“I was at the beach in Florida, I was 10-11. Suddenly, huge waves started pulling me further and further from the shore. 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. I don’t remember what we talked about. But then I felt that I was sucked out of the tunnel and I fell, crashing into my body again.”
That sounds like everyone’s idea of what a near-death experience must feel like – and in fact, it’s a true story from a new study on near-death experiences (NDE) which found that one in ten of the participants had a near-death experience. The study, “Prevalence of near-death experiences and REM sleep intrusion in 1034 adults from 35 countries,” is pre-published in bioRxiv and was presented by the authors at the 5th European Academy of Neurology (EAN) Congress held over the weekend in Oslo, Norway.
1. Did time seem to speed up or slow down?
2. Were your thoughts speeded up?
3. Did scenes from your past come back to you?
4. Did you suddenly seem to understand everything?
5. Did you have a feeling of peace or pleasantness?
6. Did you have a feeling of joy?
7. Did you feel a sense of harmony or unity with the universe?
8. Did you see, or feel surrounded by, a brilliant light?
9. Were your senses more vivid than usual?
10. Did you seem to be aware of things going on elsewhere, as if by extrasensory perception (ESP)?
11. Did scenes from the future come to you?
12. Did you feel separated from your body?
13. Did you seem to enter some other, unearthly world?
14. Did you seem to encounter a mystical being or presence, or hear an unidentifiable voice?
15. Did you see deceased or religious spirits?
16. Did you come to a border or point of no return?
Those questions are from the Greyson Near-Death Experience Scale and were asked of 1034 lay people from 35 countries recruited randomly via crowdsourcing. The 289 who reported an NDE filled out the Greyson questionnaire and 106 were confirmed as having a true NDE — 10 percent of the total.
The study yielded many interesting results. Experiences most frequently reported during NDEs included: abnormal time perception (87 per cent), exceptional speed of thought (65 per cent), exceptionally vivid senses (63 per cent) and feeling separated from, or out of their body (53 per cent). Interestingly, 53 percent said these were pleasant experiences, while only 14 percent called them unpleasant. One result that the researchers had expected to find based on past tests was a high level of REM sleep intrusion – the condition when dreaming is vivid and people are typically paralyzed – in those having an NDE.
“This finding is in line with the view that despite imminent threat to life, brain physiology must be well-preserved to perceive these fascinating experiences and store them as long-term memories.”
So, the brain decides it’s important to remember the experience. This is confirmed by many having NDEs, as exemplified by the comments of one participant in the study:
“I nearly drowned when I was around 8 years old. I felt total peace. Twenty years later I can still remember how I felt. It was an amazing feeling.”
Lead researcher Dr. Daniel Kondziella, a neurologist at the University of Copenhagen, says in a press release that studying the physiological mechanisms that cause REM sleep intrusion into wakefulness might help to better understand near-death experiences.
While no one wants to have a near-death experience, the study confirms that the experience and its lingering aftermath are pleasant – both during and after the accident or other cause of near-death. However, it’s definitely not pleasant enough to simulate it – kids, don’t try this at home. You adults too.
If you think you’ve had an NDE, you can take the Greyson Near-Death Experience Scale questionnaire yourself here.