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What to Do When Someone Dies in Their Sleep

Losing a loved one is always difficult, but it can be especially shocking and overwhelming when someone dies unexpectedly in their home. There are tons of questions you may not know the answer to. Who do you call when someone dies in their sleep? Should you call 911 or someone else? Knowing what to do after such an event can feel like a daunting task, as you grapple with the emotional impact of the sudden loss while navigating unfamiliar procedures.

This article explores what happens when someone dies unexpectedly at home and provides practical guidance on how to handle the situation. By understanding these steps, you can prepare yourself for the days that follow so that your focus remains on honoring your loved one's memory in whatever way feels right for you.

Frequently asked questions

Below are some frequently asked questions when it comes to what happens when someone dies in their sleep.

What happens when you die in your sleep from a heart attack?

When someone dies in their sleep from a heart attack, it means that their heart has stopped beating due to a blockage or rupture of one of the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle. The following are some of the things that happen when a person dies in their sleep from a heart attack:

  1. The heart stops beating: The most obvious thing that happens when someone dies from a heart attack is that their heart stops beating, and blood flow to the body and brain stops.
  2. Breathing stops: As the heart stops beating, the person's breathing will also stop.
  3. Brain function declines: Without oxygen-rich blood flowing to the brain, brain function will begin to decline rapidly.
  4. Loss of consciousness: As the brain function declines, the person will lose consciousness and become unresponsive.
  5. Death: If the person does not receive immediate medical attention, they will die.

If someone dies in their sleep from a heart attack, it may be difficult to determine the exact cause of death without a thorough medical examination, including an autopsy. It is important to note that not all deaths that occur during sleep are due to heart attacks, and some may be caused by other health conditions or factors.

What causes someone to die in their sleep?

There are various reasons why someone might die in their sleep. Some possible causes include heart-related conditions such as arrhythmias, heart attacks, and heart failure. Breathing problems during sleep, such as sleep apnea, can also be a contributing factor. Additionally, neurological conditions such as stroke, seizures, and brain tumors can cause sudden death during sleep. Certain medications and drug or alcohol use can also increase the risk of death during sleep. It's important to note that sometimes the exact cause of death in these cases may be unknown or undetermined without an autopsy.

How many people die in their sleep?

The number of people who die in their sleep each year can vary depending on factors such as age, health status, and geographic location. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States in 2019, there were approximately 1.16 million deaths attributed to natural causes. Of those deaths, it is estimated that approximately 30% occurred during sleep. This means that around 348,000 people died in their sleep in the US in 2019. It is important to note that not all deaths that occur during sleep are classified as natural causes, and some may be due to accidents, suicides, or other non-natural causes.

When someone dies at home, who takes the body?

When someone dies at home, the body is typically taken by a funeral home . In some cases, the family of the deceased will have a pre-existing relationship with a funeral home, and they will contact them to make arrangements for the body. If the family does not have a pre-existing relationship with a funeral home or mortuary, they can contact one for assistance.

Once the funeral home or mortuary is contacted, they will typically send a representative to the home to take custody of the body. They will transport the body to their facility, where they will prepare it for burial or cremation according to the wishes of the deceased and their family.

In some cases, if the death is sudden or unexpected, the authorities may need to be notified. Depending on the circumstances, this may involve calling emergency services or the local police department. The authorities will then work with the family and the funeral home or mortuary to ensure that the body is transported and cared for appropriately.

What to do when someone dies in their sleep

Below are the steps you’ll need to take when someone passes away in their sleep. Before tackling these steps, it can help to pause and take a moment to breathe and know that this is a challenging, but doable situation.

Step 1: Call for help

Who do you call when someone dies of natural causes at home? The answer to this question depends on whether or not your loved one was in hospice at the time of passing. If your loved one passed away and was in hospice, you should call the hospice and inform them of the passing. Once hospice is informed of the passing, they will help you take the necessary steps to move forward. If your loved one was not in hospice, you should call 911. When emergency services arrive, they will assess the situation and declare the death, if appropriate.

One thing to note is whether or not the deceased had a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) order in place. If they did, then emergency services will not attempt to resuscitate them and instead declare the death. If there is no DNR order in place, then the situation may take longer, as emergency services will first try to revive the individual before declaring the death.

After you've notified either the hospice or emergency services, it can be incredibly helpful to call a loved one for support and assistance. This person can help you manage any practical tasks that need to be handled and can provide emotional support.

Step 2: Notify family and friends

Once you've called for help, the next step is to notify family and friends of the passing. You should generally aim to notify close loved ones of the passing either in-person or by phone, especially if the passing was unexpected. Other family members and friends can be notified by email, text, or a phone call.

You may also later need to notify others of the passing, such as government agencies, employers, insurance, and other institutions, but for the moment notifying close family members is the focus.

Setting up a memorial website is an easy way to notify a broader group of friends and family. Memorial websites on Ever Loved are free, easy to use, and quick to set up.

Create a memorial website

Step 3: Contact the funeral home

The next step is to contact a funeral home. If your loved one had pre-arranged funeral plans, you'll need to contact the funeral home they had chosen. If they had no pre-arranged plans, you may need to research several funeral homes to determine which one is best suited for your needs.

When someone dies in their sleep, a funeral home can play an important role in providing support and assistance to the family of the deceased. The funeral home can help the family navigate the process of planning a funeral or memorial service and can provide a range of tasks to ensure that the events meets the wishes of the deceased and their family.

The funeral home may provide the following services:

  • Transportation of the body: The funeral home will transport the body of the deceased from the place of death to the funeral home or mortuary.
  • Preparation of the body: The funeral home will prepare the body for burial or cremation, which may include embalming or other forms of body preservation.
  • Casket or urn selection: The funeral home will help the family select a casket or urn that meets their needs and budget. You can also save money by finding funeral products online.
  • Funeral planning: The funeral home will assist the family in planning the funeral or memorial service, which may include selecting music, readings, and other elements of the service.
  • Legal and administrative services: The funeral home will help the family with the necessary legal and administrative tasks, such as obtaining death certificates and permits.
  • Grief support: The funeral home may provide grief support services to help the family cope with their loss.

To plan a funeral or memorial service, the family of the deceased can follow these steps:

  1. Determine the wishes of the deceased: If the deceased had expressed any wishes about their funeral or memorial service, the family should honor those wishes to the extent possible.
  2. Choose a location: The family should choose a location for the service, such as a funeral home, place of worship, or other location that is meaningful to the family and the deceased.
  3. Select a date and time: The family should choose a date and time for the service that allows for family and friends to attend.
  4. Choose elements of the service: The family should choose elements of the service, such as music, readings, and speakers.
  5. Notify family and friends: The family should notify family and friends of the service and provide details about the date, time, and location.

Planning a funeral or memorial service can be a difficult and emotional process, but the funeral home can provide valuable support and guidance to help the family honor the memory of their loved one.

Find a funeral home

Step 4: Start the process of obtaining a death certificate

Obtaining a death certificate is an important step when someone dies in their sleep. A death certificate is a legal document that records the details of a person's death, including the cause of death, and is used to officially register the death with the government.

There are several reasons why obtaining a death certificate is important. First, it serves as a legal record of the death, which may be necessary for settling the deceased person's estate, accessing benefits or insurance, and obtaining a burial or cremation permit. Second, it can provide closure and peace of mind to the family and loved ones of the deceased. It should be noted that usually, the funeral home you’re working with will handle this for the family.

To obtain a death certificate, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Contact the vital records office: The vital records office is the government agency responsible for issuing death certificates. The office is typically located in the state or county where the death occurred.
  2. Provide required information: To obtain a death certificate, the requester will need to provide certain information about the deceased, such as their full name, date of birth, and date of death.
  3. Provide proof of identity: The requester will also need to provide proof of their identity, such as a driver's license or passport.
  4. Pay the fee: There is typically a fee associated with obtaining a death certificate, which varies by jurisdiction.
  5. Wait for processing: The processing time for obtaining a death certificate can vary by jurisdiction, but it typically takes a few weeks to receive the certificate.

It is important to note that the process for obtaining a death certificate may vary by jurisdiction, and some states may require additional documentation or steps to be taken.

Step 5: Set up a support system

Losing a loved one who dies in their sleep can be a devastating experience, and coping with grief can be a challenging process. Grief is a normal and natural response to loss and can include a range of emotions, such as sadness, anger, guilt, and confusion. While everyone experiences grief differently, there are generally recognized stages of grief that people may go through (though these stages are general feelings associated with grief, not exact steps to get through grief).

The stages of grief, as defined by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, are:

  • Denial: This is the initial stage of grief, where the individual may struggle to accept the reality of the loss.
  • Anger: The individual may feel angry or resentful about the loss, and may direct their anger towards others or themselves.
  • Bargaining: The individual may attempt to bargain with a higher power or try to negotiate the circumstances of the loss.
  • Depression: This stage of grief is marked by feelings of sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness.
  • Acceptance: The final stage of grief involves accepting the reality of the loss and moving forward.

Coping with grief can be a challenging process and finding someone dead at home can be traumatic, but there are strategies that can help individuals navigate their lives after experiencing a loss. Some of these strategies include:

  • Allowing oneself to grieve: It is important to give oneself permission to experience and express the emotions that come with grief.
  • Seeking support: Talking to family and friends, joining support groups, and seeking professional counseling can help individuals cope with their grief.
  • Taking care of oneself: Engaging in activities that promote self-care, such as exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough rest, can help individuals manage their grief.
  • Remembering the deceased: Honoring the memory of the deceased through rituals, traditions, or other activities can be a meaningful way to cope with grief. You can also set up a memorial website for free as a place to honor their memory, collect photos and condolences, raise funds, and share event information.

Overall, coping with grief is a unique and personal process, and individuals should take the time to find the strategies that work best for them. Seeking support and engaging in self-care can help individuals navigate the stages of grief and move towards healing and acceptance.

While this article explored the core steps for what to do when someone dies at home at night, there are many tasks that have to be handled after someone has passed away. You can use Ever Loved's free checklist for help with navigating these tasks and for keeping everything in one place.

Use the checklist

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Last updated February 23, 2023
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