I present an analysis of the relaxation rate for long-wavelength fluctuations of the order parameter in an O(N) scalar theory near the critical point. Our motivation is to model the non-equilibrium dynamics of critical fluctuations near the chiral phase transition in QCD. In the next-to-leading order in the large $N$ expansion we find a critical slowing down regime, i.e. an increasing of the relaxation time of long wavelengths fluctuations. This result suggests, for near critical systems, relevant deviations from thermal equilibrium for the distribution functions of low-energy particles and could have important phenomenological consequences in Heavy Ions Collision and in the Early Universe Cosmology.