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How Long Can You Go Without Sleep? And What Are The Consequences

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Ever wondered how long you can go without sleep? For many different reasons, everyone’s had sleepless nights: a baby who doesn't sleep through the night, temporary insomnia, a late night, etc. 

And as you may know, each person reacts differently to sleep deprivation. While some will be very alert after only a few hours of sleep, others will take several days to catch up on missed sleep. 

Woman covering the lower part of her face with her blanket.

How Much Time Without Sleep Can the Human Body Actually Tolerate?

The all-time world record—and still unmatched—is held by one Randy Gardner (a high-school student at the time) who, in 1965, at the age of 17, stayed awake for 264 hours, or 11 days! 

But Gardner was not alone. This sleep deprivation experiment was closely followed by Dr. William C. Dement and monitored by Lt. Cmdr. John J. Ross.

After completing the experiment, Gardner slept for 14 hours straight the first night (14 hours and 40 minutes exactly), and 10 ½ hours the second night. Although he first said he fully recovered from his lack of sleep after those nights, he later confessed to having serious insomnia problems, even years after the experience.

Staying Awake For Too Long is Harmful to Your Body

But staying awake for a long period of time can be very harmful to your body. Things change quickly, physically and psychologically, and sleep deprivation consequences start to show.

Here are some examples of the consequences you can experiment:

  • Mood disorders develop quickly after several hours without sleep (your friends and family may be able to attest to this!);
  • Your blood pressure and cortisol (the stress hormone) levels skyrocket;
  • You can start to hallucinate, become paranoiac, and have memory deficits;
  • Your metabolism gets all messed-up.

Don't worry: this doesn’t happen all at once, after just one short night.  But if you voluntarily don’t sleep for one or multiple day(s), your body will react (and mostly negatively).

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation 

Wondering what happens if you don't sleep for multiple days? Let’s see what are the consequences, starting with 24 hours without sleep.

24 Hours Without Sleep

It is not unlikely that a few times in your life, you won’t have the possibility to sleep for a full day and night. Maybe you already have, and perfectly know what it does feel to stay awake that long.

It happens to a lot of people. Maybe you had to study for a test, you partied for too long, or had to take care of a sick child.

While staying awake for 24 hours doesn’t represent a risk for your life, you can still feel some or all of the effects mentioned below: 

  • Sluggishness;
  • Anxiety;
  • Bad decision-making;
  • Hallucinations;
  • Memory deficits;
  • Vision and hearing impairments;
  • Reduced coordination;
  • An increase in muscle tension;
  • Unsteadiness.

If you didn’t know, staying awake for 24 hours can be compared to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0,10g per liter. This is the equivalent of having 2 pints of beer!

36 Hours Without Sleep

Not sleeping for 36 hours in a row can put a lot of pressure on the body. The body is used to benefit from sleep to regulate the Inhibition of hormones. But without sleep, it may become inefficient in carrying out the right dosage.

This can have a bigger impact on your body. So, you might be subject to:

  • Extreme fatigue;
  • Lack of motivation;
  • Decreased attention;
  • Higher stress level;
  • Impaired reasoning;
  • Unnecessary risk-taking;
  • Difficulty expressing yourself clearly;
  • Mood swings;
  • Changes in bodily temperature;
  • Variations in metabolism & loss (or gain) of appetite.

48 Hours Without Sleep

At this point, insomniacs still feel some or all the effects mentioned above, but with even more fatigue and worse cognitive performances:

  • The brain is so sleepy that one may experience microsleep (brief periods of unconsciousness). Each time, microsleep sessions can last up to 30 seconds. Just enough to feel disoriented when waking up;
  • The immune system gets all confused. Natural Killer Cells (cells that protect your body from viruses and bacteria) activity decreases. Hence, you are more likely to become sick.

72 Hours Without Sleep

72 hours of sleep deprivation is a long time. So long that most people won’t be able to stay awake. The body just wants to take a break, and sleep.

So, if you don’t sleep for 72 hours, you may feel (on the of many of the effects already mentioned):

  • An overwhelming desire to sleep;
  • Even greater reduction in cognitive capabilities;
  • Marked anxiety, depression, paranoia;
  • Finding multitasking very difficult;
  • Difficulty understanding other people's emotions

Can We Die if We Spend Too Much Time Without Sleep?

No, not really. Researchers agree that sleep deprivation is not dangerous in itself. But on the other hand, all the effects and consequences of sleep deprivation can become a threat.

The long-term effects of insomnia are multiple and can indeed become life-threatening.

Those are:

  • Higher blood pressure;
  • Weight gain;
  • Heart disease;
  • Diabetes (type 2);
  • Mental illnesses;
  • Etc.

And that’s without mentioning traffic accidents or work accidents caused by a tired person.

So a temporary sleep disorder, such as occasional insomnia, poses no short-term risk, but make sure you get enough sleep each night. Your body will thank you... and so will those around you!

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

The importance of sleep for the body is undeniable, even if sleep needs vary from one person to another, and even for the same person over the course of their life. In fact, while a one-year-old child needs 14 to 15 hours, an adult needs 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night and a little bit less as they get older.

Here’s a more thorough list of how many hours (on average) people need to sleep per night:

Age

Recommended Sleep Each Night

0–3 months

14–17 hours

4–12 months

12–16 hours — including naps

1–2 years

11–14 hours  — including naps

3–5 years

10–13 hours — including naps

6–12 years

9–12 hours

13–18 years

8–10 hours

18 and more

7-8 hours

 

Are you looking for a good night’s sleep? Why not try one of the best mattresses in Canada today? This can be a game changer and help you decrease the number of sleepless nights.

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