This hasn't happened in a very long time, and I'm thankful for that. I was reminded of it this morning as I lied in bed with my pillow over my face.
When I was younger, I'd wake up in the middle of the night in a panic. Somehow, in between dream and consciousness, I'd feel myself suffocating. It wasn't ever something dramatic. It was a slow excruciating reminder that I was running out of air. Every single time I inhaled, it became harder and harder to breathe. I'd tell myself, "All you have to do is take your right hand and move the blanket off of your face." But I couldn't move. I felt lazy. Paralyzed. I'd give myself a pep talk. "Ok, the next time you inhale, take your right hand and move the blanket past your chin, or you're gonna fucking die a virgin!" Nothing.
Death suddenly felt imminent. I couldn't wake up to actually stop this. I couldn't even move my arms. Each breath was measured, and I began to imagine myself in a small container floating to the bottom of the sea.
Just as I feel like there's only enough air for three more breaths, I manage to wiggle from under the blanket. The cold air of night hugs my face, and I breathe the way I imagine a newborn baby breathes after escaping the womb.
It wasn't till years later that I built up the courage to actually ask friends/family/coworkers if that has ever happened to them. A lot of people knew exactly what I was talking about. Some looked at me crazy.
I'm convinced this is how some people die in their sleep.