The thought of people moving after they have been pronounced dead can be quite unsettling. But if you’ve ever heard stories of a body making a movement after death (or postmortem), it’s not a paranormal experience – and there’s science to prove it. Postmortem activity actually occurs because the body is still physically capable of doing a few things after passing on. Below, we even reveal 5 postmortem responses that forensic scientists have witnessed.
Postmortem Activity: What Happens to the Body when Someone Dies?
As much as we would rather avoid thinking about our mortality, once you die, your body experiences a series of smaller deaths that begin the moment your heart stops.
When your heart stops, blood flow also comes to a halt and stagnates wherever it is in your body. Without adequate blood flow, your body begins to experience algor mortis, wherein its temperature quickly drops 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit every hour until about room temperature. While this occurs, so does rigor mortis, where your body begins to stiffen. Arguably, the most fascinating part of this process occurs at a cellular level. As your cells become more and more deprived of oxygen, they begin to one by one. Scientists, however, believe this doesn’t happen immediately. Instead, brain cells can continue to ‘live’ several hours longer, suggesting that your brain can still be active, postmortem.
But, as cells do break down, they release bacteria and fungi-attracting enzymes that begin to slowly decompose your organs and flesh over the course of a year. Last to decompose, if they do, are your bones which can last decades if not centuries depending on the physical environment.
5 Surprising Postmortem Responses of a Dead Body
It certainly takes a special someone to spend their days with dead people. But, because of them, we’re privy to some of their creepily interesting postmortem experiences. So, here’s what happens when you die.
Hair & Nails
Many people often wonder: do nails continue to grow after death? Surprisingly, this is not the case, though it certainly seems that way. Two things are actually happening: 1) you lose blood flow which leads to 2) a lack of moisture in your skin, which causes it to shrink and pull back exposing more of your hair and nails. In short, it’s not more hair and nails, but less skin.
Reflexive Muscle Actions
Not too long after death, the body’s tissues live a little bit longer – this includes your muscles. The creepy thing is that they can contract, causing any one of the limbs to spasm, jerk, or twitch unexpectedly! Postmortem muscle spasms can occur almost immediately after the heart dies and up to 12 hours later, reportedly.
Pee & Poo
While other muscles are busy posthumously contracting, there are some that immediately loosen their grip entirely such as the ones that hold your sphincter closed. Have you ever laughed so hard that you’ve lost control and peed yourself a little (or a lot)? That’s what happens following death; all the muscles involved in keeping your waste inside, along with gas, release and cause it to come outside. Thank goodness for morticians.[2,3]
Of everything in your body that continues to somewhat function postmortem, cells live on the longest. Because your skin is on the outside and making contact with its surroundings, the cells actually absorb whatever they can through osmosis, which helps them live for days longer, all on their own. According to scientists, skin cells can even be harvested up to a full day after death.
Just saying the words rigor mortis sound eerie enough. But have you ever heard what rigor mortis really sounds like? Don’t worry, we don’t have any sound clips to share. But what occurs during this process is a build-up of gas in your body, including the muscles that control your vocal chords… Sometimes, this gas will prompt literal sounds from the dead like moans, groans, and even squeaks.
One nurse wrote: “Sometimes after death the body may make noises that sounds like it is breathing. I know of one instance where a resident died, was pronounced dead by the nurse, the doctor and family were notified. The staff went in to do the postmortem care – when they turned him he started ‘breathing’ again… They all freaked!”
Bonus: Coffin Birth
We won’t go into this one ourselves, but we’ve included a video where a professional delves into a few recorded cases of coffin birth! So, if you aren’t already a bit freaked by the postmortem responses above, give this video a try.
Well, there you have it – that’s what happens when you die, from fascinating to creepy and everything in between. We hope this didn’t creep you out too much!
 Edmonds, M. (2009, January 12). How Dying Works. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from https://health.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/death-dying/dying4.htm
 Scutti, S. (2014, December 15). What A Forensic Scientist Doesn’t Tell You: 7 Postmortem Responses Of A Dead Body. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from http://www.medicaldaily.com/what-forensic-scientist-doesnt-tell-you-7-postmortem-responses-dead-body-314404
 Costandi, M. (2015, May 08). Future – What happens to our bodies after we die. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150508-what-happens-after-we-die
 Death- Do you ever get used to it? (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2017, from http://allnurses.com/cna-ma-nursing/death-do-you-177080.html