Human brain may stay active for hours after death

One question that has baffled mankind is “after-death experience” or the experience after the heart stops beating. There have been anecdotal reports of a person being able to understand and hear what is happening around them even after they have been declared dead. A team of researchers have found that the brain works for a while after the heart has stopped. The research is reported in an a journal paper titled, 'AWARE—AWAreness during REsuscitation—A prospective study.'

The team of scientists from New York’s Stony Brook University of Medicine, looked at patients with cardiac arrests in Europe and the US. They noted that those of the patients who were successfully resuscitated after their heart had stopped beating could recall the conversations around them between the healthcare personnel and were aware of their surroundings.

Image Credit: Triff / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Triff / Shutterstock

Study leader Dr. Sam Parnia said that the patients could describe in details what happened around them. He explained that the time death is declared is the one when the heart stops beating. As the heart stops beating, it stops pumping blood to the brain and slowly the brain begins to shut down, he explains. He added that this process of the brain shutting down slowly may take hours and the person may be dead during this time but aware of their surroundings.

The team hopes that this study would help in the management of cardiac arrests and also prevent brain damage during resuscitation of such patients. Dr. Parnia said, “At the same time, we also study the human mind and consciousness in the context of death, to understand whether consciousness becomes annihilated or whether it continues after you've died for some period of time — and how that relates to what's happening inside the brain in real time.”

What this study means is that people are trapped inside their dead bodies for a while after they are declared dead. According to Parnia, people change after they have had an “after-death” experience. Parnia warned that unlike the Hollywood movie “Flatliners” people who return from this experience do not come with extra visions or memories. The science fiction movie showed a group of medical students who simulated a near death experience experiments to find themselves with visions and memories from the past.

He explained that the thinking region of the brain or the cerebral cortex slows down and flat lines but the brain cells are still active. When CPR is given the heart is started again and so does the brain function. He said, “If you manage to restart the heart, which is what CPR attempts to do, you'll gradually start to get the brain functioning again. The longer you're doing CPR, those brain cell death pathways are still happening — they're just happening at a slightly slower rate. What tends to happen is that people who've had these very profound experiences may come back positively transformed. They become more altruistic, more engaged with helping others. They find a new meaning to life having had an encounter with death. But there isn't like a sudden magical enhancement of their memories. That's just Hollywood jazz.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Mandal, Ananya. (2019, June 20). Human brain may stay active for hours after death. News-Medical. Retrieved on July 16, 2024 from

  • MLA

    Mandal, Ananya. "Human brain may stay active for hours after death". News-Medical. 16 July 2024. <>.

  • Chicago

    Mandal, Ananya. "Human brain may stay active for hours after death". News-Medical. (accessed July 16, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Mandal, Ananya. 2019. Human brain may stay active for hours after death. News-Medical, viewed 16 July 2024,


  1. Guruprasad Panamalai Guruprasad Panamalai India says:

    If there is gasping due to respiratory or cardiac arrest, will the dying person be conscious even after gasping stops?

  2. Dennis Petersson Dennis Petersson Sweden says:

    First of all ndes cant be simulated, just very vague, Not even close to the real deal. Thats like saying a dentist and a restaurant is the same thing because both have windows and a door. Not even close. Secondly blind people from birth and even deaf people can see and hear conversdation they otherwise couldint. Drugs have been given to blind people and they experience noting. Yet they have a full blown NDE when they flatline.

  3. Sam Carpenter Sam Carpenter Thailand says:

    It's interesting. I have done yogic things for a long time and had several notable experieces: firstly I experienced my mind absolutely in sync with my dog for a brief moment. Anotherwords, you could say I was in the dogs mind or vice versa--I experienced her joy with the food I was briging. I also experienced a persons body of some sort, in mine. It wasn't a psychical but it was some aspect. Prior to these events, which happened around the same time, I had a feeling of being emotionally lost in my life, like confused about what I was doing and who I was. I feel my mind was experiencing a "non-attachment" to itself, and somehow released itself from it's normal parameters. There is plenty more but that is most pertinent. I think these dead people--their minds may be essentially in a spiritual state that is unsure about the next step. The body is dead but the mind is witnessing this totally conscious. I have had this experience in sleep--my mind totally awake but body sleeping. Yogic. In this state the mind of a dead person only has to will to leave, until then it is in it's body. But then again the spirit stays around the remains, which is why grave sites are considered sacred. My sister's ashes buried outside churcho--I heard her voice once when I attended a service there. Her spirit is still around it's remains. I'll take a sea burial  I like the fish and scuba diving.

  4. Bernardo Bernardo Portugal says:

    Sam Parnia’s article doesn’t say brain activity continues after hours but sure let’s twist his words to gain some views.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.

You might also like...
Blood cancer drug could help improve the efficiency of radiotherapy in meningiomas