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How Long Can You Go Without Sleep? Is It Healthy?

Sleep is needed if you want to function right. However, unplanned things happen, and sometimes you need to pull an all-nighter and disrupt your sleep schedule. Read on to see how long you can go without sleep and how it affects your body.

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All you have to do when you want to improve your health and overall well-being is to sleep. Not to sleep all day long, but to have a normal sleep schedule and to get enough sleep.

As you may know already, sleep is vital for both physical and emotional well-being.

When you sleep properly, you actually have a stronger metabolism, happier days, and more active nutrition.

Did you know that while you are asleep your body loses calories? You might be sleeping, but your body is busy 24/7. That alone should say just how important sleep is.

Sleep deprivation can lead to many short and long-term health effects, that can be difficult to overcome.

So far, the longest recorded time without sleep is eleven days or 264 hours in total.

We still don’t know for how long can humans survive without sleep. Based on your age you will need a specific amount of sleep.

In adults, it’s usually between 6 to 8 hours per day. Naps are allowed during the day if you need to boost your organism a bit, and as long as you don’t overdo it.

You have probably noticed that after a single night without sleep your energy level is low, you have a hard time memorizing things, and in general, your productivity is questionable.

Sleep deprivation is much stronger than we believe it to be.

It’s so strong that after only three or four nights without sleep, you can start to hallucinate.

Prolonged sleep deprivation can, over time, lead to:

  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Irritability
  • Phychosis

In some extremely rare cases, even death may occur.

Sleep Deprivation Stages

Sleep deprivation doesn’t appear suddenly, nor it goes away in the same manner. Simply said, there is no right season for sleep deprivation.

As a result, their is no universal timeline for sleep deprivation. However, there are general stages, that are defined by how many hours of sleep you’ve missed.

As expected, symptoms of sleep deprivation tend to get worse in each stage. Here is what you might experience during sleep deprivation:

After 24 Hours

Missing 24 hours of sleep isn’t rare. This is in fact the most common state, especially among teenagers and college students.

You might miss a night of sleep to work, to read an exciting book, prepare for an academic exam, or take care of a sick child.

It might be unpleasant to stay up all night, but you won’t experience any serious health-related consequences.

Various studies have shown that if you stay awake for 24-hours you will experience how it’s having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent. This is above the legal limit to drive in most states.

Some of the most common effects that you might feel in this stage:

  • Memory deficit
  • Vision impairments
  • Hearing impairment
  • Tremors
  • Increased muscle tension
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Drowsiness

These symptoms usually go away once you get enough sleep.

After 36 Hours

The more it goes without sleep, the more intense the symptoms will be.

So, when you miss 36 hours of sleep, you will experience stronger symptoms. Plus, you will have an overwhelming need to sleep.

You may even experience microsleeps, without realizing it. During this period, different parts of your brain will have a difficult time communicating with each other.

This can harm your cognitive performance and lead to symptoms like:

  • Impaired memory
  • Difficulty learning new information
  • Behavioral changes of various intensity
  • Slow reaction time
  • Higher level of mistakes

You might also experience physical effects like:

  • Increased appetite
  • Stronger inflammation
  • Impaired immune function
  • Fatigue

After 48 Hours

When you hit 48 hours without sleep you are entering extreme sleep deprivation.

At this stage, it’s even harder to stay awake, and you will experience frequent microsleeps.

In this stage, you might even start hallucinating. Hallucination means that you can see, hear, and even feel things that aren’t there.

You might even experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Depersonalization
  • Irritability
  • Higher stress levels
  • Strong fatigue

Awake For 72 Hours

When you spend three days being completely awake, your condition will get worse. You will start experiencing longer and frequent microsleeps.

Your perception of the world around you will impair your perception. Hallucinations will still be there, but they will be more complex.

You may also experience:

  • Delusions
  • Illusions
  • Disordered thinking

Awake For 96 Hours Or More

After four days, your perception of reality will be completely changed. Your urge to sleep will go from difficult to unbearable.

When awake for so long, you won’t be able to interpret reality and you will enter so-called sleep deprivation psychosis.

Luckily, sleep deprivation psychosis goes away once you get enough sleep.

Going three days without sleep limits the ability to function properly, to think, and even to pay attention to the smallest tasks. Your emotions are also affected.

People who go without sleep for 72 hours or more are easily irritated. Some may even experience anxiety, paranoia, or a depressed mood.

Various research has found that sleep deprivation makes it difficult to process others’ emotions.

When sleep-deprived, people won’t laugh and their facial expressions will usually show anger and irritation.

You may experience daily illusions. Illusions are a misinterpretation of something that’s real. You may easily think for a sign that it’s a person.

Can Sleep Deprivation Kill?

In some cases, sleep deprivation can be fatal. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of dangerous accidents.

Just in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), USA police reported 90,000 motor vehicle crashes that involved sleep-deprived drivers.

In 2017, drowsy driving took 795 lives. A rare sleep condition that can lead to death is fatal familial insomnia (FFI).

This is an inherited condition that results from a mutation in the prion protein (PRNP) gene.

The mutated gene produces misfolded prions that easily accumulate in the thalamus, a bran regioN responsible for regulating sleep.

The most common symptoms of FFR include:

  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Significant changes in body temperature
  • Mild insomnia that worsen over time
  • Dementia that progresses fast

So far, there is no cure for FFI, and death usually occurs within 12-18 months, once the person first experiences symptoms.

What If Sleep Deprivation Becomes Chronic?

Chronic partial sleep deprivation occurs when you don’t get enough sleep regularly. If you struggle with your sleep every day, then you should visit your doctor.

Chronic partial sleep deprivation is associated with both short-term health risks and some long-term complications. To avoid any additional issues, visiting your doctor is a must.

Not getting enough sleep over a short period, such as a week, may cause:

  • Anxiety
  • Drowsiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Challenges staying alert
  • Decreased performances in every life area
  • Higher risk of injury
  • Higher risk of illness

In the long term, not getting enough sleep can reduce immune functioning.

On top of that, it can increase the risk of various healhty conditions. This includes symptoms such as:

  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Mental illness
  • Type 2 diabetes

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

The amount of sleep that you need per day depends only on your age. As you may know already, newborns and infants need more sleep. As you grow you need less and less sleep.

Still, knowing how much sleep you need exactly based on your age, should be imperative for better sleep quality. Gender can also play a huge role in someone’s sleep needs.

According to various studies, women tend to sleep slightly longer than men do. The reasons for this occurrence are still unclear.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Sleep Deprivation?

The best cure for sleep deprivation is sleep. By sleeping more, you will get rid of sleep deprivation and recover completely. You should start small, and incorporate a daily routine.

Go to bed early rather than sleeping in later. Also, try to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, and avoid alcohol, heavy exercise, and screening before bedtime. These simple steps will help you get back on track.

Full recovery won’t come overnight, it can take days or weeks to recover completely from sleep deprivation.

If you sleep only one hour less than usual, you will need four days to recover.

Simply said, the more you have been awake, the longer it will take to get back on track.

The Bottom Line

It’s still a mystery just how long can people survive without sleep. Then again, it’s clear that extreme symptoms can begin after 36 hours without sleep.

This includes a serious difficulty to think, poor decision-making, and even speech impairment.

Pulling an all-nighter from time to time, like when preparing for your exams, you harm yourself as long as you get enough sleep afterward. However, if you tend to practice this every night, you are heading toward a major disaster.

Your body needs sleep to rest, recharge, and prepares you for the following day.

If sleep deprivation tends to be an everyday thing, make sure that you talk to your doctor.

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