Dying in Your Sleep: Possible Causes of Death

Updated on January 8, 2017
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Trained in dentistry, Sree is currently studying lab sciences. She enjoys researching various health topics and writing about her findings.

Why Do People Die in Their Sleep?

Have you ever heard of cases where people go to bed happy and well, only to be found dead the next morning? The possibility of a sudden and unexpected death is terrifying. It makes you feel anxious about the uncontrollable nature of life.

It might even lead to thoughts about whether you should bother going to sleep, at all. You go off to close your eyes merely because you want to take a breather – to retire and recharge. But, the breather turns out to be a permanent one.

Losing a loved one in this manner can be shocking, especially if the deceased person had no known health issues. One day, this person is so full of zest. The next day? He’s dead, and you could only scratch your head as you wonder about the cause. There are no warning signs. A bereaved family can’t help but accept the situation.

Even if it happens to someone you barely know, the thought of a person dying in his sleep is fearsome. It evokes the emotion that regardless of how much you try to avoid it, death comes - sometimes when you least expect it.

If you’re the person who regularly keeps himself conditioned to avoid sickness and eventual death, you may feel cheated. Even though you comply with your end of the bargain to be fit and healthy, you still can’t be the victor in the quest to prevent death. It’s as if all your efforts went down the drain.

On the other hand, some view death while sleeping as the most peaceful way to go. Compared to being a victim of a tragic vehicular accident, a crime, or an incurable disease, passing away in your sleep eliminates a great deal of struggle and pain.

Come to think of it, dying in your sleep seems to be a peaceful way to go, indeed. Some people think it’s a coward’s choice of dying. Others disagree by insisting that it’s brave. If an elderly person dies in his sleep, the thought is less terrifying - compared to the involvement of a young person who passed away without warning.

Nevertheless, is it a justifiable means to die?

People are sometimes so baffled by the death that they grasp for straws of explanation, resorting to ancient folklore or the belief that nightmares cause a person's death. As history records it, news that some people die during sleep are not recent. The fact that death comes unexpectedly is rather unfortunate, but it’s a fact that all of us should be aware of.

Medical professionals are quick to point out that there are scientific explanations and medical conditions that can cause death during sleep. In this article, we will explore some of these possibilities.

The line between sleep and death is sometimes questionable.
The line between sleep and death is sometimes questionable.

Sleep Apnea: Breathing Stops During Sleep

One disorder which commonly affects older people or infants and can cause death during sleep is central sleep apnea. It occurs due to your brain’s improper way of sending signals to your muscles.

Apnea refers to the pause or stop in breathing and each apnea's duration is about 10 seconds to a few minutes. What happens is that the sleeping person repeatedly stops breathing for a period of time throughout the night. The brain pauses in sending its signals to the muscles that manage breathing. Throughout the night, a person suffering from apnea may have 5 to 30 apneas each hour and as a result, there is an increased risk of death.

According to studies, humans are equipped with a certain amount of nerve cells which are responsible for commanding the body to breathe. As we grow old, these cells lessen in number. This loss of nerve cells increases an older person's chance of having central sleep apnea.

Likewise, certain health conditions like brain infection, cervical spine problems, obesity, and Parkinson's disease, stroke and heart failure can cause central sleep apnea. Particular illnesses, because they lead to dysfunctions, can bring about the fatal condition.

Another cause of sleep apnea is sleeping at a relatively high altitude - more than 2,500 meters above sea level. This is due to the unavailability of a sufficient amount of oxygen at high altitudes. The blood's reduced oxygen content induces instability in breathing.

While anyone can develop central sleep apnea, the condition is known to affect more males than females. The gender difference addresses the unique features of upper airway anatomy and upper airway muscle function in males.

Additionally, the effects of sex hormones are behind the prevalence of the condition in males. Females who are in the post-menopausal stage are less likely susceptible to develop the condition.

A preventive method of treating central sleep apnea is the use of supplemental oxygen. With a supply, blood gets its necessary oxygen content despite the periodic difficulty in breathing during an unconscious state.

Among the list of common symptoms includes sudden awakenings with shortness of breath, difficulty in staying asleep, chest pain during evenings, and excessive sleepiness during the day. If you have all of these symptoms, it doesn't immediately mean you need to worry.

However, you should consider consulting a medical professional - to be certain and to rule out the possibility of the condition. Different doctors can treat central sleep apnea. Among them are:

  • Primary care physicians
  • Dentists
  • Neurologists
  • Surgeons
  • Psychiatrists and other specialists who treat mental health problems
  • Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialists
  • Sleep doctors

Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Breathing Difficulty Due to Airway Obstruction
Sometimes, obstructive sleep apnea is mistaken to be similar to central sleep apnea. However, the two are different. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs more commonly than the latter.

It happens when the muscles in your throat intermittently relax and block the passageway while you're asleep. With this condition, your breathing pattern becomes abnormal and you begin to take shallow breaths.

To keep up with the new breathing pattern, your chest muscles and diaphragm need to work harder. Particularly, their new roles involve opening the obstructed passageway and pulling air into the lungs.

An apparent symptom of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring. Although, not all cases of snoring are indications of a person who suffers from the fatal condition. However, if a person snores noticeably loud (and he doesn't usually snore at all - or at least, that much), there may be an obstruction in his airway.

A popular method of treatment is the use if a mouthpiece while you're asleep. The purpose of the device is to thrust the jaw forward during an unconscious state. Doing so won't block the passageway to enable regular breathing patterns.

SADS: Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome

SADS (Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome, although sometimes people assume the A stands for "adult,") is often used as the term for a sudden, undetermined cause of death in adults. These syndromes are genetic heart conditions that can cause sudden death in young and apparently healthy people. Usually, the people who died from SADS did not know they had any heart issues, but if diagnosed, these conditions can be treated and deaths can be prevented.

Some warning signs for heart issues are:

  • a family history of unexplained or unexpected death under the age of 40,
  • persistent or unusual chest pain and/or shortness of breath during exercise, and
  • fainting spells or seizures during exercise or excitement.

"Arrhythmia" refers to the irregular beating of one's heart. It means your heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly. Tachycardia is a type of arrhythmia which involves a fast heartbeat of 100 beats or more each minute, while the type of arrhythmia which describes a slow heartbeat of about 60 beats or less each minute is bradycardia. Normally, when there is a temporary change in one's cardiac rhythm or heartbeat, it's not necessarily dangerous, but arrhythmic heartbeats cease to be non-threatening if the heart rate stays irregular for a long time.

SADS can also affect people who do not have structural heart disease and appear to be healthy. The person just dies suddenly due to cardiac arrest without exhibiting any symptoms of heart disease. What happens is that blood flow towards the brain stops and the person slips into unconsciousness and eventually into death.

In many cases, if the cause of death is unknown, medical examiners may attribute the death to SADS. Especially if the involvement of drugs is absent, the vague but fatal condition is the culprit.

Alongside, SADS introduces channelopathies or a term for relatively rare diseases. These rare diseases involve an exhibition of symptoms that affect the heart's electrical functions. You can refer to them as the "silent killers" since they cause sudden death without any hints, at all.

Some of these channelopathies are:

  • Brugada syndrome
  • Sodium channel disease
  • Short QT syndrome
  • Long QT syndrome
  • PCCD or Progressive Cardiac Conduction Defect

Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome: Bangungot

Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome, Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS), or Sudden Unknown Nocturnal Death Syndrome are all terms for a syndrome first noted in 1915 in the Philippines and again in Japan in 1959, where it was named pokkuri ("sudden death").

Thailand, Laos, and Hawaii have their own experience with and words for the syndrome. It was seen in 1975 in a population of Hmong refugees in the US and subsequently noted in Singapore, where records showed that 230 otherwise healthy Thai men died unexpectedly and without apparent cause between 1982 and 1990. In the Philippines, where this syndrome affects 43 out of 100,000 yearly, is referred to as bangungot in the Tagalog language, the word for "nightmare" which translates as "to arise and moan."

In all cases in all countries, most of the victims are young Southeast Asian males.

SUNDS has been cloaked in mystery and superstition (see descriptions of folklores and myths below). Many Filipinos believe eating large quantities of carbohydrates just before sleeping causes bangungot. Autopsy reveals that the victims have no evidence of heart diseases or structural heart problems, but cardiac activity during a SUNDS episode indicates arrhythmia may be the culprit.

In the Philippines, however, most cases have been linked with acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis. During sleep, the pancreas may get inflamed, possibly as a result of the excessive intake of carbohydrates before sleeping.

A non-fictional counterpart of Bangungot is asphyxia or suffocation. Due to the extreme deprivation of oxygen, the body feels trapped. The feeling of suffocation is unrealizable unless the person wakes up.

Due to a lack of oxygen supply during sleep, the person’s internal organs begin to function abnormally. The abnormal function is painful, but because it happens during unconsciousness, pain won’t be felt. Without intervention, the internal organs slowly shut down, and cause death.

The only proven way to prevent death by SUNDS is by implantation of a cardiovertor defibrillator.

A cardiovertor defibrillator (ICD) is a device designed especially for people suffering from ventricular tachycardia. It's a battery-powered preventive device. Doctors place it under the skin to monitor heart rate. It establishes connection to the heart via thin wires.

It works by restoring heartbeat and is on standby 24 hours per day – granted that it has working batteries. If it detects abnormal heart rhythm, it delivers an electric shock that will restore a normal heartbeat. Especially if your heart beats much too rapidly, the device will come to the rescue.

An ICD, however, isn't easily available. Most medical professionals don't grant permission of the implantation of a defibrillator unless it's a serious health issue. This is due to the failure of many to distinguish the benefits of the device from its limitations.

Before being granted to have an ICD, a person will undergo thorough medical evaluation from heart doctors. If all of the measures have been ruled out, and if its only choice, the device will be given.

Deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are sometimes the most sudden, unexplainable, and grievous of all.
Deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are sometimes the most sudden, unexplainable, and grievous of all.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Dying in one's sleep happens to infants as well, and these are sometimes the most unexpected, unexplainable, and grievous deaths. SIDS, commonly called crib death, is the medical term for unexpected deaths that occur in infants under one year old. SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants from 1 month to 1 year old. The majority of deaths due to SIDS happen between 2 and 4 months of age. Boys are more likely than girls to fall victim to SIDS. Incidence increases during cold weather.

How it affects infants exactly is a mystery. Usually, the infant is found dead in their crib after having been put to bed, with no evidence of struggle. Even an autopsy does not reveal the precise cause of death.

The exact cause of SIDS is still a mystery, although one theory is that a sleep arousal problem may be a factor. Other theories include a birth defect, a failure to develop, a reaction to infection, and/or an underlying biological vulnerability in an infant who has reached a taxing developmental stage and is exposed to an external trigger. In many cases, accidental suffocation, hyperthermia, hypothermia, neglect, or some other determined cause may have been attributed to SIDS.

Since no one is sure of its cause, methods of prevention are unknown as well. SIDS prevention strategies include having the baby sleep on its back in a crib on a firm mattress without loose bedding in a relatively cool sleeping environment, having the infant sleep near caregivers but separate from them (room sharing but not bed sharing), and avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke.

Risk factors include sleeping in bed with parents or siblings, placing the infant on its stomach or side for sleep, exposure to cigarette smoke, and sleeping on soft cushions with excessive blankets, pillows, clothing, or stuffed animals.

Blood Clotting

Steady flow of blood in our veins is very important for our body to function properly. Small clots are not health threatening and can easily be resolved by medication. However, when large amounts of blood form into clumps and restrict the blood's movement in our vital organs (like the heart or brain), clots become a health threat.

Usually, after accidents like cutting one's skin or having a bad fall, blood coagulates, making a scab. Usually, the body will naturally dissolve the clot after the injury has healed. But sometimes, clots form on the inside of vessels or fail to dissolve naturally and cause a blockage.

Dying in your sleep as a result of blood clotting happens when the clot forms and drifts into a major vessel in your heart or brain. That is why medical professionals perform MRI's and CT scans on trauma victims to detect blood clotting or possible internal organ damage.

The failure to detect blood clotting is fatal. The sad part about it is that death is supposed to be avoidable in this situation. Incompetency isn’t a usual issue. Even the most experienced medical professionals can miss identifying a blood clot. If this occurs, the doctors would feel helpless, but admit defeat, in the end.

Drug Intervention

Throughout history, there are numerous reported cases of people dying in their sleep due to drug overdose. The most controversial of these deaths involve high-profile celebrities lifeless being found dead in their hotel rooms.

Taking drugs, particularly psychedelic drugs, can be expensive. However, since psychedelic drugs provide an incomparable feeling of escape, some people, figure out means to avail of them. Regardless of the illegal nature of some drugs, those who can afford them don't hesitate to treat themselves.

If a prolific figure with an excellent-paying job engages in psychedelic drugs, and he falls asleep minutes after, his body's reaction may lead to death. These drugs have insanely powerful effects, and unfortunately, they have dangerous effects on the body.

Examples of some dangerous drugs:

  • Street methadone - supposed to aid in overcoming drug addiction; supposed to treat withdrawal symptoms
  • Ketamine - serves as an anesthetic and pain killer; induces otherworldly experiences
  • Heroin - powerful and addictive
  • Cocaine - serves as a stimulant drug; affects the brain's dopamine system
  • LSD - also known as acid; powerful hallucinogenic substance that causes rapid heart rate, irrational behavior (often incessant panic and aggression)
  • Opiates - highly addictive; temporarily neglects unpleasant emotions
  • Krokodil - serves as a pain killer and a powerful sedative

While these drugs can alleviate a form of suffering and reward short-term euphoria, they can instantly put you down. Since their effects can dramatically influence particular systems in the brain, they can accompany increased blood pressure, otherworldly hallucinations, and rapid heart rate.

Dying in your sleep due to the effects of drugs is worrisome. An unfortunate part about it is that, there's no guarantee of the amount that can cause an overdose. Thus, when taking these drugs, there is an unwritten agreement that the user is about to gamble his life.

Take, for instance, heroin. A user is aware that it's one of the most powerful drugs. However, he remains unaware of its exact power. He just takes it, and crosses his fingers that it won't kill him. Since it controls breathing, blood pressure, and the temperature levels, it can drastically damage a person's system. Without warning, heroin can kill in a matter of seconds.

Another issue with drug use and links to death in your sleep is the legality of some dangerous drugs. While they bring beneficial effects, they can also be fatal to the body.

A drug called Phenazepam, for one. It's a legal drug that many pharmaceutical companies sell. It works as a sleeping pill and provides relief for anxiety patients. An overdose is likely for patients who continually take it since it has a pharmaceutical life of more than 50 hours. This means that it can stay in your system for more than 2 days.

The key is to be extra careful all the time, and be mindful of moderate doses - whether or not you're about to go to sleep. Regardless of the drug per se, it is important to ask a doctor more about your medications. At best, inform him of all the drugs that you're taking. This way, each drug can work properly.

Drug & Alcohol Combinations

In addition to drug intervention as a cause of dying in your sleep, the combined effects of drugs and alcohol is a factor. Drugs, by themselves, are powerful. Taking them with alcohol is not recommended.

Alcohol may bring about positive effects for your health. However, if it is taken without moderation, it can be disadvantageous. You can become easily addicted to it, too. And, if it is taken as a part of a tandem, the possibility of drastic effects is not out of the picture.

In this cases, particular drugs along with alcohol have devastating effects on the body. Some of them are:

  • Benzodiazopene + alcohol
    • The drug, benzodiazopene, is on the top 10 major causes of drug-related deaths in 2009. On its own, and without the supervision of a physician, it can result to tragedy. Particularly, it can compromise the functions of the respiratory system.
    • Although benzodiazopene greatly relieves aches, it can cause a fatal effect when taken together with alcohol. Alcohol contains elements that interact with this drugs effects. The safe bet is to take it with water instead, and (depending on a physician’s instructions), avoid going to sleep immediately.
  • Prescription pain killers + alcohol
    • Prescription painkillers such as morphine, hydromorphone, and fentanyl can be deadly if you take them with alcohol. In fact, prescription pain killers, when downed with alcohol, are the cause of one third to drug-related hospitalizations.
    • A person's intent in taking pain killers with alcohol may simply be about receiving short-term relief. To maximize the soothing effects, going to bed is an option. It's not rare for him to want to doze off to sleep right after.
    • The most common victims of the fatal tandem are young females. Since females are more prone to taking pain killers than men, the young ones can sometimes overdo it. Sadly, due to the lack of information, they belong to the age group that consumes the most alcohol.
  • Cocaine + alcohol
    • Cocaine and alcohol, known to be a common cause, of ER visits, can lead to serious organ damage. Particularly, it can cause irreparable damage to the cardiovascular and the hepatic systems due to the powerful effects of both substances.
    • Additionally, they end up forming cocaethylene, or a toxic chemical. Are you familiar with the singer Whitney Houston? Reports say that cocaine and alcohol were behind her death.
    • Years of taking cocaine alone is known to exacerbate particular cardiovascular diseases. the susceptibility of death during sleep for someone with an underlying cardiovascular disease increases. Thus, it’s best to set aside the drug first.

Old Age

A common cause of death is old age. There are some people who are fortunate enough to die old. Although we may want a more specific reason, their age seems to be the main cause as they may not have experienced major illnesses before dying.

According to the World Health Organization, the current life expectancy is around 70-72 years of age. In the earlier years, the life expectancy was relatively higher. There are records of people who lived more than 100 years old.

Among the list of signs that death for an elderly is near includes appetite reduction, physical changes, and exhaustion of the usual activities. Even if you can't point a finger on it, they just seem off. Regardless of not talking about the subject, they tend to be distant.

Increased sleep is also a sign that an elderly is about to pass away. It suggests exhaustion, and the longing to be absent. In such a case, it is best not to intervene since it can be distressing for him. For loved ones, letting an elderly be during this state can be painful. It will make them feel helpless, but not forcing him to be awake is the more practical option.

If an elderly starts the habit of going to sleep for relatively longer periods (e.g. 14 hours instead of the usual 12-hour sleep), you may have to pick up on it, too. Avoid waking him up since he may no longer have the energy to open his eyes. Come a week or two (or even less), he may drift off to eternal rest.

When the body is in the process of shutting down, it means that its parts are starting to shut down, too. In most situations of elderly people, they sleep more because their bodies no longer have the energy to be present. They may make special requests such as wanting to hear an old song or contacting an important person.

Sometimes, these special requests can be downright illogical. However, the goal is to be understanding and practice compassion. Remember, they are not in their best conditions. They will be grateful for anything that can uplift their spirits.

Technically, old age is not a cause of dying. Upon reaching a particular age, say 80 or 90, it does not mean that you're automatically going to die. To expound, the term that that a person who died of old age succumbed to the natural causes of death (that are associated with old age).

When you age, your cells gradually die and your body's systems debilitate. For instance, a very old person who is dying may lose appetite, shed weight fast, experience sleeplessness or oversleep, and lose bladder control. These are some signs which indicate that the body is shutting down. Simple medical conditions, when combined, can cause an old body to give up its functions. It is normal for systems to eventually shut down in old age. So while the death certificate may claim that the cause of death was heart-related, the heart issue was merely a symptom of old age.

In cases that involve the death of an elderly person during sleep, medical professionals see no reason to investigate closely. Especially if an elderly is suffering from multiple underlying conditions, doctors don't find it mysterious if he passes away eventually. In fact, it can be an invasion of one's privacy.

The logic is quite simple. Take for example an old car. When an old car is clearly in bad condition, it is no surprise if it gives out in the middle of a long road trip. that's the case with an old person, too. if he's 90 years old with multiple underlying conditions, it can mean that his internal organs stopped functioning. Thus, providing a specific cause of death is unnecessary.

In official statements, old age is less commonly specified as the cause of an old person's death. Rather, medical professionals would put "multiple organ failure" in medical records.

Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD)

SCD is another cause of unexpected death in your sleep. This condition describes the sudden loss of heart function during an unconscious state. It is one of the major causes of death in adults, and it is responsible for many deaths related to heart diseases.

SCD is not a heart attack per se. Rather, it is a condition that occurs during a heart attack. When the heart's electrical system malfunctions and exhibits irregularity, the heart beats rapidly – and dangerously. Since ventricular fibrillation occurs, the body's oxygen supply is cut out entirely.

During the first minutes, there is a drastic reduction in the blood supply to the brain. Since the reduction can be unbearable, the person starts to lose consciousness. As the condition lasts longer, death becomes inevitable unless immediate emergency treatment follows.

Unfortunately, in majority of SCD cases, SCD occurs without signs. Regardless if you're in good shape, the condition will come as a surprise. If you're feeling a bit lightheaded or nauseated without reason, consider it as a warning. Your heart may be notifying you of a problematic heart rhythm.

A recommended method of emergency treatment is cardiopulmonary treatment (or more commonly known as CPR). It is a manual method of keeping the airway open for enough oxygen to enter the brain. Applying CPR until the restoration of normal heart rhythm is best.

What do you think?

In your opinion, would dying in one's sleep be painless and peaceful?

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Folklore and Myths about Dying in Your Sleep

The cultures and traditions of Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines include myths regarding nightmares during one's sleep which cause the dreamer's death. According to folklore, a healthy person comes home after a tiring day, eats a very heavy meal, and goes straight to bed, where they suffer from a terrible nightmare which causes them to die. In those traditions, nightmares about falling off a cliff or being attacked by a monster are believed to be responsible for a sleeper's death.

The Hmong people of Laos ascribe these deaths to a malign spirit, dab tsuam (pronounced "da cho"), who comes in the form of a jealous woman. Hmong men may even go to bed dressed as women to avoid attracting this spirit. Bangungot, or sleep-death, is depicted in the Philippines as a creature called batibat, a hag-like creature that sits on the victim's face or chest, pins him down, and steals his breath.

However, researchers have found physiological causes for Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS: see this syndrome described described above).

Sleep paralysis can lead to SUNDS, which then results to death. Due to the possibility, many people are terrified. The condition is presumed as scary since it establishes a link to alien abductions, inexplicable kidnappings, and evil of sorts. Throughout history, some perceive the condition as a hint to unpleasant elements.

With the inability to move during a conscious state, some people assume that a person is held captive by an evil creature. Apart from being unable to move, the inability to speak is part of the haunting experience. Sometimes, it comes with the feeling of tightness and suffocation, too.

However, according to sleep experts, the fear surrounding sleep paralysis may be a bit exaggerated. Practically speaking, experiencing the condition is the body's way of saying that it is moving quite roughly throughout the stages of sleep.

Its bothersome nature is merely a misconception. There's simply a problematic nature in your sleeping cycle. Contrary to a few claims, deep psychiatric disorders do not trigger it.

The solution is to correct an underlying sleeping problem. In many cases, the problem is due to poor sleeping habits. If you get insufficient amount of sleep, you're overworked, or you're under loads of pressure, you might want to relax for a bit. After prioritizing your mental wellness, you'll likely see the improvement in your sleep. More importantly, experiencing sleep paralysis is a thing of the past.

The subject of hypnagogic jerk also comes to the picture of dying in your sleep. A hypnagogic jerk is a phenomenon that describes an involuntary muscle twitch during sleep.

Some say that experiencing hypnagogic jerks several times is an indication that you are going to die in your sleep eventually. These involuntary muscle twitches are associated to dreams of falling from a higher ground. For others, it is a warning sign that tells your body that it is in danger.

While this is utter hearsay, according to medical professionals, it's best to heed the warning. Regardless of the false nature of hypnagogic jerks leading to unexpected death during sleep, avoid ignoring the body's message to reduce instances of experiencing hypnagogic jerks.

Experiencing a hypnagogic jerk is an indication of the body's unhealthy state. Among the causes of hypnagogic jerks are stress, fatigue, and depression. Thus, the body is delivering the message that you need to relax, and mind your mental well-being.

Have you heard any myths about dying in your sleep?

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Is Dying in Your Sleep Peaceful?

People say that dying in one's sleep is the most peaceful and painless way to go. No one can say for sure if a person died painlessly on his sleep or not, but a quick death due to a cardiac arrest or some other major event is generally perceived to be a relatively peaceful way to go with little pain and struggle.

We don't know for sure if it's painless or not, but dying in your sleep is the way most of us would choose to go. Especially if you have no tolerance for any form of suffering, death in your sleep seems less scary. Passing away out of the blue is quite unfair if you haven't maximized your time with your loved ones. This might mean that you have tons of unfinished business. The fact that you can die unexpectedly should serve as a reminder not to waste time. With limited time, you should let moments count.

Medical professionals say that people who die in their sleep experience agonal respiration moments prior to actual death. Agonal respiration, also called agonal breathing and gasping respiration, is a brainstem reflex. Usually, it accompanies myoclonus or involuntary muscle twitches and strange vocalizations.

In such a case, experiencing agonal respiration moments prior suggests that dying in your sleep involves a bit of struggle. The struggle can last as brief as two or three breaths or as long as a couple of hours. It's quite scary, if you think about it.

On the internet, there are numerous discussions about dying in your sleep. People continue to argue whether agonizing experiences are part of the deal. Unfortunately, the question may remain unanswered.


  1. "Do patients with sleep apnea die in their sleep?" PubMed Commons. Retrieved Jan. 5, 2017.
  2. "Sleep Apnea." WebMD. Retrieved Jan. 5, 2017.
  3. "Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome." American Academy of Family Physicians. Retrieved Jan. 5, 2017.
  4. "Sudden infant death syndrome." MayoClinic. Retrieved Jan. 5, 2017.
  5. "Blood Clots That Kill." NIH MedLine Plus. Retrieved Jan. 5, 2017.


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    • profile image

      lisa Crissman 4 months ago

      I just lost my mom at 78. My brother found her asleep upstairs, no signs of a struggle. She had her shoes on & a jacket to start her day. I'm not sure but I think maybe she layed back down for maybe she wasn't feeling well & never woke up. It's shocking to us, I also lost my dad about 2 mths in advance. I hate this, I'm so empty & her house & everything is not the same. I need spiritual lifting.

    • profile image

      Lilly 9 months ago

      Last Friday after dinner my Husband , my Father in law & I took a walk to a new ice cream shop nearby our house. We returned around 10pm & my Father in law took his usual medication for BP (not because he has any issue , but because he has a family history of it) and a medication that deals with constipation ( a medication he has been taking for a Long time). All was normal. He went to sleep.

      On Saturday morning, I was up a bit later than usual and was a little surprised that he was not up yet. When I went to say good morning, he did not seem to respond. I immediately informed my husband who was then still asleep and simultaneously called an ambulance. The ambulatory crew attempted to revive him without success and he was declared dead. My Husband who had been Travelling all week kept asking me whether I felt anything abnormal and I can't think of a thing.

      My sis in law is a doctor and said that such death does not need reason. Yet, more than the loss, the shock , it is the thought of some symptom of impeding death that puzzles us both .

    • profile image

      janet 9 months ago

      My son 25 yrs passed on in his sleep 6 moths ago. Though he had epilepsy heled a normal life, we chatted normally and bid each other good night. When I found him there was no sign that he had struggled bit it is very confusing to me and have so many questions in my mind. May his soul rest in peace

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      Ganesan 11 months ago

      My mom 77 died in morning sleep. one month before treated for echo heart beet 18%.in ICU 3days and normal bed 3 days. After that she is alright and take food usually and good health .on that night go to bed and morning around 6.30AM go to bath room and again go to sleep but not wake up. The sadness was huge. what hapaning R. Ganesan.

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      Karyna 15 months ago

      My mum died 40 days ago in her sleep.... she was only 42 years old..... life is so unfair and cruel and I don't even know the cause of her death but she was very weak person there was no day when something didn't hurt her.... it's been so hard for me.... I can only pray she is now in a better place.....

    • profile image

      Carol 18 months ago

      Daughter in law passed away three nights ago in perfect health leaving my son and three children. Family is devastated.

    • profile image

      Abby 18 months ago

      To all of you out there who have lost loved ones or friends,

      I am very sorry. God will help you out of your grief if you

      lean on Him and have others supporting you.

    • profile image

      sateesh 21 months ago

      i lost my father before 10 days..he was healthy gentleman without any disease.died in sleep,,i cant do anything for him..sorry dad

    • profile image

      Letitia 2 years ago

      May our Lord God bless you all and keep you in his heavenly peace. Seek out The Lord with prayer daily, give him your concerns ,anxieties and grief, you will be transformed. God Is love and light.

    • profile image

      April 2 years ago

      My brother died in his sleep almost 10 years ago. We never knew the reason why. RIP Mike !

    • profile image

      Noori 2 years ago

      My loving father passed away 2 weeks ago He was 73. Whole family still in shock and trying to figured out why that happened so suddenly . It is a big tragedy and my heart is broken so badly. I am in soo pain.My father had minor issues but nothing else that would cause death. May God bless his soul.

    • profile image

      Karin 2 years ago

      My 78 year mom was in hospital Nov 2014 for 2 weeks. After the doctors treated her for yellow jaundice, she was moved from ICU to a normal ward but I could see that she was immensely tired. I asked the nurses about this and they said it was due to the bone marrow and blood transfusion a couple days before. The Tuesday, two days before she was to go home, my mom was still talking and responding well to me but her tiredness stayed and her breathing changed to a very shallow fast breathing. This concerned me a great deal - I could sense my mom fading away. She had a hazy look in her eyes, as if the well known spark has left them. Again I asked the nursing staff about it and again I was told that she is just very tired due to the transfusion. That evening I phoned my brothers and sister to tell them that I am extremely concerned about mom's tiredness. Needless to say the next morning as I got to work I got a call from the hospital to come urgently but on arrival I was told my mom already passed away in her sleep during the early hours of the morning. If I could see the signs, why could the staff not see it and just be honest with me?

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      Keoni 2 years ago

      I found out that my aunt died in her sleep about 2 weeks ago during I was in college. I was so shocked and I didn't know that. My family didn't tell me, but it was not their faults. They know/understand that I was very very busy at school for the reason. I guess they didn't want to either see me break my heart while school or get my grade would go down. Now I am soooo sad! Pray for my uncle that who lost his lovely wife. I think she is only 54 years old.

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      Tim 2 years ago

      My dad passed away in his sleep at age 84 back in 2011 and my mom recently passed this year watching TV in her chair....don't know how much of this I can take.

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      mohindro 2 years ago

      I think is better to die while sleeping I wish my end be with sleep

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      nno way out 2 years ago

      I would love to die in my sleep;-)

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      clm 2 years ago

      i am depress truly want to join god

    • Sulabha profile image

      Sulabha Dhavalikar 2 years ago from Indore, India

      I know, it is shocking, especially when somebody in 40's dies. It's not fair.

      But, my father always yearned for a sudden death and so do I.

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      Anonymous 2 years ago

      My mother-in-law passed in her sleep Sunday November 8, 2015. She laid down for a nap with her husband right near her watching a football game. A few minutes later he saw she wasn't breathing and by then she was already gone. She was a very central figure in this family & we are lost without her. My heart is broken and we are all in shock. My heart goes out to all who experience loss of a loved one but these sudden, seemingly meaningless, deaths seem hardest to cope with. I pray one day we will understand the reason for this and believe she will greet us with open arms when we pass to our next stage, whatever that may be.

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      Kate 2 years ago

      how do you know if your going to die in your sleep

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      Catfox 2 years ago

      My sister died in her sleep about 2 months ago. She was just fine before she went upstairs to get in bed. She laughed, and talked to her daughter, kissed her good night and went to sleep. She never woke up again. We are so hurt and in shock.

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      Leanne 2 years ago

      My husband died in his sleep 2 months ago and I was woken up with the death rattle. He was 45 years old and healthy. We still do not know what happened to him. I still talk to him and tell him I love and miss him so much.

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      jeanne 2 years ago

      My nephew 44 years old died in his sleep. We think it was because he slept with his face in the pillow sometimes.

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      Eb 2 years ago

      For anyone to judge another letme tell you something. ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE You have no idea what someone else offs going through our why they maybe so depressed and would rather die. So before you degrade them walk in their sites for one day and it may change. By the way I wish I'd for in my sleep tonight.......

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      Fred M. 2 years ago

      My father also died in his sleep on the morning of Sept. 14th 2015, he was 88 years old, he was fine the night before, gave him some water and put him to sleep. he had kidney failure and was on dyalisis for 2 years. I'm pretty sure these health problems contributed to his death, and I hope he was at peace when he passed. I frequently told him I loved him, I miss him very much.

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      Cc 2 years ago

      Our darling friend died in her sleep and was found yesterday morning while her and her friends were camping . Rest in peace k

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      Dejavu 2 years ago

      I think dying while sleeping is not different when you are awake. since our brain is responsible for interpretting pain and fear. Awake or asleep, our brain never stop processing information. There are chance that you might experience a more horrable death while dreaming.

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      huhu 2 years ago

      my mom passed away in her sleep right beside me....

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      PAULA 2 years ago

      My older sister died in her sleep 2 months ago, it is still a nightmare that sometimes i think am dreaming, she was only 39 yrs old,its is so painful and i always pray to Gd to give us peace, its not easy for parents to bury their child and its difficult to lose a sibling,our lives were changed forever.i miss her so much

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      Nichole 2 years ago

      My mother passed away in her sleep exactly one week ago. She had minor issues but nothing that would cause death . I had just talked to her at 7pm then I found her at 8am . It's been the most painful because she was only 47. I just miss my mom.

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      Nada 2 years ago

      My father died in his sleep 2 days ago. He left us without saying anything, without warning. I miss him a lot.

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      Mahua 2 years ago

      I lost my father one and half months ago... He died in his sleep... We can't come out from the shock... And can't find the reason what had happend to him?

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      joe venice 2 years ago from Ohio

      My Wife died in her sleep we just celebrated our 13th year together as husband and wife she had had health issues and said a few times she wanted to if she had to pass away in her sleep and at home I loved her and her not here you feel so sick inside I hope she is with God

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      vee 2 years ago

      I know of a few friends, co workers and my own beloved who died in their sleep. We all come close at times in the wee hours when our respitory goes so low it can malfunction due to the brain doesn't g et enough blood flow, and so then we slip into a deeper state n some don't wake up.a friend just passed today in her sleep and her mom found her. From infants to old age, we can be called to God. My heart hurts for those who lose someone this way-because its SO unexpected!

      We need to always show love so in case this happens to us, then notbing is left unsad.

      Colorado state of mind

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      Viswa 2 years ago

      My uncle died last night in sleep.. Very very sad.. Such a gentle man.. He is no more.. Every one shocked

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      unknown 2 years ago

      :'( so sad....to those who has loved ones that passed away condolence ..... In my family I never experience to had a loved ones that died in their sleep...... to me to think of it it might be so hard to accept that your loved ones was ok then the morning they wont woke up..... I find it so very very sad.... I wish they wouldn't suffer that death..... For me I experience it once in my sleep..... That I fell asleep and then someone comes close to me (black thing...its in human form but its like shadows) and pin me I couldn't say or shout and can't move either..... All you need to do is pray..... And that worked on me..... I'm so full and tired that night....... and I'm from Philippines..... And I truly believe that god never leaves our side.. Alll we need to do is pray... Thanks

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      Destiny 2 years ago

      I just got back from the hospital I banged my head on the cement when I fell from skateboarding I was bleeding the doctor said I was fine is just a cut nothing big & that I hit the hardest part of my head lucky I don't know why but I'm paranoid that if I sleep I won't wake up

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      Ann Marie 2 years ago

      My wee girls granny just passed away in her sleep we think last night. So sudden we are heart broken she was so good to ambe 6 her granddaughter and was like a mum to her when i suffered from post natal depression. Rosie we loved you and will be truley missed sleep tight granny.xox

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      Pretizess 2 years ago

      My cousin passed away yesterday in his sleep. We don't have any idea what causes of his death. My uncle decided to autopsy him and they found out his pancreas is swollen and the stomach has scratches (ulcer). He is too young (28 yrs old) and its really hard to accept. May he rest in peace.

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      edith 2 years ago

      I have a coworker just passed in her sleep she was in good health pray for the family thinks

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      Dextry92 2 years ago

      My sister died unexpectedly and suddenly in her sleep at her apartment/flat ten days ago (12th June 2015, morning time GMT/BST) at the age of just 31. Unfortunately she suffered a brain injury when she was 17 and suffered from epileptic seizures as a result and was at risk of SUDEP (sudden death in epilepsy), she'd have about one or two big ones a year and end up hospitalised, but would be fine within a day or two.

      The post-mortem didn't confirm that for sure, but that is what we suspect may have killed her.

      It is upsetting and frightening in any case to be one day to be talking to someone and laughing with them, and then to find their lifeless body in the morning as my mum and I did (who were, by sheer coincidence, visiting her). I am glad she no longer suffers and that she died in her sleep presumably quickly and peacefully as there's no evidence she struggled, suffered or was awake, but to be honest it does little to console your grief that the person you love is gone..

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      Anonymous 2 years ago

      I am heartbroken and sad.Mi best friend and soulmate passed in his sleep and was found deceased on last week.I saw his body after the paramedics and police found him on his bed.He had alienated himself from myself and everyone for two weeks and one month.I wonder was he preparing himself to leave the planet.I love and miss him very much.He was 83 and had many health issues that received little or no medical attention.If I could put breathe into his body and give him great health,I would be more than happy to do so.I love him dearly and will never forget him.He was very close and dear to me.

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      Fuck Life 2 years ago

      I want to die in my sleep soooo bad I often beg God to take me

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      anonymous 3 years ago

      i wish to die it's a stupid thing that people that want to live actually end up dying and the ones that want to die end up living why is that why is it when someone wants to die nothing happnes why is it that life is a game that only god can understand and play why is life a struggle

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      Omar Huerta 3 years ago

      I lost my father in his sleep at 66 years, 3 weeks from now , I never lost someone that means a lot to me , the pain I feel I never felt . I speak to myself everyday at night . I tell my self why can't we live in a life with enternal happyness but then again that is heaven I speak of. Can this earth really be hell ? No it cant be right ,then why are some fortunate then others ? All I know is god has a plan for us , whatever the plan is I hope and pray that its better then I imagen . Im sorry for all the ones that lost a loved one. God has his plans for us the man made can not take away -

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      Waa 3 years ago

      A long time ago, when I was about six years old my anut was dead from sleeping, i was so sad, I cried for days...

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      Lekshmysankar 3 years ago

      I m not happy. I am in love with a lovable boy named SankarGanesh. He also loving me. Because of his Family condition, he is saying that he wont marry me. And he is saying that love is a disturbance for his studies. Who said love is disturbance. i think its not like that. I am in true love with him. I want to marry him. Without him, my life is empty. I don't know what to do.. so i want to die.. i am not happy in my life without him. I love my SankarGanesh.

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      pinky 3 years ago

      I wish to be alive forever

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      joyi 3 years ago

      I feel depressed...my life will never be enjoying

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      united 3 years ago

      Im taken back..

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      peace 3 years ago

      I wish i could die tonight in my sleeps

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      3 years ago

      I hate that people say I wish I could die in my sleep it pisses me off so much ! Why would you want to leave your family behind, why would you want to put them threw that and then not knowing why or if you went peacefully that's soo wrong wishing that on your self so sick.

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      Becca 3 years ago

      I found my dad (my whole world my wonderful dad a single parent father of 2) dead this morning in bed. He was in great health and a very happy person. He was so peaceful looking he can't of felt any pain. My heart goes out to any person suffering the shock of death of a truly loved one X

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      Trish 3 years ago

      My family friends daughter died at 17 she was healthy went to bed and never woke up so tragic she went to her junior prom

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      Lori 3 years ago

      I found this to be very informative. On March 19, 2015 a friend of mine of 17 years died in his sleep. The day before we talked over the phone. He seemed to be in good spirit and health. He even said I'll talk to you tomorrow. He was 53 years old.

    • Sulabha profile image

      Sulabha Dhavalikar 3 years ago from Indore, India

      Very sad.

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      Angelica 3 years ago

      A young girl that goes to my high school was found dead today. She died in her sleep. She was only 16 maybe 17

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      Beidnoy 3 years ago

      I am so scared to die in my sleep, I am 32 and was diagnosed with heart disease. I get palpatations in my sleep... I have two little babies that need me. Pray every night that I awake in the morning.

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      amar 3 years ago

      My wife died in her sleep 2 nights ago. She was 41 and in great health. Me and my 3 children are totally devastated....We had no warning or preparation...A tragedy!

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      Angel 3 years ago

      Angel do not worry about astral projection turning dangerous if u feel is to much to habdle.. Think and count backwards 321 Up. That gets you back at once

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      Open 3 years ago

      I always wake up in the mildde of the night if I've been drinking the night before.Alcohol metabolizes into sugar, and a sugar rush in the mildde of the night probably isn't so good for sleep.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 3 years ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      Very interesting hub and it's a bit unnerving how you can just fall into eternal sleep one night. I guess if there was a way to choose your death then dying in your sleep would be the best option as long as it's painless.

      Voted up.

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      Hurt 3 years ago

      i wished I could die in my sleep yet I worry about my kids without a mom since all 3 of my kids have no dad

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      Adina 3 years ago

      My mom just died in her sleep , I don't know why, is terrible

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      dia 3 years ago

      Wish i could die tonight.... :'( in my sleep

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      Angel 3 years ago

      Nope... Never wish to die in your sleep. Someone or something might take your soul out of your sleeping body... I just had an astral projection last night and this is really frightening because I saw a black figure hanging on the wall beside the bed where I was lying. After walking around our house, I found my housemate sleeping peacefully in his room, everything seemed normal except from the unusual darkness and heavy weights on my shoulders. Then I realized that it wasn't just a dream after all. I rushed to find my room and bed again while praying to God to give me another chance. After finding my body lying on the same bed, I immediately got back and woke up breathing heavily.

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      vcbgarcia 3 years ago

      I'm scared that anyone I care about 2 people just don't wake up in there sleep but there healthy I can't sleep I can't I cant I cant take this I need help

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      josh 3 years ago

      My cousin died In his sleep and was only 23 I love and miss u cuz

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      Allie 3 years ago

      This is pretty cool. Well written as well. My nannies used to tell me the myths about dying from a nightmare. I still wonder if this can actually happen, and if it is related to SUNDS.

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      lala 3 years ago

      My baby bro died in their sleep

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      love 123 3 years ago

      Its sad to know that your family members have passed away . I'm sorry for the people that lost their brother,sister, mother or some one in the past. I wish you the best of luck to you. I wish you guys feel better. My name is Lian and I'm 11 years old.

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      Hs0709 3 years ago

      I wish I could die like this. I think it's the best way to go. No pain and peaceful.

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      lalalal 3 years ago

      I wish i could die like this

    • Neelam Canon profile image

      Neelam Canon 3 years ago

      Karen I can understand your pain...my mother passed away one month ago in her sleep... I am still under shock

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      Karen 3 years ago

      My mother in law passed away in her sleep last night. Painlessly and peaceful, the best way to go.

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      Karen 3 years ago

      My brother died in his sleep a year ago. It's very painful to think about. I used to believe it was the best way to go (probably is) but since he was in his early thirties and in good health, he shouldn't have had died. I often wonder if he was dreaming, what were his last thoughts, or if he felt pain.

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      Chr 3 years ago

      It is so sad when people die in their sleep and nobody knows what it felt like dying in their sleep I hate it

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      :-() 3 years ago

      I almost died on my sleep last night it's scary

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      Rajiv Thakur 3 years ago

      My wife died in her sleep she was 42 years old and having rheumatic heart disease what may be the cause can any one tell me?

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      Steve j8 3 years ago

      I just want to say that I have often woken up gasping for air. It has been frightening and has happened to me probably a dozen times. I am in my early thirties. I suffer with depression at times major so perhaps that is a cause. I know it has nothing to do with my heart that this has happened. So this by these accounts it must be sleep apnea which can obviously affect you if you have severe depression. Or there are more causes.

      One time I even stopped breathing for minutes. I know this because I had a nde. When I 'awoke' there was absolutely no air in my lungs which is also how I know I wasn't breathing for a while. I have never felt any pain or anything during any episode of stopping to breath in my sleep.

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      jennifer 3 years ago

      I just had a friend whos daughter just found her dead

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      Bri 3 years ago

      My aunt had died in her sleep, it was all of sudden kind of thing. She was fine the night before she went to bed and never woke up. So when there is someone that you love,just tell them you love them, because you never know what could happen.

    • healthbooklet profile image

      Sree Lakshmi 3 years ago

      thanks @Sulabha

    • Sulabha profile image

      Sulabha Dhavalikar 3 years ago from Indore, India

      It is the best thing to happen in old age. My late father always wished for this death. But it shouldn't happen to infants or anyone else.

      Informative hub. In fact all your hubs are good.

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      Madeline 3 years ago

      This helped a lot thanks

    • healthbooklet profile image

      Sree Lakshmi 3 years ago

      @Twalesha : So sad and sorry :'(

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      Twalesha 3 years ago

      My co-worker died in her sleep between last night and this morning

    • healthbooklet profile image

      Sree Lakshmi 3 years ago

      @mariah: :)

    • profile image

      mariah 3 years ago

      so much people are die in there sleep but why somebody help them that are die in there sleep


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