Dreaming Death
April 6, 2004 10:51 PM   Subscribe

Is there any scientific data supporting the theory "If you dream your death in your sleep, you'll die"?

I've heard this theory before, but some coworkers and I got into a debate about it tonight. Having never really researched it, I listened as they argued that if someone dreams in their sleep, they'll die because the sensation of death would cause the brain to turn off causing death.
However, I argued that there is no real proof for this because by following that logic, nobody has lived through dreaming their own death in the first place to prove either way. I held that the brain simply doesn't allow us to dream our own demise.
So, is there any real data supporting either of our thesis's?
posted by jmd82 to Science & Nature (21 answers total)
I know of no research, but as a side note I dreamed my death (in an airplane crash) and I'm still here. So I KNOW its not true ;)
posted by justgary at 11:01 PM on April 6, 2004

I've dreamed my own death many a time, and quite brutally and with finality, which probably says some rather unfortunate things about me that I'll gloss over here.

Yet, unless you're all part of a dream yourselves, i still live, so I'd say no on the aboves.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 11:02 PM on April 6, 2004

I think most human beings are probably capable of really dreaming their own end -- almost every person knows what it's like to suffer a complete loss of consciousness, and I don't see any reason why that transition couldn't be experienced from the end of a dream state into oblivion when it can from a waking state.

I have a recollection of something that was either an early childhood experience or a dream. My parents do not remember this, so I think it may have been a dream, but in the sequence, I was walking with my father into ocean waves, with more than a little apprehension as they seemed so much bigger than I was. At one point, a large wave knocked me over and pulled me out of reach of my father. I didn't know how to swim, and yelled, choked, and then went under and passed out. The end of that sequence was just that -- an end. I woke up some time later on the beach than that with no sense of what had happened in the intervening time.

If it was a dream, it was a pretty good simulation of what complete loss of consciousness is like. If it wasn't, well, it's a good illustration of the fact that it's something that can be markedly experienced, and we know we can re-create most experiences in dreams.

I've also dreamed through two violent deaths (fall from a great and gruesome height, car accident) into a dream afterlife. For contrast.
posted by weston at 11:16 PM on April 6, 2004

Ive had those dreams where you have a gun and you have to defend yourself but you run out of bullets, falling down, etc. So no its just folklore.
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:22 PM on April 6, 2004

I've dreamed through my own death several times as well, including one in which I was stabbed whilst being held under water, watching the blood swirl around my head as I drowned. For some reason, I awoke feeling strangely calm and glad to have had the experience. I've also dreamed of dying and essentially birthing into a new life at the same time -- it was weirdly enjoyable. So not only can my brain conceive of its own demise, it also doesn't appear to be too freaked out about it either (at least at some level).
posted by scody at 11:25 PM on April 6, 2004

Cecil covers the topic (in part) here. Snopes doesn't appear to do the same. The sheer number of people who have dreamed their own deaths and survived (including myself) would seem to dispel any assertions to the contrary.
posted by Danelope at 11:30 PM on April 6, 2004

For what it's worth, when I dream death I always realize it. Then I try to wakeup and I'm paralyzed for sometime. Like I'm awake but I can't move anything for what seems like forever, then finally I snap out. Usually during this paralyzed time (which is kinda dreamlike) I have sensations of floating or moving. Like where I think I'm being dragged by something (usually not good) across my room. And it actually feels like I'm moving and it's post-dream and I'm awake.

Happens disturbingly often. Maybe I should lay off the acid. Actually it happens in high stress times.

On preview: I read cecil's article before. My death -> dreamlike -> being dragged, floating up isn't exactly falling but similar.

Hey I turned this AskMetafilter thread into me!
posted by geoff. at 11:35 PM on April 6, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you for your responses so far. Turns out all of us at work were wrong, but good to know!
posted by jmd82 at 11:44 PM on April 6, 2004

Geoff, that's called sleep paralysis and it's the presumed cause of alien-abduction reports and before that stories of witchcraft and monsters.
posted by nicwolff at 12:13 AM on April 7, 2004

Bear in mind that if anyone dreamt their death and died, we wouldn't have any data on it.
posted by j.edwards at 12:15 AM on April 7, 2004

So, the big question now is: If you are lucky enough to die in your sleep, do you dream about your death as it happens?
posted by jopreacher at 1:19 AM on April 7, 2004

I've dreamed my death, too, and unless I'm a figment of your imagination, I survived it.

"Ive had those dreams where you have a gun and you have to defend yourself"

Intriguing. I've never dreamed of defending myself with a gun. I suspect this is a mainly American phenomena, given its fascination with gun killings.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:28 AM on April 7, 2004

Response by poster: J.edwards and jopreacher: that was my point exactly why they were wrong.
posted by jmd82 at 10:12 AM on April 7, 2004

I read an article on this a long time ago, and of course, I can't remember where I read it, but the scientific reasoning behind it dealt with the mind-body connection. If a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder can convince her body that it's in mortal peril (inciting the "flight or fight" syndrome), then the body can conceivably be convinced of its own death. A little far-fetched, and I wish I remembered where I read the theory, but interesting, nonetheless.
posted by Zosia Blue at 11:24 AM on April 7, 2004

I had a beautiful dream in which I died, and actually watched from the air as the blood seeped from my body beneath a sheer white sheet on a bed of grass. I woke up feeling vaguely pleasant and quite peaceful.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 11:43 AM on April 7, 2004

Wow, thanks for the link on sleep paralysis. I thought I was just having near death nightmares. That link and subsequent link was right on. Interesting, and I, having experienced it, (it being probably the most terrifying experience I've ever had) can see where ideas about demons and alien abductions come from.
posted by geoff. at 12:15 PM on April 7, 2004

My wife had sleep paralysis once. Scared both of us. From my point of view, she was suddenly a vegetable. Couldn't answer me, couldn't move, couldn't do anything more than look dead scared. I had no idea what the hell was going on or why or how to stop it.

So far I've been lucky enough not to wake up paralysed.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:48 PM on April 7, 2004

I always wake up at the very instant i'm dying in a nightmare/dream and haven't ever dreamt past that point--that i'm aware of (which means something, but I don't know what). On the bright side, dreaming of someone you love dying means they're going to live a long time, according to my family.
posted by amberglow at 5:29 PM on April 7, 2004

I dreamed my own murder once, and the subsequent coming back as a ghost for revenge. I was eight.

Is there a difference between the way sleep paralysis feels and just full-body numbness?
posted by casarkos at 7:12 PM on April 7, 2004

Happened enough times to me that it's definately not true. Let's see... there's at least...

- Falling down the elevator shaft + smash!
- Lopping off of head in courtroom by angry lawyer (how the hell that happened I have no clue)

Only had sleep paralysis once. Happened when I got a great big cramp in my leg (which is why I knew it happened and wasn't just a dream -- nice horrible knot & bruise there when I woke up). Realized it was happening and tried to reach it... couldn't. Tried screaming. Really, really, really tried and wondered why the hell nobody was helping. Horrible thing to have happen to you.
posted by shepd at 9:05 PM on April 7, 2004

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly

--Paul Simon, "American Tune"
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:07 PM on April 8, 2004

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