Lack of sleep can have many consequences. It has many different effects on a person’s health, but can you die from lack of sleep?
While it is possible to die from other causes related to sleep deprivation, such as accidents or cardiac events, there is no definitive answer to whether or not a person can die from simply not sleeping.
However, lack of sleep can have severe consequences for a person’s physical and mental health, and it is essential to get enough rest every night.
- 1 How Little Is Too Little?
- 2 Can You Die From Not Sleeping?
- 3 What Happens?
- 4 What About Too Much Sleep?
- 5 Finding A Happy Medium
- 6 Sleep Tips
- 7 FAQs
- 8 Conclusion
How Little Is Too Little?
Getting less sleep than you need for a night or two can lead to a foggy, unproductive day, but it usually won’t hurt you much.
But when you regularly lose sleeping, you’ll start to see some unwanted health effects pretty quickly. Consistently getting just an hour or two less sleep than you can contribute to:
- slower reaction time
- changes in mood
- higher risk for physical illness
- worsened mental health symptoms
What about going an entire night without sleep? Or longer?
You’ve probably pulled an all-nighter or two before. Maybe you stayed up all night to put the finishing touches on a budget proposal or complete your graduate thesis.
If you’re a parent, you may have experienced more than a few sleepless nights and you probably have a few choice words about the myth that coping with lost sleep gets easier over time.
Can You Die From Not Sleeping?
Sleeping is so vital to our overall health that it’s something that we literally cannot live without, just like food, air, and water.
Animal research points to evidence of a direct link between sleep deprivation and death. A 1989 study found that total, prolonged sleep deprivation inevitably leads to death in rats. Another study, this time on sleep-deprived fruit flies, found a causal link between sleep deprivation and premature death.
Examples of death via sleep deprivation in humans are understandably scant. But a rare hereditary disease called fatal familial insomnia (FFI) proves that total lack of sleeping can lead to death. People with FFI have mild insomnia that quickly progresses into a complete inability to sleep, leading to death. Patients typically survive for an average of 18 months after diagnosis.
The fact that FFI is a neurodegenerative disease does make it somewhat less viable as evidence of a direct link between sleep deprivation and death. However, there is a lot of overlap between symptoms of FFI and the effects of sleep deprivation many of us have experienced from cognitive decline to short-term memory problems and difficulty focusing.
Your body needs sleep to function, and going without doesn’t just feel unpleasant. It can also have some pretty severe consequences.
Missing just one night of sleeping may not be too problematic, but you’ll notice some side effects. The longer you go without, the more severe these effects will become.
Here’s how the body tends to respond when you stay awake:
Staying awake for 24 hours can affect you in much the same way as intoxication.
Research from 2010 suggests that staying up for 20 to 25 hours affects your focus and performance as much as having a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.10 percent. In most places, you’re considered legally drunk when you have a BAC of 0.08 percent.
You’ll want to avoid driving or doing something potentially unsafe if you’ve been up for a full day and night.
- A sleepless night can have other effects, too.
- You might notice things like:
- daytime sleepiness
- changes in mood, like crankiness or a shorter temper than usual
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- tremors, shakiness, or tense muscles
- trouble seeing or hearing
After 36 hours without sleeping, you’ll notice a much heavier impact on health and function.
Prolonged disruption of your normal sleep-wake cycle puts your body under stress. In response, it ramps up the production of cortisol (the stress hormone).
Hormonal imbalances can affect your body’s typical reactions and functions. You might notice changes in your mood and appetite, increased stress or chills and other changes in your body temperature.
- Your body’s oxygen intake can also decrease when you stay awake for this time.
- Other consequences of 36 hours of sleeplessness include:
- patchy memory
- declining energy and motivation
- short attention span or inability to pay attention
- cognitive difficulties, including trouble with reasoning or decision-making
- intense fatigue and drowsiness
- difficulty speaking clearly or finding the right word
Things start to get pretty miserable when you go without sleep for 48 hours. You may drift through the day, feeling foggy or entirely out of touch with what’s happening.
General effects of sleep deprivation usually worsen. You might find it even more challenging to concentrate or remember things. You might also notice increases in irritability or moodiness.
The effects of sleeplessness on your immune system also intensify after 2 days. This can increase your chances of getting sick since your immune system can’t fight off illness as well as it usually would.
Staying awake also becomes pretty challenging.
After 2 full days without sleep, people often begin experiencing what’s known as a microsleep. A microsleep happens when you lose consciousness briefly, from a few seconds to half a minute. You don’t realize what’s happening until you come to, but you’ll probably reawaken with some confusion and grogginess.
If you’ve gone 3 days without sleeping, things will get weird.
You won’t be able to think about much besides sleeping. You’ll probably find it challenging to focus on conversations, work, and even thoughts. Even simple activities, like getting up to look for something, might seem too challenging to contemplate.
Along with this extreme exhaustion, you might notice your heart is beating much more rapidly than usual.
You’ll probably also notice changes in mood or problems with emotional regulation. It’s not uncommon to experience depression, anxiety, or paranoia after going without sleep for a few days.
Going without sleeping for this length of time can also affect your perception of reality, which can:
- cause illusions and hallucinations
- make you believe inaccurate information is true
- trigger what’s called the hat phenomenon, which happens when you feel pressure around your head
More than 3 days
To put it plainly, going without sleep for 3 days or longer is very dangerous.
The side effects listed above will only get worse. You’ll probably start experiencing more frequent hallucinations and increased paranoia. Eventually, symptoms of psychosis can trigger a disconnect from reality.
Your risk of having an accident while driving or performing any potentially risky task will increase significantly as you experience more microsleeps. If it’s been more than 3 days and you can’t sleep, it’s best to see your healthcare provider.
Eventually, your brain will begin to stop functioning correctly, leading to organ failure and, in rare cases, death. Plus, your risk of having some accident skyrockets.
Are you worried about apnea, read this article to know more information: Can Sleep Apnea Kill You?
What About Too Much Sleep?
So far, we’ve established two things: Sleep is essential, and going without sleep can eventually cause some pretty nasty side effects.
But it may surprise you to learn you actually can have too much of a good thing. While sleeping too much isn’t life-threatening, it’s been associated with a higher mortality rate.
Chronic oversleeping can also cause:
- cognitive impairment, including problems with reasoning and speaking
- daytime drowsiness
- sluggishness or low energy
- feelings of depression or low mood
- trouble falling or staying asleep
A 2014 study of 24,671 adults found evidence to link sleeping more than 10 hours a night, or long sleeping, to depression and obesity. Long sleeping is also associated with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Finding A Happy Medium
Experts have developed some recommendations to help you determine just how much sleep you need. Getting close to this amount most nights can prevent the side effects of asleep deprivation and help you maintain good health overall.
Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of asleep per night. Your optimal sleep time may depend on a few factors, including age and gender. Older adults may asleep less, and women may sleep a little more.
Check out our sleep calculator to get a better idea of how much sleep you need each night.
Is 5 Hours Of Sleep Enough? see this guide to know more.
If you regularly have problems getting enough restful sleep, it may help to look at your sleep habits.
These tips can help you get more and better sleep:
Only use your bedroom for sleep
Your bedroom should be a sacred place. Limiting bedroom activities to sleeping, sex, and maybe a little reading before bed can help you switch to relaxation mode when you enter your room. This enables you to prepare for asleep.
Avoid working, using your phone, or watching TV in your bedroom, as these can wake you right back up.
Make your bedroom as comfortable as you can
A soothing sleeping environment can help you get to sleep more easily. Follow these tips:
- Keep your room cool to sleep better.
- Layer your blankets to be easily removed and added back if needed.
- Choose a comfortable mattress and pillows, but avoid cluttering the bed with pillows.
- Hang curtains or light-canceling blinds to block light.
- Use a fan for white noise if you live in an apartment or have noisy roommates.
- Invest in quality sheets and blankets.
Consistency is key
You might not need to go to bed early on the weekends or any other time when you don’t have to get up at a specific time, but getting up at odd hours can throw off your internal clock.
If you stay up late one night and still have to get up early, you might plan to catch up with a nap. This sometimes helps, but napping can complicate things even more: Take a nap too late in the day, and you won’t be able to get to sleep on time that night, either.
To get the best sleep, try going to bed around the same time every night and getting up at approximately the same time each morning, even if you don’t have to.
Activity can help
Physical activity can tire you out, so it might seem logical to assume getting enough exercise will improve your sleep.
It certainly can. Better sleep is among the many benefits of regular physical activity. If you’re having trouble sleeping, make sure to get that workout in at least a few hours before bedtime.
Exercising too late in the day can wear you out and keep you awake.
Are you looking for more tips? Here are 17 more to help you get to bed (and stay there).
Will your body eventually force you to sleep?
If you haven’t had enough sleep, you will fall asleep. Sleep latency (the time it takes you to fall asleep) is impacted by how much your body needs to sleep.
Can a lack of sleep cause brain cells to die?
Not directly. But sleep helps your body remove harmful waste material, and when you don’t get enough sleep, it is believed that these toxins could damage your body (including the functioning of your brain) over the long term.
How long does it take to recover from sleep deprivation?
Usually, it only takes one or two days to recover from the short-term problems caused by sleep deprivation. Some of the issues caused by long-term sleep deprivation, such as heart disease, might not improve and could require long-term medical management.
While there is no definitive answer to whether or not lack of sleep can lead to death, it is clear that without proper rest every night, a person will experience serious health problems. So it is essential to make sure that you are getting enough sleep every night and that your family members are also getting enough rest.
Repopny hopes this article helped!