• Question: How long can a person not sleep?

    Asked by rusl4n to Paige on 20 Mar 2020.
    • Photo: Paige Chandler

      Paige Chandler answered on 20 Mar 2020:


      Hi rusl4n!

      This is a great question. For a human being, we have a list of ‘needs’ – that is, things we need in order to survive, ranked most to least important. Number one is water – without water we die in two days. Number two, actually, is the need to sleep! The current record of someone staying awake is 11 days straight.

      If you go one day without sleep (24 hours) you start to become irritable, have impaired judgement, and your co-ordination gets worse – a bit like being drunk. You’re at a higher risk of getting into an accident.

      After 2 days (48 hours) your cognitive abilities get worse and worse – you won’t be able to focus, or do anything that requires much thinking. You also start to ‘zone out’ a lot, which is called microsleeping – tiny moments where your brain tries to shut off with your eyes still open.

      Three days no sleep (72 hours) you start to become paranoid, depressed, you start having memory issues, and communicating with others becomes nearly impossible.

      Any longer than that, all those previously mentioned problems get worse and worse, and you start to hallucinate. It becomes more and more impossible to stay awake. Forced sleep deprivation is actually considered a method of torture, because it’s so bad for you.

      There is an illness – that is extraordinarily rare, and runs in families – called Fatal Familial Insomnia. People with this illness, slowly lose the ability to fall asleep, and doctors still aren’t sure why. These patients do not usually survive past 1 year after onset of the disease, and during this year they develop dementia, much like alzheimers.

      The morale of the story is – sleep is very important! Getting 8-10 hours a night (for you kids and teenagers) is very important to your health, growth, and learning.

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