If You Die In Your Dream, Do You Die In Real Life?

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Let’s face it: dreams are super weird. Sometimes they’re stupid and silly, sometimes they’re absolutely terrifying, sometimes they seem downright supernatural, but they can almost always be loosely categorized as “weird.” It’s almost like the uncanny valley effect of something like The Polar Express – you know that conductor is Tom Hanks, but it’s not really him, and he kind of makes you sick to look at. Even if you enjoy the movie, you come away feeling a little woozy and a bit unsettled.

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The same goes for dreams, at least in my experience. My dreams are generally very vivid, detailed, and “realistic,” even when the subject matter is absolute nonsense. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been several hours into my workday when I suddenly realize that the concerns my bulldog told me in confidence over a cup of coffee didn’t actually occur. No matter how absurd the details, the dreams always feel like real life to me, but I tend to wake up feeling out of place and unsettled until I can determine that what occurred was indeed a dream. 

So now that we’ve taken a detour into my personal problems, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this discussion: can you die in your dreams, and what happens if you do?

Can You Die In Your Dreams?

It’s always been a shock when I’ve heard people saying things like “I haven’t had a dream in years,” or “I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream.” For a long time, I assumed these people were just trying to be contrarians, but it looks like there are a decent number of people who fall into this camp (or at least pretend to). Discover Magazine says that about 6.5% of people surveyed say they “never” dream (but have some memories of dreams here and there), while about .4% of respondents claim to have never dreamed at all. I have to assume these are very boring people who generally lack creativity in their waking hours, but I’m no doctor. 

With this basic background, the sincerity behind what (to me) feels like a ridiculous question seems a little more plausible: can you die in your dreams? If you never dream, I could see this being something worth consideration – dreams are super weird even to those of us who dream constantly, but imagine how much crazier they must seem to someone who never does. 

If you’re so inexperienced in dreaming to ask the first question, there’s a fairly obvious follow up query:

Does Dying In Your Dream Mean You Die In Real Life?

If I never dreamed, this concern would ensure I never did. Afterall, it’s hard to drift into dreamland when you’re too scared to close your eyes at night. 

Imagine you’re one of those who never dreams, and you finally break through: you’re seeing a world akin to Willy Wonka’s factory (the nice parts, not the tunnel), when suddenly things take a turn. The marshmallow clouded sky opens like a zipper, and suddenly giant scorpions are dive bombing you as you try to run (but your legs aren’t moving). You look down and notice one of the scorpions is on your shirt – it looks up at you with the face of your highschool gym teacher, before delivering the mortal sting to your heart. You die in your dream, and you never wake up in real life to tell the story. 

Phew! Let’s get back on track!

The Truth About Dream Dying

Here’s the good(ish) news: I’ve died countless times in my dreams, and I’m still alive enough to write this article. In fact, most of the time my dream death doesn’t even signal the end of that dream – sometimes I mysteriously come back to life (just to die again later), sometimes I die and now am dreaming as a completely different person, and sometimes I see my own dead body in the dream and keep soldiering on as my spirit self. In all cases (so far), I’ve eventually woken up and kept living my regular everyday life

But there’s the rub: “so far.” Unfortunately, there’s no one living who can tell you what dreams look like at the moment of your actual death. For people who die in their sleep, is a death dream a prerequisite for passage into the afterlife? Might I one day be enjoying what I think is a dream I’ll awaken from only to find my dream death does me in for good? The world may never know. 

With that said, if I ever do actually die from a dream death, I’ll do my best to haunt ChatGPT and churn out an article about the experience.