Near-death experiences linked to sleep cycles
New research suggests that REM intrusion predisposes people to near-death experiences:
In a study comparing 55 people with near-death experiences with 55 people who had no such experiences, neurologist Kevin Nelson of the University of Kentucky found that people who reported such experiences were also more likely to report a phenomenon known as "REM intrusion," where things normally experienced during sleep carry over into wakefulness. REM is an acronym for rapid eye movement, one of the phases of sleep.
Such people wake up but still feel paralyzed or hear sounds that others do not -- as the vestiges of sleep fall away, those experiences disappear. It is not considered a disorder, but merely a variant of the brain's sleep-wake cycle.
Nelson, who published his findings in the journal Neurology, said the extreme fear or feeling of danger brought on by imminent death might trigger the brain mechanism that governs the transition between sleep and wakefulness, leading people to experience various dreamlike phenomena. [WaPo]
These are fascinating results. Sleep paralysis has also been linked to alien abduction experiences.
Ted from Vancouver kindly sent a link to the abstract: Nelson KR, et al. Does the arousal system contribute to near death experience?. Neurology. 2006;66:1003-1009.