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Posted on Wednesday, April 19 - 2006

" The brain's tendency to occasionally blur the line between sleep and wakefulness may help explain the phenomenon of near-death experience, preliminary research suggests. It's been an open question as to why some people see bright light, feel detached from their bodies or have other extra..."

Neurologists say people whose dreaming spills over into wakefulness may be prone to near-death experiences.

The brain's tendency to occasionally blur the line between sleep and wakefulness may help explain the phenomenon of near-death experience, preliminary research suggests. It's been an open question as to why some people see bright light, feel detached from their bodies or have other extraordinary sensations when they are close to dying or believe they might die.Some people view these so-called near-death experiences as evidence of life after death, and many neurologists have considered the phenomenon too complex for scientific study. But the new research,published in the journal Neurology, implicates the blending of sleep and wake states as a biological cause.Researchers found that adults who say they've had such an experience are also likely to have a history of what's called REM intrusion, where aspects of the dream state of sleep spill over into wakefulness. People may, for example, feel paralysed when they first wake up, or have visual or auditory hallucinations as they fall asleep or awaken. Of the 55 study participants who've had a near-death experience, 60% have also experienced REM intrusion at some point in their lives.

That compares with 24% of 55 adults in a comparison group.

Arousing the body The findings suggest that the brain's arousal system predisposes some people to bothREM intrusion and near-death experience, according to the study authors, led by Dr Kevin Nelson, a neurologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. This arousal system, Nelson says, regulates not only REM sleep, but also attention and alertness during waking hours, including during dangerous situations. And many of the features of REM intrusions, he says, parallel those of near-death experience. During REM sleep, visual centres in the brain are highly active, while the limb muscles are temporarily paralysed. So REM intrusion during peril could promote the visions of light and sensation of "being dead" that people often have during a near-death experience, according to Nelson.

Not the whole story Other evidence supports a role for REMintrusio......


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