What happens if you don’t sleep? More precisely, what happens to our minds and our bodies when we decide not to sleep? Our research tells us that it’s far from healthy to deny our bodies much-needed sleep.
We’ve created a sleep deprivation timeline based on scientific studies and personal accounts of those who pushed the limits of sleeplessness. Check out the infographic below to see what typically happens to one’s body after hours, days, and even weeks of no sleep. Then keep scrolling to learn more about what happens if you deprive yourself of that all-important shut-eye. We have a feeling you’ll be heading to your bed for a nap in no time.
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Can I Die From A Lack Of Sleep?
Theoretically yes, sleep deprivation could kill you. That being said, you’re far more likely to die from an accident, stroke, or heart attack first, all of which become increasingly likely the longer you stay awake. For example, Chinese individuals staying up for days to watch soccer have died from complications that arose due to lack of sleep. Because of immune suppression, it’s also likely that one would die from a disease first.
Could one die due to lack of sleep alone, in a completely controlled environment? Those with the rare and terrifying disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia typically die within a few months of onset, despite controlled environments or even attempts to force them into a coma.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Here’s a general breakdown of what happens when you go for a while without sleep:
- As soon as you miss even an hour or two of sleep, you’ve already markedly increased your risk of heart attack and stroke.
- As you go from missing a few hours to nearly a day, several things happen in sleep-deprivation stages. Right away, a lack of hand-eye coordination, decreased learning, poor mood, and impaired judgment will occur.
- As the lack of sleep continues, more physiological problems emerge, including hormone swings, immune system suppression, and increased blood pressure.
If you’re wondering, “How many hours without sleep do I need before I start to see these changes?” it really depends on the physiology of the person. But for some people, even a few lost hours can cause massive changes in basic hormone functions, which affects numerous bodily systems.
What Happens If You Go 24 Hours Without Sleep?
Is staying awake for 24 hours bad? Unequivocally, yes: 24 hours of no sleep is particularly bad, with effects ranging from mild symptoms to severe ones. Not sleeping for a whole day creates a list of problems including:
- An overall cognitive impairment that resembles someone with a BAC of 0.1%.
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased cortisol (which causes its own host of problems)
- Increased thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
- Increased cytokines (which cause inflammation) and a suppressed immune system.
- An overall dampening of all brain cell activity (almost like all of your neurons have slowed down)
What Happens If You Don’t Sleep For Days?
- At 36 hours without sleep, you’ll see a lack of long-term memory creation. Some people, like soldiers, have even experienced whole days going missing from their memories. You’ll also see a more frequent triggering of the flight-or-fight response to stimuli.
- At 48 hours without sleep, or two days, you’ll start to experience microsleeps (if you haven’t already), along with decreased insulin and several forms of ataxia, such as slurred speech.
- At 72 hours without sleep, researchers have observed hallucinations, a lack of memory, light sensitivity, and increased intensity of previous symptoms, such as emotional moodiness. After three days without sleep, most people’s need to sleep will outweigh their need to eat.
What Happens If You Don’t Sleep For A Week?
In addition to an overall lack of ability to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes, researchers who have gone without sleep have had very extreme experiences around Day 4 and Day 5 of not sleeping. These include bouts of unpleasant hallucinations, paranoia, and even doubts about their own realities.
Radio DJ Peter Tripp’s sleep deprivation “publicity stunt” was broadcast live on the air. Tripp tried to stay awake for 200 hours, airing his show during that time. Around 120 hours in it was reported that he started hallucinating. In one instance, he believed a scientist was an undertaker and ran away from him.
How Long Has Anyone Gone Without Sleep Willingly?
Throughout history, several people have attempted to see how long they can go without sleep. Willing researchers and participants include Randy Gardner, who stayed awake for 264 hours, or 11 days. Toimi Soini, the official Guinness record-holder for going without sleep, stayed awake for 276 hours, or 11 and a half days, and the unofficial case of Maureen Weston, who reportedly stayed awake for 499 hours, or nearly 19 days.
How Long Can You Go Without Sleep Before You Die?
University of Chicago researcher Allan Rechtschaffen tried to determine how long you can go without sleep before you die. He conducted experiments on rats, but after 32 days, all of his rats were dead.
Based on limited research, it seems that the willpower to willingly go without sleep dissolves after about 11 days. However, people forced to live without sleep may survive anywhere between three and six months. It’s likely they would die of complications due to lack of sleep before then.
Has Anyone Died From Sleep Deprivation?
Yes. Michael Corke is one of the most famous cases of Fatal Familial Insomnia, which stems from an extremely rare genetic mutation. Corke’s mind couldn’t shut down even despite doctors attempting to put him into a coma. He died in 1993 after going without sleep for six months.
Do You Really Need 8 Hours Of Sleep Each Night?
From microsleeps to hallucinations to increased risks of potentially fatal issues such as heart attacks and strokes, a lack of sleep can cause severe bodily harm. For some people, just missing a few hours of sleep can cause a slew of problems, from a higher risk of diabetes and obesity to depression and drowsy driving.
It’s definitely important to get at least seven to eight hours for adults, eight to 10 hours for teenagers, or seven hours for the elderly, according to the CDC. It’s vital for your overall health to get good and consistent sleep, not only because of the potential dangers but also because those who have better sleep typically experience more positive reactions, faster learning and behavioral function, and better emotional health, as well as better health in general.
If you need help getting a better night’s sleep, consider looking into a new mattress. Mattress Clarity does more than just review mattresses, we’ll also help you pick the best pillow for you or best comforter and mattress topper, as well. that can help you make a purchase that will lead to more shuteye. One last note: Guinness no longer recognizes sleepless stunts for their records due to the health risks, so we should take sleeplessness seriously, too!
Joe Auer is the editor of Mattress Clarity. He mainly focuses on mattress reviews and oversees the content across the site.
He likes things simple and take a straightforward, objective approach to his reviews. Joe has personally tested nearly 250 mattresses and always recommends people do their research before buying a new bed. He has been testing mattresses for over 5 years now, so he knows a thing or two when it comes to mattress selection. He has been cited as an authority in the industry by a number of large publications.
Joe has an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and an MBA from Columbia University.