Oh, yes, sleep. We spend almost half of our lives sleeping. Sleep comes creeping in when we have to study or write an important essay. When we have fun in the club or play video games until morning, sleep seems to get lost somewhere on the way.
Oh, sleep! We love, and we hate it at the same time. Remember when you slept through your alarm and missed an important meeting? What if you didn’t need to sleep at all? Do you imagine if you had all 24 hours of the day to do everything you never had time for?
So, what happens if you don’t sleep for a week?
Sleep is here for a reason. Our bodies need it. Here’s a breakdown of what could happen if you didn’t sleep for a week.
After 24 hours without sleep
If you went through college, you surely missed a night or two of sleep, cramming for a test or getting wasted in a bar. Hey, it happens, it’s fine!
Staying up all night made you tired and cranky the next day. 24 hours of continuous activity does take its toll on your body. Drowsiness, irritability, altered perception, difficulty focusing on a task and memory deficits are just some of the side effects of not sleeping for 24 hours.
They usually go away once you’ve had some shut-eye without impacting your overall health. However, try not to pull too many all-nighters.
After 36 hours
Now, things begin to get a bit serious. Passing the 36 hour mark will get your body over the line. Hormones levels are affected, meaning your emotions will be all over the place.
Your head will start buzzing, you’ll begin to lose motivation and feel like you’re on autopilot.
Other effects of going 36 hours without sleep include: extreme fatigue, poor decision-making and clouded judgment, decreased attention, and even difficulties talking, choosing the right words and intonation.
48 hours without sleep
Your body starts to turn off and shut down some processes to compensate for your lack of sleep.
You might experience brief, involuntary micro-sleep episodes. you’ll simply fall asleep or blackout for anywhere between half a second and half a minute and feel disoriented after waking up. What’s even more interesting, you might not even be aware these micro-sleep episodes were happening.
What is more, glucose will not be metabolized properly anymore, and your energy supplies will plummet. In some people, the skin turns pale; eyes get red, and wrinkles seem to appear out of nowhere.
Your immune system will be disrupted too; inflammatory markers will rise. Research suggests that the natural killer cells (NK) that usually respond to immediate threats to our health decrease with sleep deprivation.
You see, it’s not that lovely going 48 hours without sleep. Don’t do it.
72 hours without sleep
Oh, boy, you’re in trouble! First of all, everybody around you will think you drank yourself almost to death. But what people think is not the worst part.
After 3 days without any shut-eye, you might start to hallucinate. Your hormones are all over the place, and your brain will desperately try to make sense of what is happening.
After 72 hours without REM sleep, your brain will bring all your dreams and nightmares to life. It’s like he’s saying: “you don’t wanna’ sleep? Alright! I’m bringing the dreams to you”. Oh, boy, these dreams are unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
The effects of sleep deprivation will only get worse from here. You’ll find yourself unable to communicate normally, and you’ll have trouble staying alert.
You shouldn’t even try to drive because the chances of getting into an accident increase.
What is more, your body will scramble for any energy leftovers it can find. It will start breaking down its own protein. So, all that time you’ve spent in the gym building that muscle mass might have all been for nothing. It will also go for any glucose, tissue, fat; you name it.
After 72 hours without sleep
Your immune system will get weaker and weaker. The typical flu might give you a hard time now.
Your concentration, motivation and perception levels are a joke now. Even simple conversations will feel like moving mountains. Your mind will be teeming with hallucinations, delusions, visions. Who knows, you might be seeing the whole 15 seasons of Supernatural in front of your eyes. That would be a thrilling ride!
Now, on a more serious note, after 72 hours without rest, you will feel an enormous urge to rest. You’ll barely be able to stay awake on your own.
In fact, after 72 hours, you will barely be able to think. Multitasking, remembering details or focusing on something will be almost impossible.
As a matter of fact, this level of sleep deprivation is highly damaging to your overall health.
You will feel highly irritated. It would seem like everyone is out to get on your nerves. Your mood will be all over the place, as you’ll experience depression, anxiety, and paranoia.
One research has found that sleep deprivation makes us unable to process other people’s emotions as well. We might not even be able to tell if the person in front of us is angry, happy or irritated.
After 72 hours without sleep, you might not feel hungry at all. All you can think about is sleep. Your short-term memory is in pieces, and you will doze off even while standing.
Moreover, your eyes will become so sensitive to light, that everything around you will seem brighter. So, after 72 hours without sleep, you might have to wear sunglasses.
After 100 hours without sleep
After 4 days without sleep, your cognitive function will be a mess. Concentration? Focus? What are those?
The hallucinations will get extreme. Paranoia will set in. You might start to believe you were kidnapped by aliens, and they are torturing you now. No, no, it’s not a joke.
What’s the longest amount of time a human has gone without sleep?
In 1964, 17-year old Randy Gardner spent 11 days and 25 minutes (or 264.4 hours) without sleeping.
It was part of an experiment for a science fair project. Sleep researchers from Stanford University continually monitored Randy’s health during the experiment.
Years after the experiment, Randy Gardner claimed he had insomnia. Other sources suggest that Randy Gardner’s record was later broken by Toimi Soini from Finland, who stayed awake for 276 hours (11 days and a half).
The Guinness World Records accounts for an even more mind-blowing record of 449 hours without going to bed. This record is allegedly held by Maureen Weston from Cambridgeshire, UK who participated in a rocking-chair marathon, in 1977.
Nevertheless, the recent editions of Guinness do not record any new information about sleep deprivation anymore.
However, the Australian National Sleep Research Project claims that the world record for sleep deprivation is 18 days, 21 hours and 40 minutes. How about that?
The DJ Peter Tripp Radio Stunt
In 1959, DJ Peter Tripp tried to stay awake for 200 hours. That’s more than 8 days. He would sit in a booth in Times Square, broadcasting his show, and people could donate money to the March of Dimes charity.
The radio station got in touch with sleep researchers and medics to monitor Tripp and keep him from sleeping, making sure he was in good physical condition throughout the 200 hours.
In the first days, Tripp managed to do his show very well. However, after about 100 hours, he could not do simple math problems or recite the alphabet.
After 120 hours, the hallucinations kicked in. He started to believe that the scientists were actually conspiring against him or that they were the undertakers coming to bury him.
Because of sleep deprivation, his brain would go into short REM sleep cycles while he was still awake. So, he would basically dream with his eyes open.
At some point, his mind became a jumble. He no longer believed he was Peter Tripp and would tell the sleep researchers monitoring him that he was Peter Tripp’s friend.
He stayed awake for 200 hours. However, he was drugged for the last 66 hours. By the end of the experiment, he just couldn’t differentiate between his hallucinations and reality. Some could say he had lost his mind.
After the experiment was over, he slept for 24 hours. However, the experience might have scarred him for life. He began to display psychotic symptoms long after the experiment was done. He lost his job and divorced his wife.
Not sleeping for a week: Don’t try it at home
What’s interesting is that Randy Gardner did not have any symptoms after going 11 days without sleep, apart from insomnia. However, Peter Tripp almost lost his mind. The sleep deprivation caused him irreversible, long-lasting damage affecting his social, cognitive and behavioral functioning.
So, those all-nighters from your midterm are not such a good idea after all. You will get through them alive, but your body and mind might not like them.
“Hustle, hustle, baby!” or “Sleep when you’re dead” are some pretty dangerous sayings to have as a motto. Sleep is NOT for the weak. Don’t try these experiments at home. Sleep well, and love sleep! It keeps your wrinkles and troubles away!