As we die and our bodily functions slow, there are a number of things that may affect the positioning of the eyelids at death. For instance, experts at Love to Know note that our eye muscles begin to relax, which can cause one’s eyelids to fall open, only to then stiffen as we die. This may result in the eyelids staying open upon death. Weakened muscle tone and the use of certain medications may also play a role.
While rare, some studies show that opening of the eyelids may also occur in some cases of patient brain death. Researchers from a 2022 case study published in the scientific journal Clinical Neurophysiology Practice outlined the case of a 43-year-old hospitalized woman who had been ruled brain dead. However, she displayed slow, partial opening of both eyelids upon painful nipple stimulation. Thus, the brain death diagnosis was paused to evaluate for other signs of brainstem function. While the study findings ultimately deemed the patient’s eyelid opening to have been a reflex, the researchers emphasized the importance of monitoring for cerebral blood flow in the event of such a phenomenon before declaring patient brain death.