Death, dawn, and the tides
July 20, 2012 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Idle curiosity: "They say that people who are near death die generally at the change to dawn or at the turn of the tide." Is there ANY empirical evidence to support this?

The source of the quote is from Bram Stoker's Dracula, if anyone was interested.
posted by dragonfruit to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Thanks for the link b1tr0t, it looks like the abstract of the study is saying that death occurs most frequently between 7-9am, so it is linked to the time of day. Though, since dawn varies in time throughout the year, it would be nice to find evidence that the time of death varies accordingly. I can't seem to get to the actual article without signing up for a subscription, does the actual article say anything about that?
posted by dragonfruit at 6:26 PM on July 20, 2012

Best answer: Remember there are 4 tides each day so no one is ever more than couple hours away from "the turn of the tide".
posted by secretseasons at 6:41 PM on July 20, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I presume you are referring to that time in the night when the door swings slightly ajar and it is as easy to go through as to stay. I doubt if it is possible anymore to get such evidence: most night deaths are only discovered after the living stir. If, as it is put these days, one dies "surrounded by family", it is possible for a relative to be by the bed, or for the life support machines to be on, but then it is also highly likely that the passing has been eased with gradually increasing doses of morphine and its derivatives, and therefore the moment of death has been to a large extent induced. Due to the legal implications, few doctors will admit that this is the case. Infarctions are, on the other hand, more a case of confronting life a little too rapidly for the body to sustain?
posted by alonsoquijano at 11:01 PM on July 20, 2012

Best answer: I dunno.

But I do know that Jewish people are more likely to die around Passover and "Christian" people are more likely to die around Christmas. I also know that people are more apt to die close to their birthday.

Men are more likely to die just before their birthday and women are more likely to die just after their birthday.

I understand that there are plenty of data analysis projects looking at the date of death that will bear these out.

I'm pretty sure that more people and animals die in late winter or spring, with another spike in the fall, and you could find the statistics on this too.

People also are slightly more likely to die just after a near relative has arrived at the death bed than to pass away before they get there. They are also apparently most likely to pass away shortly after the absent loved one has arrived, and then left temporarily, even, in more than once case when the loved one has has gone a few steps away to the vending machine or the bathroom. But this last bit of data is empirical so not to be trusted.

It might be that men in general dread birthdays when they are old as a symbol of lost vitality, and women value them as a time when people will express love to them. There seems to be real evidence that people have some ability to give up or to hang on which makes perfect sense because our bodies use social cues to determine when the pain stops - Pick up a two year old and kiss it and the tears may either stop or suddenly start - and that we switch from an system that is in emergency mode - restricted circulation to prevent blood loss and the spread of toxins, yammering with pain (prevent worse damage) to a system that has increased circulation so that immune system cells can flood damaged areas and rebuilding of damaged tissue takes place. (Healing mode)

A placebo seems to work by providing a cue for your body to switch from the defensive mode to the repair mode. A good bedside manner also does this, as do various other rituals that people have developed, such as saying a prayer. Sleep seems to help people and animals to make the switch too.

Of course, making the switch from defensive to healing doesn't mean the person is going to survive. If I am surviving only barely because I am not stressing my already stressed heart and lungs by not putting demands on them, and then when best beloved comes in the door I switch to the increased circulation mode that could very easily be enough to cause systemic collapse when I am borderline.

So the emotional response people have to dawn could contribute to their deaths, whether they are thinking, "Ooh crap, I can't stand another day of this!" and die from the added burden of exhaustion and despair when they tighten up on their circulation still more, or if they think "I've seen the light again! I made it to another day!" and take a deep heavy sigh and cause the toxins of decomposition to circulate more.

I don't know where you could find such a study, but I'd look for one crunching numbers on people who were brought into emerg as trauma cases. They can often linger for hours, but are usually not doped up on morphine and the drug they give to prevent death rattles to the same extent that people dying under hospice are so it is less likely that their death is being hastened by the morphine.

I'm guessing that sailors are more likely to die at the turn of the tide, and people who have a close connection to the sea, as they were more likely to have in Bram Stoker's day. My grandfather-in-law could glance out at the bay and immediately say if the tide is going up or down and he was always right and I have no clue how he did it, nor could he explain what he was seeing in a way that I could perceive at all. But after spending some fifty years as a fisher in small boats on that bay, the ocean and its rhythms were critically important to him

People have a lot of biological functions that are linked to the moon and to seasonal rhythms and to social cues.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:40 AM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

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