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Why Do People Die In Their Sleep?

- Written By

Brenda Galloway , ABMS

Updated on

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts. Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument. This article contains scientific references. Read more about our process.

people die in their sleep

The most common cause of sleep-related mortality, also known as nocturnal death, is congestive heart failure (CHF), which results in a gradual decrease in heart function and unexpected cardiac arrest. Other causes of sleep death include lung failure and advanced or terminal illnesses. A stroke, seizure, or drug overdose are unanticipated incidents that people die in their sleep.

This article examines the various causes of people passing away while asleep, including the risk factors for passing away from heart failure while sleeping. It also lists medical disorders that may raise the possibility of a fatal accident at night.

We all have to deal with the impending conclusion of our time on Earth as we travel through life. The concept of dying peacefully in one’s sleep often conjures up a peaceful image. But what occurs when someone falls asleep forever while tucked away in the world of dreams? 

Is Dying in Sleep a Peaceful Goodbye?

Many people commonly desire to fall asleep for the last time and never wake up. The romanticized idea of dying as you sleep may be alluring, but reality frequently offers a more nuanced picture. 

Reasons of Why Do People Die In Their Sleep?

1) Cardiovascular Death in the Stars

Cardiac arrest is a common reason for passing away at night. Often happening while you sleep, an abrupt stoppage might result from the heart’s irregular rhythm. However, the calm environment does not hide how unexpected the event was. When the heart stops beating suddenly, it is in cardiac arrest. Without prompt medical care, sudden cardiac death will happen in minutes. Sleep has a higher risk of mortality simply because it typically takes longer for emergency medical assistance to arrive.

2) chest pain

Myocardial infarction, another name for a heart attack, happens when any blood vessel that supplies the heart muscle is blocked, causing injury or death to the tissue it provides.

Myocardial infarctions can affect any section of the heart’s architecture and range from minor events that only minimally impair function to major blockages that cause death from cardiac arrest.

A severe heart attack that reduces blood flow to the part of the brain that controls respiration can cause respiratory arrest, which is the cessation of breathing.

3) Sleep Apnea’s Dark Connection

Another possible cause of fatalities at night is sleep apnea, a disorder in which breath is distorted while you sleep. The night’s silence conceals breathing difficulties, making them a silent but dangerous contributor.

4) Trauma

Significant brain damage can also result in an unexpected death, frequently when a person is asleep. It’s easy for signs of brain damage, such as nausea, persistent headaches, and dilated pupils, to go unrecognized or be disregarded.

After trying to “sleep off” the signs and symptoms, an individual may pass away overnight due to a brain hemorrhage (bleed).

5) Choking

In your sleep, you could suffocate to death. This might happen if someone throws up after drinking too much alcohol or during a midnight seizure.

Additionally, it can occur if you accidentally inhale food or a throat lozenge while dozing off.

6) Epilepsy

Uncertainty surrounds a phenomenon called sudden death in epilepsy (SUDEP). However, it affects 1 in 1,000 people with epilepsy yearly and is the main reason for uncontrolled seizure-related fatalities.

SUDEP is listed as the cause of death for people with epilepsy who pass away for unknown reasons. Death can occur before, during, or even without a seizure. According to some theories, a seizure that affects the heart or causes respiration to stop can result in death.

Some researchers think SUDEP is linked to a person’s sleep-wake cycle because it frequently happens at night. However, the theories put out by researchers have yet to be proven to be the actual causes.

Other Reasons for Sleep Death

Three leading causes of passing away while asleep include heart issues, strokes, and sleep apnea. However, there are several additional causes for why someone might not awaken.

1) Lung Issues

People with lung conditions, such as congenital central hypoventilation and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, can have excessive oxygen loss and pass away while sleeping.

Seizures People who experience seizures while asleep risk passing away suddenly from low blood oxygen levels or severe wounds.

2) Issues With Sleep

People who sleepwalk or have REM sleep behaviour disorder risk accidentally hurting themselves or dying if they fall out of a window while asleep.

Overdosage on Sedatives People who unintentionally overdose on sedatives may pass out and never come to.

3) Use of Narcotic Medicine

If ignored, respiratory depression brought on by narcotics might result in cardiac and respiratory arrest.

4) Choking While Sleeping

Sleeping with food or a throat lozenge in your mouth increases the risk of choking to death, especially after a seizure, after excessive alcohol-induced vomiting, or when trying to fall asleep.

5) Suffocation in Carbon Monoxide

Tragically, unforeseen tragedies like carbon monoxide poisoning can result in fatalities at night. You might not be aware that you’re sleeping in a harmful setting because carbon monoxide is a colourless gas that can be emitted by broken furnaces or other typical home appliances (such as water heaters and dryers).

Using carbon monoxide detectors in your home can inform you of any possible danger levels of this gas.

6) Suffocation

Babies under one-year-old risk suffocating on pillows or other sleeping materials or passing away abruptly from respiratory or brain-related problems. Although sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) cannot always be avoided, healthy sleep practices can be beneficial, including putting a baby to sleep on their back.


A stroke hampers the brain’s oxygen supply. Brain bleeding or a blood clot can both induce strokes. Sleep-related deaths can be brought on by a major stroke or a brain aneurysm (ruptured blood vessels).

Who is Most Affected by the Role of Age and Gender?

Age and gender may determine the chance of dying while sleeping. Older people are more likely to die at night because they are more likely to have medical issues. In addition, men are typically more vulnerable than women, particularly regarding unexpected cardiac episodes.

Determine Your Risk

  • Even healthy individuals might pass away suddenly while sleeping, but identifying and addressing any recognized risk factors can lessen your chance of passing too soon.
  • While making lifestyle changes, keep the AHA’s Essential 8 in mind: diet, exercise, sleep hygiene, quitting smoking, body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
  • Avoid consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, especially just before night.
  • Keep yourself hydrated and consume adequate electrolytes.
  • Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm and test it frequently. Before retiring to bed, extinguish candles and flames, switch off heaters, and open a window.
  • Go for a sleep evaluation and get treated if you have a sleep condition. Snoring or routinely sleeping for longer than nine hours could be symptoms of a problem.
  • Take a healthy lifestyle and medications as your doctor directs to manage heart disease. See a doctor for an assessment if you frequently suffer nighttime heart palpitations or feel chest discomfort or heaviness related to your heart.
  • Consider purchasing a home AED, such as the Physio-Control LIFEPAK CR2 or the Philips HeartStart OnSite AED, if you have risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest. Before EMS personnel arrive, a household member could use the portable defibrillator to shock you, possibly saving your life.


The idea of dying while we sleep has long captivated our curiosity about human existence. But when science reveals our bodies’ various processes in action, we grasp that reality is much more complex than the surreal images we imagine. Even though a calm awakening from sleep is possible, understanding the underlying causes can be essential to influencing this nocturnal mystery. 

Let us treasure the awake moments that weave the thread of our existence and the peace of sleep as we travel through life.

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