TECH

When You Die, Your Consciousness Knows That You're Dead

Your body is up to all sorts after you die.

19/10/2017 11:28 BST | Updated 20/10/2017 11:18 BST

No one likes to think too much about what waits for us after we die, but now a study has revealed that we might actually ‘live’ a little longer than we imagined.

This is after research showed that just because a human heart has stopped, it doesn’t mean that our consciousness necessarily ceases to exist straight away.

In fact, our brains may well be aware we have died and continue to tick over.

The study from Stony Brook University School of Medicine, New York, looked at rats whose hearts had stopped, and were medically declared dead (definition requires the heart to have died and no longer be pumping blood to the brain).

Despite this, they recorded that the rats were experiencing a surge of brain waves in the period after ECG machines showed their hearts flatline. 

There are a number of suggested explanations for this.

Dr. Sam Parnia said that although brainwaves are no longer being detected and overall brain function has halted, some brain cells can take hours to die off as the cellular processes gradually fizzle out.

Or it could be that after oxygen flow to the brain stops, calcium floods brain cells, and that could explain the electrical activity the researchers saw.

Which could go some way to explain why people have reported having near-death experiences, where they could recount conversations between doctors that happened after they were supposed to have died.

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“They’ll describe watching doctors and nurses working and they’ll describe having awareness of full conversations of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them,” Dr Parnia told Live Science

Whatever the explanation, it is clear that the body continues to do a number of things after you die, all of which are actually pretty fascinating:

1. Your Brain Continues To Work

This study isn’t the first to suggest that your brain continues to work after you die. In 2014 a team of scientists at the University of Southampton conducted one of the largest-ever medical studies, into life after death, on more than 2000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.

They also discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely - and nearly 40% of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before they were resuscitated.  

2. Your Muscles Relax

Shortly after death your body depletes its main energy source, found in a molecule known as ATP. This means that all the muscles in your body completely relax (and is often referred to as the reason why lines in your face soften and lessen wrinkles after death).

Although this does have the unwanted side effect of meaning you might spontaneously empty your bowels if they are still full. 

3. You Go Very Pale Then Discolour

After around fifteen minutes to half an hour, after you die, the lack of blood flow around your body (because the heart is no longer pumping) can result in your skin becoming very pale.

Blood that is still in the body also pools at the lowest points (because it is no longer moving) which leads to a red purple-ish discolouration to the skin that looks most similar to bruising. 

4. You Actually Might See The Light 

Whether or not you believe in the afterlife, there have been studies that show lots of people experience a set of phenomena during the period after death.

Scientists found that on average, a person experiences about four different phenomena - the most frequently reported being feeling of peacefulness (80% of participants), seeing a bright light (69%) and encountering with spirits or people (64%).

And the two most uncommon experiences were speeding thoughts (5%) and precognitive visions (4%).