For Human beings sleep is as important as any other basic necessity like Air, Water or Food and for the physical and mental well-being getting enough sleep is really important and vital and not getting proper sleep can lead to a disorder known as Sleep deprivation which can lead to several short and long-term health hazards that we’ll discuss further ahead in this article but as for now the question remains that ‘Can We Survive without Sleeping and for how long?’
Although the actual amount of time that a person can survive without sleep remains unclear, the experimental answer to this question is 264 hours which equates to just over 11 days. This apparent world-record was set by a 17-year-old high school student, Randy Gardner at a science fair. Toward the end of the 11 days, Gardner grew increasingly paranoid and even started hallucinating. However, he reportedly recovered without any long-term physical or psychological effects.
In a carefully monitored experiment, several other normal research subjects have remained awake for eight to ten days along with Gardner. None of these individuals suffered serious medical, neurological, physiological, or psychiatric issues. However, almost all of them showed progressive and significant deficits in concentration, motivation, perception, and other higher mental processes with increased sleep-deprivation. Nevertheless, after one or two nights of recovery sleep all the subjects recovered to normality.
The more difficult answer to this question revolves around the definition of ‘awake’. Prolonged sleep-deprivation in test subjects induces altered states of consciousness often described as ‘microsleep’ and loss of cognitive and motor functions. During World War II, sleep-deprived British pilots crashed their planes while flying home from the war zone because the fall asleep while in the air. Although Randy Gardner was awake basically, he was cognitively dysfunctional at the end of his suffering.
The reason why these things occur is that our brain tries to converse energy by entering into a state known as Local Sleep, during which the body temporarily shuts down neurons in certain regions of our brain but not the others. People who have entered local sleep may appear fully awake, but their ability to perform complex tasks will significantly decline.
Sleep deprivation occurs when a person gets less sleep than their body needs, its effects vary from person to person just like sleep requirements of people varies from person to person also depending upon the age group. For instance, infants need twice as much sleep as teenagers and teenagers need more sleep than adults as their brains & bodies are still developing and growing. Likewise, the effects of sleep deprivation in children can be more severe & long-lasting than adults. The most common effects of sleep deprivation in adults can include Fatigue & sleepiness, inability to concentrate or coordinate and memory difficulties, increased appetite, and mood swings.
Acute and Chronic sleep-deprivation are the two forms of Sleep-deprivation. When you go one or a few nights without sleeping, it’s called Acute sleep-deprivation or Acute Insomnia. The Chronic form happens when you regularly skip those eight or more hours of sleep a night, weeks or even months.
Acute or Chronic sleep-deprivation can make a person more vulnerable to some health conditions such as Obesity, Diabetes, and heart disease. It can also disrupt the body’s natural ‘Sleep-Wake cycle’, which affects those hormones that regulate the growth of our body, our appetite, metabolism, stress & our immune system.
Five Stages of Sleep-deprivation
There is no particular timeline for Sleep Deprivation. The general phases, on the other hand, are determined by the duration or Hours of sleep you’ve missed. The symptoms of Sleep-deprivation appear to worsen with each stage. What happens to your body when you don’t get enough sleep is explained below:
Stage 1: Awake for 24 hours
It is just common to miss 24 hours of sleep and it also won’t cause any major health issues, but the person can feel tired and a little bit ‘Off’ but it’s nothing to be concerned about. 24-hour sleep loss is equal to a blood alcohol content of 0.10 per cent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s more than the legal driving limit.
The short-term effects of going without sleep for 24 hours can include the following:
- Reduced Coordination
- Drowsiness & Fatigue
- Irritability & Puffy eyes
- Concentration & Memory difficulties
- Impaired Judgment
- Muscle tension
Stage 2: Awake for 36 Hours
If you don’t sleep for 36 hours, the symptoms mentioned above becomes more intense gradually and you’ll experience an overwhelming and uncontrollable urge to sleep. Without realizing it, you can begin to have micro-sleeps or short periods of sleep. A micro-sleep usually lasts up to 30 seconds mostly.
Eventually, different parts of your brain will fail to interact with one another. This has a huge effect on your cognitive output, resulting in the following symptoms.
- Impaired memory & Decision making
- Behavioural changes
- Difficulty processing Social cues & new information.
- Slow reaction time & increased errors
Along with the intangible symptoms, you’ll experience some Physical effects as well which can vary from person to person such as a sudden increase in appetite as well as Inflammation, the functionality of the immune system can be impaired, or it can become irregular along with extreme levels of fatigue.
Stage 3: Awake for 48 hours
If you don’t sleep for 48 hours, which is two whole days, you appear to be in a state which is called ‘extreme sleep deprivation. When you go into this state, staying awake becomes extremely hard and you’re very likely to have micro-sleeps. You can even begin to hallucinate and that occurs mostly when you see, hear, or feel things that aren’t actually there. There can be other possible effects of extreme sleep deprivation such as
- Depersonalization, which is a disorder or state of mind in which you feel completely detached/disconnected from your body and thoughts.
- heightened levels of anxiety & stress
- Extreme fatigue & increased irritability
Stage 4: Awake for 72 hours
After staying up for 3 days straight, your urge to sleep will get extremely worse. You’re going to experience more frequent, longer, and deeper micro-sleeps. At this point, the sleep-deprivation is going to impair your perception significantly and the hallucinations might become more complex. Besides these You are also going to experience the following:
- Illusions & Delusions
- Disordered thinking
Stage 5: Awake for 96 hours or more
After missing sleep for 4 whole days, your urge for sleep will be unbearable. Your perception of reality will be severely distorted as well. When you miss so much sleep your ability to interpret reality is greatly affected & impaired, it is known as ‘sleep deprivation psychosis’. Typically, sleep deprivation psychosis goes away once you get enough sleep.
How Long Does Sleep Deprivation Take to Recover?
Sleeping more will help you recover from sleep deprivation. You can begin by going to bed earlier rather than later. Having at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night is also recommended. This will assist the body in resuming its normal routine. Sleep deprivation can take days or weeks to recover from depending on your situation. It takes four days to recover from only one hour of sleep loss. It will take longer to get back on track the longer you have been up. Chronic sleep deprivation may have long-term health implications. Among these is an increased risk of high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, obesity, and other heart diseases. Chronic sleep loss in children may have severe long-term implications, including:
- Poor academic performance
- Social difficulties.
- A greater likelihood of engaging in risky or antisocial actions.
- Challenges in physical development
Can Sleep Deprivation Kill?
Sleep deprivation can be fatal in certain circumstances. Sleep deprivation for example can increase the risk of dangerous accidents. The majority of road accidents are caused by drivers who are sleep deprived. Fatal familial insomnia (FFI) is an extremely rare sleep disorder that can lead to death. A mutation in the prion protein (PRNP) gene causes FFI, which is an inherited disease. The mutated gene creates misfolded prions, which build up in the thalamus, the brain area that controls sleep. There is currently no cure for FFI, and most people die within 12–18 months of first facing symptoms.
FFI signs typically appear in middle adulthood and include the following:
- Moderate Insomnia that worsens with the time
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Changes in body temperature
- The rapid development of dementia
You should try to get enough sleep at night to save yourself from the above calamities and health risks. The amount of sleep required varies greatly, most people need around seven to eight hours per night. We advise you to follow these simple instructions to get enough sleep:
- Maintain reasonably consistent sleep and wake schedule seven days a week.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
- Avoid having a TV or computer in your bedroom or reading with an e-reader at night.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages and hard exercise prior to bedtime.
Sleep is just as important to our health as physical exercise and a well-balanced diet. Therefore, you must follow these steps to get a good night sleep.