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7 Misconceptions About What Happens to Your Body After You Die

Yes, you will get rigor mortis. No, your hair and fingernails will not keep growing.

Though we might think we know what happens to our bodies when we die, most of us actually have no clue. If you’re like most people, your conceptions of what it’s like to die are probably based on prime-time hospital dramas, where all you have to do is lie down in a hospital bed and calmly close your eyes before a heart rate monitor goes berserk.

In reality, dying rarely happens the way it's portrayed on TV and in the movies. Though it might be a tad morbid (but also totally fascinating) to think about, here are seven common misconceptions about what happens to your body after you die.

1. Your Hair and Nails Keep Growing

If you actually stop and think about this one for a second, it’s obvious it’s a myth. There’s a reason why mummies don’t look like rock stars after they’re exhumed. Once you’re dead, your hair and nails stop growing.

But there’s something true behind the myth. Our skin becomes dehydrated after death, causing it to contract. This, in turn, exposes more of the hair follicles and nail cuticles, thereby making them appear to have “grown.”

2. All Your Organs Stop At The Same Time

When your heart stops beating, you may be clinically dead, but that doesn’t mean certain parts of your body won’t live on for hours or even days to come. For instance, the eyes, bone marrow, and even the heart valves may stay alive.

Another long-living organ is the skin. Skin has the advantage of being on the outside of the body, which means it can absorb whatever it can from the air in order to stay alive. Skin cells can stay alive for days after the heart has stopped.

3. You Won’t Get an Erection

After death, blood pools in certain areas. This blood still contains oxygen, and naturally, it keeps feeding nearby cells even though they’re in the process of dying. In addition, following death, cell membranes allow more calcium to pass, activating the muscle cells.

While this process ultimately leads to rigor mortis, in the short-term it can make your muscles contract. In men, this could mean a post-mortem erection and possibly even ejaculation. You’ve been warned.

4. You Won’t Make Any Weird Sounds

Our bodies can, in fact, make sounds after death — a freaky effect which has likely frightened many a morgue employee. After death, rigor mortis and gas buildup can lead to moans, groans, and even squeaks from dead bodies.

5. You’ll Be Still

Your tissues continue to “live” after the heart has stopped. In many cases, this causes reflexive actions, including twitching, flexing, and muscle spasms for up to 12 hours after the heart has stopped.

6. You’ll Look Peaceful

You might be at peace, but that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily look peaceful. Contrary to popular belief, you can die with your mouth hanging open.

There is, however, one advantage to dying, and that’s that your skin slackens and your wrinkles disappear. Your skin may be saggy, but you can say goodbye to that scrunched forehead.

7. Rigor Mortis Sets in Right Away

Rigor mortis doesn’t set in until a few hours after your heart has stopped beating. Usually, this process begins with the muscles in the eyelids and neck, followed by the rest of the body. This stiffening process is caused by the depletion of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a chemical substance responsible for relaxing the muscle fibers following contraction.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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