Near Death Experience While Falling Asleep

I would drift off immediately, and not longer after, I could feel the same heavy feeling. I would do the same process of recovery and to relieve me of this, I would stay awake for a few moments to change my mood (position, etc.). I would again sleep, and no heaviness would come over me.

At times this wouldn’t occur for months, sometimes for days in a row. One time when the latter happened, I tried to experiment. I told myself to allow the heaviness to continue to come over to see what would happen. Would it go away immediately, or would the process move to the next level?

I did. Heaviness again came over me and I continued to let it go. It feels like the pull of gravity is being continually stronger. I took notice of my breathing pattern because at that time, I already had the sneaking suspicion that, God forbid, this thing I’m experiencing is one of (OK, I’m having a hard time typing this…) well, what the people who uh… died in their sleep was experiencing.

As I was saying, I took notice of it. I’m not really sure of what I’ve observed, for I have forgotten it already (and am afraid to experiment again). But I remember trying to breath, but the breaths are shallow. Worst case, I think my chest was barely moving.

One day, my classmate told me about this person who died in their sleep because of a nightmare. I was very curious so I asked him what it feels when you’re having a nightmare anyway. He described a bit, but I inquired further. “Is it feeling like everything is getting heavier and heavier?” I asked.

He said yes, and my fear materialized.

To go to the point of this email, I wonder, are the symptoms I described contributing factors of the sleep-death process? If so, how can avoid it? What should I do if I’m faced with such situations?

Also, is sleeping facing the ceiling (not on the side, on your stomach, etc.) a factor of having a nightmare? It seems yes for me.

Is there also a psychological reason behind this? Because in a few instances, after having the heavy feeling and have already changed my “mood,” when the thought of the nightmare strikes and I begin imagining, the heavy feeling comes back.

I hope to receive an answer to my inquiry really soon. I’m beginning to feel really scared I would probably impose on myself a 3 hour gap between my last meal and time of sleep.

Please reply to this as soon as possible. Thank you and good day.


Chii M.

Dear Chii,

Thank you for a letter eloquently describing a common but frightening experience of heaviness and inability to move during the transitional states between sleep and wake.

Before going into much details, let me state that this condition is benign and it is NOT the symptom of dying. The name of this condition is “sleep paralysis.” The majority of people experience this phenomenon in the morning, right upon awakening. It is often associated with frightening dreaming called “hypnopompic hallucinations.” The same phenomenon less frequently appears during falling asleep. In this case it is called “sleep paralysis with hypnogogic hallucinations.”

What is the nature of this pretty frightening phenomenon? Falling asleep or waking up is a process and many systems are involved in an “automatic transmission” to “switch” stages of vigilance. Often this “automatic transmission” is getting out of sync and we have described problems. Sleep paralysis might be a symptom of the disorder called narcolepsy, but more often it is seen during stressful times, during emotional turbulence and/or hormonal imbalance

Again, this symptom is benign and death was never reported. At the same time evaluation of an underlying cause and treatment is important to avoid deterioration of sleep and emotional problems. What you could do (as you are already doing) is to not have a heavy meal three hours before sleep, but a small snack with carbohydrates is advisable. When you lie down in your bed, try do not “invite” heaviness, but imagine yourself in the morning awakening rested and in a good mood. There are good medications available, but this you need to discuss with your doctor or a sleep specialist. If you need a name of an accredited sleep center in your area, please, let us know.

Be calm and good luck!