photo of man sleeping who could die in his sleep

Yes, you can die in your sleep – why it happens and what you can do about it

By Jason Wooden, PhD | May 26, 2024

Why we’re curious about dying in our sleep…

What do these individuals have in common?

Charlie Chaplin, country legend Loretta Lynn, Good Fellas actor Ray Liotta, actor and comedian Bob Saget…

Beloved Rocky star Carl Weathers, former US president Theodore Roosevelt, and Queen Elizabeth…

They all died in their sleep.

I personally haven’t had anyone close to me pass on this way. My dad died from a stroke in the middle of the day sitting right next to me watching TV.

However, we hear about it all the time whether it’s someone you know, a public figure, or a celebrity.

And of course it’s a long sought after wish to live to a ripe old age and die peacefully in your sleep.

All the same, it’s a topic many people are curious about.

cartoon drawing of female curious about dying while asleep

Perhaps, your or someone you know is struggling with a serious health challenge.  In fact, doctors say it’s common for patients with cardiac issues to come in freaked out they’re going to die during their sleep.

For others, it may be a general fear of sleep.  Individuals with somniphobia get seriously stressed and anxious about falling asleep.

There are all sorts of links between sleep and death.

Let’s take a look at what we know.

What are the reasons people die while asleep?

It turns out that the most common reason individuals die in their sleep is sudden cardiac arrest which accounts for 90% of unexpected nighttime deaths.  (According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, 30% of sudden cardiac deaths occur at nighttime.)

In fact, roughly 1 in 8 people who die from heart disease die while asleep.

Other reasons besides heart problems people die in their sleep include:

Strokes1 in 4 strokes occurs during sleep

Sleep Apnea – untreated obstructive sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk of death from cardiovascular problems

Diabetes – type 1 increases the risk of sudden unexplained death at night (i.e., “dead in bed syndrome”)

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – since it’s an odorless toxic gas, a person who’s sleeping can die from it without experiencing any symptoms

Overdose – whether it’s an opiate, sleeping pill, or something else, you can die while asleep if you overdose.  Currently, the US has the highest rate of drug overdoses.

What’s the chance that YOU may die in your sleep?

This is a more difficult question to answer.

At first glance, you might think you roughly have a 1 in 3 chance of dying in your sleep given we spend a third of our life sleeping on average.  However, that’s based on averages.

Individual factors do come into play since everyone’s situation is different.

Some sleep more, some sleep less…

And not everyone’s health status and lifestyle is the same.

Nonetheless, check online and you’ll come across informal estimates on sites like Quora and LinkedIn placing your chances of dying while asleep at 1 in 8.

However, its hard to find direct estimates you can trust.

You can find numbers for your lifetime odds of death from all sorts of causes including specific diseases and accidents.  Unsurprisingly, heart disease leads the list with odds dying from it at 1 in 6 and odds dying from cancer at 1 in 7.

photo road sign saying risk ahead

It goes without saying that anything that increases your risk of death can increase your chances it could happen while you’re asleep.

Some startling facts about sleep and death

So far, we’ve talked about dying while asleep.

Did you know poor sleep all by itself can increase your risk of death?

Many people don’t realize how many connections there are between sleep, health, and death.

For my dad, I know his years of sparse sleep contributed to the overall decline of his health.   Now that I know more, I also suspect he was also living with undiagnosed sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder in which your breathing repeatedly stops and restarts while you’re asleep.

It turns out that whether you have regular sleep is a strong predictor of premature death.

And there are some pretty startling connections between poor sleep and death:

  • Sleeping 5 or fewer hours may increase your risk of death by as much as 15% (source)
  • Older adults who sleep regularly and optimally have about a 40% lower risk of dying (source)
  • Getting only 5 to 6 hrs of sleep can double the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (source)
  • Sleep problems have been linked to a 5-fold rise of stroke (source)
  • Getting too little or too much sleep can raise your risk for diabetes (source)
  • People with severe sleep apnea have 3 times the risk of dying due to any cause (source)
  • A study found that individuals who slept less than 6 hours had a 41% higher cancer risk than those who slept for 6 to 8 hours (source)
  • Insomnia patients were found to be more than 5 times at risk for suicide (source)
  • Drivers who get 6 hrs of sleep or less are 33% more likely to have an accident (source)

These are numbers that should catch anyone’s attention.

And this is why getting good sleep can add years to your life.

Poor sleep can increase your risk of dying from life threatening health complications and situations whether it’s night or day

    What can I do to reduce my risk of dying while asleep?

    Don’t let all this talk about sleep and death keep you up at night.

    The good news is there’s plenty you can do to reduce your risk of early death whether it’s day or night.

    Start with improving your sleep, especially if you’re someone who struggles with getting quality sleep on an ongoing basis. (Currently, 1 in 3 individuals struggle with insomnia.)

    Make sure you’re following the rules for healthy sleep, the everyday habits that can make or break sleep:

    • keep regular wake up and sleep times
    • avoid naps
    • exercise during the day
    • avoid large meals, alcohol, or stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime
    • maintain a bedtime routine that prepares you for sleep
    • keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool
    • avoid electronics use in the bedroom
    cartoon drawing doctor showing checkup results

    See a doctor to check for underlying issues that can affect sleep and to address any life threatening health complications.

    Lastly, if this is something that has really got you feeling down or anxious, have a chat with a mental health specialist.


    Worried about dying in your sleep?, 2022, Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation’ website

    Somniphobia (Fear of Sleep), Cleveland Clinic website

    What are the Odds of Dying in Your Sleep?,

    How Do People Die In Their Sleep?, 2020,

    Narrative review of sleep and stroke. J Thorac Dis. 2020 Oct; 12(Suppl 2): S176–S190.

    Obstructive sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease in adults, 2023,

    Dead in Bed Syndrome, 2019,

    Deaths From Unintentional Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Potential for Prevention With Carbon Monoxide Detectors. JAMA. 1998;279(9):685-687.

    US has highest rate of drug overdoses, study says | CNN, 2018, National Library of Medicine website

    Odds of Dying, National Safety Council website

    Sleep regularity is a stronger predictor of mortality risk than sleep duration: A prospective cohort study. Sleep. 2024 Jan 11;47(1):

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