Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
September 15, 2023 ·  2 min read

Are You Still Conscious After You Die? Researchers Weigh In

A story is doing the rounds at the moment that your brain keeps working after you die. But what’s really going on, and is it true?

A few outlets seemed to have picked up on a story that originated in 2016, where researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK studied about 2,000 cardiac arrest patients over four years. They published their findings in the journal Resuscitation.

Of the 2,060 people studied, 330 survived the event, and 140 were able to describe some parts of what happened. According to the researchers, 39 percent of these had some recollection of the period before their hearts started beating again when they were resuscitated.

This suggested people had mental activity during a cardiac arrest, but many lost these memories after they recovered. Some said they remembered feeling peaceful, or that time slowed or sped up. Some of them also reported having out-of-body experiences.

“We know the brain can’t function when the heart has stopped beating,” Dr Sam Parnia, who led the study and is now at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York, told the National Post.

“But in this case conscious awareness appears to have continued for up to three minutes into the period when the heart wasn’t beating, even though the brain typically shuts down within 20-30 seconds after the heart has stopped.”

Speaking to Live Science last year, Dr Parnia said that people in the first phase of death can still experience some consciousness. There was also some evidence to suggest people could remember events.

“They’ll describe watching doctors and nurses working; they’ll describe having awareness of full conversations, of visual things that were going on, that would otherwise not be known to them,” he said.

A separate study last year, meanwhile, suggested that brain activity could continue 10 minutes after death, although the causes of this weren’t known. Other studies have shown that many genes in our body can continue functioning days after death.

But are you really still conscious after your heart stops beating and your brain stops functioning? Well, the jury is still out on that one. There are plenty of unknowns to study first, and exactly what happens to the brain at the point of death remains a bit of a mystery. There is evidence to suggest, though, that perhaps our brains don’t completely shut down as quickly as we thought.