neurology conference in Europe.

In Oslo, Norway, from June 29 to July 2, there will be an exchange of knowledge and promotion of best practice, with a focus on the main theme of neuroinflammation. The EAN Congress will also cover all neurological diseases and disorders, including the big 7: epilepsy, stroke, headache, multiple sclerosis, dementia, movement disorders, neuromuscular disorders.

References:

  1. Prevalence of near-death experiences in people with and without REM sleep intrusion. Presented at the 5th European Academy of Neurology (EAN) Congress on Saturday, 29 June, 2019.
  2. Nelson KR et al; 'Does the arousal experience contribute to near death experience? Neurology 2006, April 11; 66(7); 1003-9 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16606911


Spink Health

Related Sleep Articles:

'Short sleep' gene prevents memory deficits associated with sleep deprivation
The UCSF scientists who identified the two known human genes that promote 'natural short sleep' -- nightly sleep that lasts just four to six hours but leaves people feeling well-rested -- have now discovered a third, and it's also the first gene that's ever been shown to prevent the memory deficits that normally accompany sleep deprivation.
Short sleep duration and sleep variability blunt weight loss
High sleep variability and short sleep duration are associated with difficulties in losing weight and body fat.
Nurses have an increased risk of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation
According to preliminary results of a new study, there is a high prevalence of insufficient sleep and symptoms of common sleep disorders among medical center nurses.
Opioids are not sleep aids, and can actually worsen sleep research finds
Evidence that taking opioids will help people with chronic pain to sleep better is limited and of poor quality, according to an interdisciplinary team of psychologists and medics from the University of Warwick in partnership with Lausanne University Hospital, Switzerland.
Common sleep myths compromise good sleep and health
People often say they can get by on five or fewer hours of sleep, that snoring is harmless, and that having a drink helps you to fall asleep.
Sleep tight! Researchers identify the beneficial role of sleep
Why do animals sleep? Why do humans 'waste' a third of their lives sleeping?
Does extra sleep on the weekends repay your sleep debt? No, researchers say
Insufficient sleep and untreated sleep disorders put people at increased risk for metabolic problems, including obesity and diabetes.
Kicking, yelling during sleep? Study finds risk factors for violent sleep disorder
Taking antidepressants for depression, having post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety diagnosed by a doctor are risk factors for a disruptive and sometimes violent sleep disorder called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder, according to a study published in the Dec.
Sleep health and yoga intervention delivered in low-income communities improves sleep
Pilot study results indicate that a sleep and yoga intervention has promising effects on improving sleep disturbance, sleep-related impairment, and sleep health behaviors.
Can weekend sleep make up for the detriments of sleep deprivation during the week?
In a recent Journal of Sleep Research study, short, but not long, weekend sleep was associated with an increased risk of early death in individuals under 65 years of age.
More Sleep News and Sleep Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.