Death has always been a topic of discomfort for people, and because of that there have been many myths surrounding it. In particular, there are many misconceptions about dead bodies. Everyone has heard a great many fascinating "facts" about corpses, but many of these bits of party trivia are things that don't happen to your body when you die. These myths may be lies we tell ourselves about death in order to feel better, or just little lies meant to gross people out. However, these dead body rumors may also give the death process a bad reputation.
What really happens to your body after you die can be incredibly gruesome. The process of decomposition is a gradual and very involved one, and the animals that prey upon your body are numerous. It can even take years. But in this case, fiction is stranger than fact.
If you're looking for dead body facts, there are plenty of those elsewhere bound to make your skin crawl. But if you're looking to learn what corpse lies you've believed over the years, you've come to the right place.
Your Hair And Nails Don't Grow After Death
You've probably heard for a long time that your hair and fingernails continue to grow even after you have died. This is flatly false. For your fingernails to grow, they need new cells to be created, and the body needs glucose in order to produce cells. However, when you die, your body stops producing glucose, so your fingernails cannot possibly grow. The same issue happens with hair. Hair grows due to the burning with glucose, and again, when your heart isn't pumping oxygen to the body, cells can't be created or divided for very long. Therefore, your hair stops growing right around the time you die.
So, why are these myths still passed on? Part of it has to do with the fact that hair and fingernails do appear to grow after death. This is because the skin and flesh around hair follicles and around nails begin to recede after some time has passed. As the skin draws back, it makes it look like the nails and hair has gotten longer, even when it really hasn't.
A Dead Body Isn't Always Stiff
We've all heard the stories that dead people become stiff after death, but it's actually far more complicated than that. For one thing, rigor mortis, the process that causes your body to go stiff, doesn't set in for up to four hours after death. It can first start happening at two hours, but you won't see a dead body getting stiff until the process is in full swing. After that, rigor mortis keeps your body rigid by contracting all of your muscles. But it doesn't last forever.
Instead, eighteen hours or so later, the process of rigor mortis will actually start to reverse. The muscles will lose their tightness and your muscles will no longer contract, which allows your body to stop being so rigid. This means that, after two days or less, your body will again be floppy and relaxed the way it was right after you died. You may again get stiff much later if your body mummifies for some reason, but in general, you go from limp to stiff and then limp again after death.
Burying A Body Without A Coffin Isn't A Risk To Water
When it comes to why we are buried in caskets, there are some long-standing traditions that we still abide by, one of which is not to bury a body without a casket. One of the beliefs behind the coffin movement is the notion that a corpse buried without a coffin can contaminate groundwater.
However, simply by the nature of how and where we bury bodies, it's not really much of a problem. We only bury bodies about three or four feet below the surface, whereas groundwater flows much deeper, at seventy five feet. In between the body and the water is a whole mess of minerals and microorganisms, all of which break down chemical compounds that come from dead bodies. So, even if a dead body isn't contained in a casket, whatever fluids or toxic substances leak out will be nullified before it ever gets into the groundwater far below.
Dead Bodies Don't Sit Up In The Morgue
There have long been stories of dead bodies terrifying people in the morgue, with tales going back hundreds of years. The stories usually go that some morgue worker was toiling late at night, when suddenly the body of a recently dead person sat upright on the table and scared the heck out of him. The logic behind this is that dead bodies contain a lot of strange gases, and may have their muscles contract at times, causing them to sit bolt upright like they were still alive.
There is a little bit of logic to this story, even if it is false. After death, the body does fill with various gasses, and has to expel them in farts and even groans. Your muscles may also twitch due to the release of gas and waste caused by bacteria. Directly after death, you also may twitch for a few minutes with remaining brain electricity. Still, in order to sit up, you need a whole lot of your stomach muscles to work together, and then to hold you upright, they'd need to hold that position. Because you are not alive, you are not able to do either of these things, so you may thrash a little, but you won't be doing any post-mortem sit-ups.