Life after death? Awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely, according to the largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences.
Scientists at the University of Southampton spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.
Nearly 40% of people who survived described some kind of 'awareness' during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted. One man even recalled leaving his body entirely and watching his resuscitation from the corner of the room, researchers said.
Despite being unconscious and 'dead' for three minutes, the 57-year-old social worker from Southampton, recounted the actions of the nursing staff in detail and described the sound of the machines, 'The Telegraph' reported. "We know the brain can't function when the heart has stopped beating," said Dr Sam Parnia, a former research fellow at Southampton University, now at the State University of New York, who led the study.
"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. "The man described everything that had happened in the room, but importantly, he heard two bleeps from a machine that makes a noise at three minute intervals. So we could time how long the experienced lasted for.
"He seemed very credible and everything that he said had happened to him had actually happened," Parnia said. Of 2,060 cardiac arrest patients studied, 330 survived and 140 said they had experienced some kind of awareness while being resuscitated. One in five said they had felt an unusual sense of peacefulness while nearly one third said time had slowed down or speeded up.
Some recalled seeing a bright light; a golden flash or the Sun shining. Others recounted feelings of fear or drowning or being dragged through deep water. Parnia believes many more people may have experiences when they are close to death but drugs or sedatives used in the process of resuscitation may stop them remembering. The study was published in the journal Resuscitation.