I'm not going to sleep through my death by drowning, right?
July 8, 2007 8:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm not going to sleep through my death by drowning, right?

Sometimes I enjoy somewhat propping myself up on our swim things so that my head is just above the water in our pool, and I have no doubt that one of these nights I'm just going to nod off that way and wake up in the morning.

However, I sleep incredibly deeply. I've slept through oil factory explosions that made my mother look out the window and think she was seeing nuclear mushroom clouds. Plus, the water temperature is rather nice, and going under would not be a particular "shock" to my body. So, I just wanted to make sure that, were I to slip out of my lightly "hooked in" position and gently slip under the surface, my body will have some kind of "you're under water, idiot" reflex that keeps me from inhaling water, and wakes me up so I can breathe again.

(It's a very shallow pool. As long as I do wake up, I'm not concerned about being too far down to get back to the surface)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on whether you're using chemical help in attaining that deep sleep.

If you're drunk or otherwise impaired, it's entirely possible to drown.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:36 PM on July 8, 2007

In the Sims 1 when your characters are in a pool and they fall asleep they die. ;)

I would think that we would have an "you are underwater idiot" reflex. It seems like the kind of reflex evolution would create. I have never heard of a case of a person dying from falling asleep in their pool; probably because they woke up. And hey, when you are sleeping you use less oxygen so at least you would last longer when you are asleep and drowning then when you are awake.
posted by Nick Fisher at 8:37 PM on July 8, 2007

Response by poster: Good point, SCDB. Assume full sobriety.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:37 PM on July 8, 2007

I can only speak from anecdote. I often go out and take late-night dips in the hottub by myself - it warms up my body nicely before heading back inside to bed.

I have started falling asleep a couple times and always jolted back awake. For me though its the same reflex that wakes me up as I'm nodding off in a classroom. You see all those people with bobbing heads trying to stay awake. But you dont see people suddenly fall of their seat and slump to the floor because they fell asleep.
posted by vacapinta at 8:40 PM on July 8, 2007

Inhaling water is pretty rousting though not immediately fatal. You'll cough and kick upward.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:41 PM on July 8, 2007

That is (to be clear) I always wake up in the moments my body is tipping over but always before my head goes underwater.
posted by vacapinta at 8:43 PM on July 8, 2007

Well be assured that if your head does go under water this reflex will kick in. I'm sure with the blood being diverted to your brain and vital organs you'll be waking up.

Even an unconscious body knows not to initially try to breath underwater, if that gives you any reassurance. ;)
posted by rancidchickn at 8:43 PM on July 8, 2007

Best answer: An acquaintance of my father's drowned when she fell asleep while taking a bath. (I have no details, so she very might well have been drinking or taking cold medicine or something, or the death might not have been...accidental. Just saying that I've heard of it happening.)
posted by cosmic osmo at 8:50 PM on July 8, 2007

I'd imagine the sensation of water stinging your innards where oxygen primarily flows would do the trick... even a few drops of water up the nose stings me pretty bad.
posted by ronmexico at 8:52 PM on July 8, 2007

Best answer: Please keep in mind what you might FEEL to be warm water could still be below body temp and could begin to cause hypothermia. If my memory serves me I believe this can set in with temps as high as 86 degrees F.

If you wanted to test our your reflex maybe you have a really good friend you trust to "nudge" you off your prop when you doze off next and await said reaction.

Please be safe!
posted by crewshell at 9:02 PM on July 8, 2007

As long as you are sober, I would say you will be ok. I've fallen asleep in the tub on more than one occasion, and woke up when my nose met the water. As far as hypothermia goes, from my experience, I fell asleep in a warm tub and woke up in ice cold water. Not a pleasant way to wake up.
posted by Sailormom at 9:22 PM on July 8, 2007

Response by poster: wow. didn't even think about hypothermia being an option. Really?
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:16 PM on July 8, 2007

Two anecdotes:

I found myself in the Philippines at one point, and snoozed in a bay of Mindanao. The armed government guards formed a loose perimeter about the encampment, and it was thought that we'd be safe from the NPA for a while. Besides, we were there on a medical mission.

There was a small inlet with shallow tidal pools. The water was very warm, and I lay down. Fell asleep. Forgot about the tides. Next thing I know, I was upright and choking on not very much water at all. The water had gotten high enough to be close to face level when I must've turned or something, and sucked in some water.

This tells me you'd be safe from drowning.

However, I do remember something else. Years and years ago, when I was a lot younger than I am now, I woke up to watch Saturday morning cartoons. Went to the bathroom, said hello to Optimus (I had taped up a Transformers poster), and saw my dad lying in the tub.

I screamed. I thought he was dead.
He screamed just after I screamed. Then there was a pause of maybe half a second before, I guess, he realized he was in a tubfull of cold water. Then he screamed again and scrambled about.

He had worked late the night before, and fell asleep in the tub. The temperature of the water didn't wake him, so I'm not sure if you'd be auto-woken if your core body temp were to fall.

Sooo, bottom line: as long as you don't become hypothermic, I'd say you should be able to wake up just fine. Have fun!
posted by herrdoktor at 11:18 PM on July 8, 2007

Man, sorry bout this post-post-post bit, but I just thought of the appropriate medical corollary to this.

People with obstructive sleep apnea find themselves waking frequently through the night as they stop breathing. The brain/body does this whole kickstart bit to rouse itself enough from sleep to change position or regain enough muscle tone to reestablish an adequate airway.

This happens regardless of the stage of sleep you're in. This also assumes no depressants are being used.

I would expect that you'd wake up before this would happen, when you sputter and cough on the water. It might be unpleasant, but I don't think you'd drown or there'd be enough water to cause spasm leading to airway closure.

But don't take this as medical advice. I'm not your doctor. I might not even be a doctor. However, as a citizen of the internet, I can, in good conscience, suggest that you try this safely wearing a helmet and taping foam noodles to your head. Also, videotape it for YouTube.
posted by herrdoktor at 11:35 PM on July 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

In the interest of safety, maybe you should just invest in something like this to prop your head up on.

Your question becomes something of a moot point, but that's probably a good thing.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:59 PM on July 8, 2007

unless you actually lose consciousness due to a chemical or ailment like apnea or epilepsy, i think it is unlikely. people wake up when they are oxygen-starved--that's why people wake themselves up from snoring (not because of the noise).
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:38 AM on July 9, 2007

That is so interesting, I was thinking about this very thing a few days ago!

Anyway, just a thought... since you are outside with no real coverings over you, make sure you wear insect repellant. I remember one time I slept on a trampoline with some friends when I was little and woke up with horrible, horrible skeeter bites. Just a thought.
posted by ForeverDcember at 7:06 AM on July 9, 2007

nthing the hypothermia concern. My fiance is an avid sea kayaker and even in warm water on hot days, he always takes warm clothing with him (in a waterproof bag, obviously) should he capsize.
posted by desjardins at 8:04 AM on July 9, 2007

You would almost certainly wake up when you started choking on the water - but at the same time you could be very disoriented, not know where you are, and still end up drowning because you couldn't swim to the surface. Keep that in mind.
posted by antifuse at 8:26 AM on July 9, 2007

Best answer: I personally knew one person who drowned while asleep, so it is indeed possible.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 8:30 AM on July 9, 2007

Best answer: On the hypothermia issue, this page gives expected survival times at different temperatures.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:35 AM on July 9, 2007

You would almost certainly wake up when you started choking on the water - but at the same time you could be very disoriented, not know where you are, and still end up drowning because you couldn't swim to the surface.

Exactly. Or even more likely, you wake up after inhaling the water, are disoriented and choking on the water and ... choke to death. You only have to inhale a small amount of water for it to kill you assuming you're not able to clear your airway. Thrashing around in the tub after startling yourself awake may not be the best time to be coughing the water out and regaining your ability to breathe.

It is also possible that you'll just snort a little water and jerk awake quickly and be totally fine, but it's not something I'd want to find out by direct experimentation.
posted by shelleycat at 5:05 PM on July 9, 2007

Response by poster: ...Okay, so I guess the consensus is "you'll probably die, idiot."

Have to say - I wasn't expecting that answer. You've saved a life today, my friends.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 5:42 PM on July 9, 2007

I read it more as "there's a small but not-zero chance you'll die" which is a bit less harsh. How small it needs to be to balance out the non-zero part is up to you, although my personal opinion is that it's not small enough.
posted by shelleycat at 6:34 PM on July 9, 2007

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