Yet again science dispels another myth of the supernatural .
People who have out-of-body experiences are more likely to suffer a strange effect called sleep paralysis, according to a survey that adds to mounting evidence for a biological explanation for the experience , rather than anything to do with a spiritual dimension, a glimpse of heaven or the existence of the soul.
The details of sleep paralysis vary from person to person. Some hear vague sounds, indistinct voices and demonic gibberish. Others see hallucinations of humans, animals and supernatural creatures. There is a striking inability to move or to speak, or a weight on the chest.
Also common are feelings of rising off the bed or flying. In addition, people report out-of-body experiences, sometimes accompanied by "autoscopy" when they look down on themselves. Throughout history, there have also been accounts of people having visions on the brink of death - what are now called "near-death experiences".
People who have had near-death experiences are also likely to have suffered sleep paralysis, according to the survey published by a team in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, by Prof Kevin Nelson, from the University of Kentucky, Lexington.
In a survey of 55 people who had a "near-death experience" - defined as a time during a life-threatening episode when a person experienced a variety of feelings, including unusual alertness, seeing an intense light, and a feeling of peace - he found three quarters had an out-of-body experience and half of them had also felt they had left their body during the transition between wakefulness and sleep.
"We found that 96 per cent (24 of 25) of near-death subjects having sleep paralysis also had an out-of-body experience either during sleep transition or near-death," said Prof Nelson.
In a control group of 55 people, three reported an out-of-body experience. Two of them also suffered sleep paralysis. Prof Nelson says this suggests the same brain circuitry plays a role.