Mind and Body

Almost all near-death experiences have these visions in common -- study

Deceased relatives and dark tunnels are just the beginning. 

An illustration of someone's soul leaving their body as they have a near-death experience

Not many people have a brush with death and live to tell the tale. But those that have inched close to the void, even briefly, come back with eerily similar tales. To discover why that might be the case, a team of scientists took a dive into the macabre earlier this year.

The team found that, in a sample of 1,034 adults from Norway, Denmark and Germany, 10 percent of people reported having a near-death experience. In turn, they also found that these experiences had several weird commonalities — including dark tunnels with bright lights, spiritual sensations, and conversation with the dead.

This is #9 on Inverse’s 25 most WTF science stories of 2019

The findings were originally presented at the meeting of the European Academy of Neurology in June 2019. In August 2019, they were published in the journal PeerJ.

In the study, the team rated near-death experiences on a scale of one to 10 called the Greyson Near-Death Experiences Scale. This helped them tease apart “true” near-death experiences from other moving psychological moments.

1 in 10 people have had a near-death experience, according to the survey.


Interestingly, people who reported “true” near-death experiences seemed to find it a pleasant experience, even if it was also extremely intense. Most people (almost 90 percent) reported that time sped up or slowed down, while 65 percent said it felt like their thoughts were coming and going rapidly. More than half of respondents felt like they were having an out-of-body experience.

The participants’ descriptions are particularly telling (and a little scary):

Male, 28: 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.
Female, 57: I was very young when I almost drowned. I saw angels, and they were singing the most beautiful music I have ever heard.
Male, 46: I encountered a truly out-of-body experience where my eyesight and visual became incredibly abstract. For around an hour I had no sense of self or my surroundings.

The research provides a tantalizing window into an experience most people will never have. However, it doesn’t explain why some people have near-death experiences and others don’t. There are a few outstanding theories.

One controversial idea is that the brain naturally produces N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) during those experiences. Like near-death experiences, DMT “breakthroughs” include feelings of separation from the body, or entrance into alternate realms. Scientist have noted these similarities before, but there is no direct evidence linking DMT and near-death experiences.

Meanwhile, the researchers behind this study suggested a different explanation. In the study sample, people who had a sleep condition called REM sleep intrusion were 2.8 times more likely to also have a near-death experience.

REM sleep is a period of the sleep cycle marked by vivid and intense dreams — the body also enters a form of paralysis. In people with REM sleep intrusion, those powerful experiences may happen while they’re awake and can result in hallucinations or temporary paralysis. Taken together, the results suggest that there is a connection between REM sleep and near-death experiences worth pursuing.

Since the study was published, the researchers have also proposed migraine aura as a predictor of near-death experiences. The research is preliminary and hasn’t been peer-reviewed, but the team suggests the findings lend more weight to their theory that REM sleep intrusion and near-death experiences are related.

As 2019 draws to a close, Inverse is counting down the 25 stories from this year that made us say “WTF.” Some are incredible, some are icky, and some are just plain strange. This has been #9. Read the original article here.

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