You may know the legend of 11 days, 24 minutes (264.4 hours) of nonstop wakefulness as accomplished by one Randy Gardner. Even though Gardner showed signs of physical, mental, and emotional degradation and terrible sleeplessness decades later, he is still alive and well now in his 70s.
Even though Gardner survived his 11-day sleep deprivation experiment, everyone who has ever been without sleep for any length of time will attest to the fact that death feels very close.
Sleep deprivation causes a cascade of symptoms: The more sleep you owe, the worse off you’ll feel. Your mood, drive, and energy will all take a nosedive after only two nights of inadequate sleep.
After a week of inadequate rest, you may become short with others, emotional over little matters, unable to concentrate, either overeating or undereating, and relying on stimulants to get by. If you go without sleep for much longer than that, dangerous things can start to happen, such hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions.
How long can you go before your body breaks down from lack of sleep? Also, is it possible to die from going without sleep for an extended period of time? CNET went to sleep doctors for answers.
Can you die from not sleeping?
DC Metro Sleep and Psychotherapy expert Annie Miller deadpans, “There is no evidence that a lack of sleep can directly kill you.”
Sleep deprivation appears to be the cause of death in one highly rare hereditary condition. Mild insomnia is the first symptom of fatal family insomnia (FFI), which rapidly worsens until the sufferer is unable to fall or stay asleep at all. Dementia, impaired motor control, and a decline in autonomic processes including digestion and body temperature regulation are all common among people with FFI.
Miller argues, “it’s more likely that FFI patients die from neural degeneration, rather than lack of sleep,” because this is a neurodegenerative illness of the brain.
Despite the well-documented risks associated with sleep deprivation, Miller seems to urge individuals to embrace the challenge. She explains that she believes people’s inability to sleep is exacerbated by their fear of staying awake. Consider new parents. We can function on less sleep than average because of how our bodies are constructed.
Miller makes an excellent case. Even while regular chores may feel more challenging and dull, it appears that humans are quite capable during periods of complete or partial sleep deprivation. That’s what Randy Gardner would say.
The “No Sleep” Timeline
At 24 Hours
If you’ve ever stayed up all night to study for a test or put together a presentation for work, you probably wish you hadn’t put it off. You won’t be thinking as clearly after a day in which you didn’t sleep at all. In fact, your brain will function similarly to someone whose blood alcohol concentration is.10 or higher, the threshold at which driving under the influence is illegal in all 50 states of the United States.
At 36 Hours
If you stay awake for 36 hours straight, it will start to have an effect on your body. Cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and hormonal disruptions are only some of the potential outcomes of engaging in this harmful behavior repeatedly. You might forget everything that happened between this time and the next.
At 48 Hours
Two straight days of deprivation results in something called “microsleeps.” Despite the endearing tone of the name, microsleeps are anything but restful. These brief outages might last from a fraction of a second to a few minutes. You won’t be able to feel it as it’s occurring, and when you finally regain consciousness, you’ll be confused.
At 72 Hours
Microsleeps are the outcome of sleep deprivation for two days in a row. The microsleep may have a sweet sounding name, but it is anything but. These little blackouts can last from half a second to a full minute. You won’t be able to feel it when it’s happening, but when you regain consciousness, you might find yourself in a daze.
Can food and water intake have any effect on this?
If you don’t get enough shut-eye, you can find yourself craving other things. According to studies, those who don’t get enough shut-eye tend to crave more calorie-dense foods and eat more overall. However, if you eat a lot of empty calories, you may find that you have even less energy than before.
In a limited way, getting enough sleep can be made up for by eating healthily. Choose protein-rich foods like almonds and nut butters, cottage cheese, or tofu as your body is conserving energy. Steak and other fatty proteins should be avoided. They have a sedative effect.
Because sleep deprivation makes you feel groggy and less able to focus, refueling your body with water can help.
How lack of sleep can kill you
Yes, you read correctly; sleep deprivation is not fatal, with the exception of the extremely rare hereditary illness known as FFI. There is no concrete proof that people die from lack of sleep, yet sleep deprivation can (and does) lead to death.
According to Dr. Shelby Harris, a registered psychologist, board-certified behavioral sleep medicine specialist, and professor of neurology, sleep deprivation can increase the chance of death from all causes. According to her research, there are several ways in which inadequate sleep might negatively impact health.
- Immune system dysfunction
- Gaining excess fat raises the odds of developing heart disease, stroke, some malignancies, diabetes, sleep apnea, and hypertension.
- Suicide attempts are more likely, which in turn increases the chance of depression.
- The potentially suicidal state of psychosis
Both total and partial sleep deprivation greatly increase the likelihood of experiencing an accident, a fall, or an injury. Lack of sleep, for instance, makes it risky to operate heavy machinery (including automobiles).
Loss of sleep has been linked to an increased risk of death from a variety of causes. Some people have died from what appears to be sleep deprivation during video game marathons. Although tiredness had a role, autopsy showed that heart failure, a heart attack, or a stroke were more likely to be the actual causes of death.
Symptoms of severe sleep deprivation
Even though sleep deprivation won’t kill you, it can make you feel like you’re on your deathbed. You’ll likely have severe physical and mental symptoms, such as:
- Confused memory
- Inattention to routine daily activities
- Weakness in the Muscles
- Enhanced nervousness
- Delusions (believing false information)
- Accelerating heartbeat
- Can’t seem to settle on a course of action
- Inadequate responsiveness
- Confusing one’s words
- Illness, Physical (due to impaired immune function)
If you can’t fall asleep and are experiencing symptoms similar to the above, contact a doctor right away. At that moment, you shouldn’t risk getting into an accident by driving yourself to the hospital; instead, you should have someone else take you there.
Sleep Deprivation – Possible Causes & Symptoms
Get in touch with a medical professional immediately if you’re having trouble sleeping and these or similar symptoms are present. At that point, you should probably have someone else drive you to the hospital because you’re too impaired to do so safely.
Fatal Familial Insomnia
Those who suffer from fatal familial insomnia (FFI) typically pass away between the ages of 6 and 30. Extreme deprivation, as seen in FFI, causes organ failure and brain tissue deterioration. Though it belongs to the infectious disease category (in the same family as mad cow disease), casual contact or sexual activity with an afflicted person will not spread the disease. To contract FFI, one must either come into direct contact with the brain of an infected person or receive a blood transfusion from a person who already has the condition.
Sleep apnea may affect up to 22 million people in the United States. The inability to breathe normally because of a clogged airway is characteristic of this condition. If untreated, this illness can cause severe sleep deprivation because it wakes people up multiple times throughout the night. Obesity, enlarged tonsils, endocrine abnormalities, heart or renal failure, genetic disorders, and premature birth are common reasons. Your partner’s sleep may be compromised if you have this condition.
Restless Legs Syndrome
When you have restless legs syndrome (RLS), your brain sends out erratic signals that make you want to constantly change where your legs are. There is also an unpleasant tingling and twitching sensation, often referred to as “pins and needles” or a “creepy crawly.” Although middle-aged women are disproportionately affected by this condition, anyone can get the symptoms and it is thought that as much as 10% of the population has it.
Night terrors are common among kids. Night terrors, in contrast to nightmares, are more akin to hallucinations and can last anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour. The kid is conscious for the whole thing, but won’t remember a thing.
How long can you go without sleeping?
A definitive solution to the topic of how long humans can go without sleep has yet to be determined. Randy Gardner and others who have deliberately forgone sleep in pursuit of world records have shown that it is possible to survive for extended periods of time without any rest.
It is obvious that adverse consequences begin after just one day of total sleep deprivation and after a couple of nights of partial sleep deprivation, thus it is recommended to constantly aim to obtain as much sleep as possible.
Are you getting enough sleep?
The idea of “enough sleep” is very subjective, and the origins of the “8 hours is the magic number” are questionable at best. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll notice.
A well-rested individual may expect to feel alert, have a healthy appetite, and have the necessary motivation and discipline to get through the day. It’s likely that you need more sleep if you’ve been experiencing any of the following: increased irritability, cravings for unhealthy food or other appetite changes, lack of motivation, sadness or anxiety, physical weariness, or a difficulty to focus.
How much sleep do you really need?
Each individual’s recommended nightly sleep duration is different, and it changes as they get older. Credible Origin. Babies and young children require more sleep than adults do.
Daily sleep guidelines by age group are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Reliable Source).
The amount of sleep you require could also vary depending on your gender. Studies Women, according to Reliable Sources, typically require a bit more time in bed than men do, though the reasons for this are not fully understood.
The quality of your sleep is crucial. Visit a physician if you have sleep issues.
General sleep hygiene tips
When it comes to sleep, quality is just as important as quantity. Improve the quality of your sleep by adopting appropriate sleep hygiene practices. A better night’s sleep and more energy during the day are both possible outcomes of practicing better sleep hygiene.
Guidelines for better rest include:
- Following a regular routine of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (weekdays, weekends included).
- Eliminating all forms of electronic stimulation from the sleeping area (phones, computers, TVs, etc.)
- Maintain a cool and dark bedroom
- Sleep better with caffeine and nicotine late in the day.
- Relaxing methods, like a warm bath, a good book, or breathing exercises, are great ways to wind down before bed.
- Performing regular physical activity but avoiding strenuous activities within six hours of bedtime
- Try not to eat too close to bedtime
- Keeping nap times to fewer than 20 minutes during the day
Can you die from lack of sleep?
Even if death is unlikely if you don’t get enough sleep, your body will eventually break down and die. Organs shut down and brain tissue degenerates after several days without sleep. In addition, sleep deprivation impairs one’s ability to make sound decisions and remain awake, increasing the likelihood that a tragic mistake will be made or an accident will occur.
How long will it take before you start hallucinating?
However, on average, after 72 hours of sleep deprivation, most people begin to experience hallucinations.
Attempting to deceive your body into remaining awake may seem appealing. If you were to sleep less or not at all, how much more could you get done? Scientific evidence suggests that going without sleep, especially for extended periods of time, is harmful. Polyphasic sleep, in which you nap for short bursts during a 24-hour period, is an option to consider if you discover that you need more time in the day and truly want to minimize the amount of time you spend in bed. Productivity and total time awake have both been shown to rise with this strategy, albeit its long-term safety is questionable.
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