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What Happens When You Stop Sleeping



While it is not well understood exactly why we sleep or how sleep affects the body, it is certain that all living beings require sleep to live. If you ever suffered bouts of insomnia or even miss a few hours of sleep from time to time, you’ve likely experienced some side effects. Let’s take a closer look at what actually goes into the sleep-deprived body.

A Few Hours Short

Just about everyone loses a few hours of sleep occasionally, whether due to late nights with friends, jet lag, studying, sick kids, etc. Usually, you will notice obvious side effects like yawning or being tired in the afternoon. People also tend to crave less healthy foods like bread and sweets, and you may notice duller skin or circles under your eyes. But, you are also likely to be less productive and it may affect your sleep schedule the next night as well. It is tempting to think you can just hit the bed for extra hours on the weekend, but many researchers believe the idea of “sleep debt” is a myth, so try your best to stick to a schedule.

  • Excessive Yawning
  • Daytime Sleepiness
  • Reduced Productivity
  • Disruptions to Sleep Schedule
  • Cravings for Empty Carbs/Sugars
  • Under-eye “Bags” or Dark Circles

After a 24-72 Hours Awake

If you’ve pulled an allnighter and find you have been awake continuously for 24 hours be aware that your judgment is likely impaired. One study found that a person going on 24 hours without sleep had the equivalent performance of a legally drunk person. This means driving and working with any kind of dangerous machines or tools should be avoided. At this point, your blood pressure is likely higher, you may be moody and your eyes may be irritated as well.

Many people report a “second wind” between 24-48 hours, but cognitive function and reasoning become quite impaired, especially around 72 hours. The side effects of short term sleep deprivation are usually temporary, so long as it doesn’t become a pattern.

  • Equivalent to a blood-alcohol level of 0.08
  • Reduced Reflex Performance
  • Increased Blood Pressure
  • Cognitive Impairments
  • Mood Swings
  • Sore Eyes
  • Headaches

Chronic Sleep Deprivation or Severe Insomnia

If you consistently sleep less than 6 hours per night by choice or insomnia, than you may begin to experience symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation. These include mental and emotional impairments, decreased immunity thus greater chance of illness and skin irritations, and reduced bone strength.

Recent research from the University of Warwick also found a conclusive link between reduced sleep and premature death. They found that people who consistently slept less than 6 hours per night were 12% more likely to experience premature death. Quick reminder: professionally made good electric adjustable beds can help you sleep more soundly and improve your health.

  • Learning Impairment
  • Problems Concentrating
  • Poor Mood and Irritability
  • Impaired Immune Function
  • Skin Irritations
  • Premature Skin Aging
  • Decreased Metabolism
  • Weaker Bones
  • Increased Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes
  • 12% Greater Risk of Early Death

Days of Total Sleep Deprivation

While rare, there are documented cases of people not sleeping at all for several days whether due to an illness, drugs or simply pushing the body to extremes. The longest scientifically verified period of intentional sleep deprivation is 11 days. Often people that stay awake for several days experience altered consciousness and microsleeps giving the brain some rest. This can result in severe side effects and greater potential for accidents which could be potentially fatal, though there are not any official cases of “death by lack of sleep”.

One disorder, called Fatal Familial Insomnia, is a rare genetic type of insomnia that prevents sufferers from sleeping. People with FFI die within 6-30 months, usually of total organ failure due to hypermetabolism, endocrine fatigue, and hypertension. When another study prevented lab rats from sleeping, they died within 2 weeks of similar complications.

  • Significantly Impaired Cognitive Function
  • Hallucinations
  • Hormone Disruptions
  • Heart Arrhythmia (Irregular Heartbeat)
  • Decreased Liver & Kidney Efficiency
  • Depression
  • Complications Leading to Death

With all of the potential mental and physical side effects of sleep deprivation, it is clear that sleep is important for health. While it may be tempting to pull an all-nighter, the side effects to your focus, mood, appearance, and motor function likely outweigh the benefits of a few extra waking hours. Sometimes sleep loss is beyond our control however, and if notice insomnia symptoms are sure to consult a healthcare professional.