The researchers suggest that “near death” experiences have a biological explanation rather than a spiritual one, as the same parts of the brain are activated when people dream as in near death experiences.

The study compared 55 people with such experiences with the ones who had never had them. Those with near death experiences were more likely to have less clearly separated boundaries between sleeping and waking, and they report being surrounded by a bright light or gazing down on themselves in an operating theatre.

All of these sensations could be compared to being in a dream state or rapid eye movement (REM).

The researchers of the Kentucky University have defined the near death experiences as a time during a life-threatening episode when a person undergoes an outer body experience, unusual alertness or sees an intense light. 60% of these who reported such experiences said they have also had the REM state of sleep during periods of wakefulness.

Professor Kevin Nelson, who lead this study, said the findings suggest that REM state intrusion contributed to near death experiences. He suggested the theory did not automatically rule out a spiritual dimension to near death experience.