Have you ever suffered from insomnia? Twisting and turning between the sheets, until you see the light peeking through the curtains and you think, damn, today is not gonna be easy. For most people who go without sleep for just one night, the next day everything seems a bit out-of-whack. Imagine that lasted another day, and another day.
Let’s start with day one of no sleep, what exactly happens to you? According to one study that tested volunteer’s brain patterns after a sleepless night, the deprivation led to what is called “fractional anisotropy”. In laymen’s terms, this means sleeplessness affects neural functions, and in the short-term can affect your emotions as well as your ability to think straight. One sleep expert, Dr. Fred Mercola, says going without just one night’s sleep can affect the brain the same way alcohol does, by creating mental confusion. He also says that going just 24 hours without sleep can result in hallucinations, paranoia, and even sleep deprivation psychosis. The Journal of Neuroscience says this can feel like suffering from schizophrenia for some people, while others deal with a 24-hour wake-binge much better.
If one night can be that bad, what about two nights?
Most scientists that study sleep deprivation say you lose 25 percent of brain performance for every 24 hours you don’t sleep. If after 24 hours you feel muddled and a little off-kilter, a report by the US National Institute of Health says that after 39 hours your heart rate and blood pressure will be affected. At this point you may have all the symptoms above, but according to research there is a good chance you’ll have trouble remembering some people’s faces.
After 48 hours the body’s immune system starts to falter due to a decrease in your body’s Natural Killer cells, aka NK cells. These are the cells that fight off disease. The study abstract concludes not surprisingly that “sleep restriction produces physiological consequences that may be unhealthy.” Nitrogen was also found in the urine of the test patients, which also usually means your body is undergoing some kind of stress. It’s also proven that your hormones will be affected, so there’s a chance you might get all emotional or just fly off the handle. Your hearing as well as hand eye coordination will be affected, and so will your ability to judge situations.
According to the International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, don’t drive a car at this point or start doing some metal work. You may just start using a kind of auto-pilot, too, meaning you get from A to B and don’t remember what happened in between.
As for the mind, on one particular web forum a high school student says he went to school after 48 hours of no sleep and ended up sitting down on a bench and chatting with another boy. When he noticed a concerned teacher looking at him, he then realized there was no boy there. He had been hallucinating. In an article by Everyday Health, it states at 48 hours you will also start having “microsleeps”. These can last between half a second to half a minute and you won’t even know you’ve had them. Other research says that you are not actually hallucinating, but dreaming during wakefulness. This is something that has been called sleep insanity.
At 72 hours things get really weird. When interviewed, one soldier who experienced days without sleep said even just talking to someone can be really hard. He also said he’d see things in the trees, such as people approaching his camp. It’s interesting to note here that during Navy Seal training there is something called Hell Week, wherein trainees have to stay awake for as long as they can and actually do things. According to the Navy Seals website, only 25 percent of people get through Hell Week, but it does seem they can catch at least a couple of Zzzzs now and again.
The record for not sleeping without the use of stimulants is held by Randy Gardner, and he managed 11 days, 25 minutes in 1964. He suffered from concentration problems, short term memory loss, paranoia, and hallucinations. Claims have been made for longer sleeps, but none have been scientifically verified. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer from the disease ‘Fatal familial insomnia’, you will not sleep, and as the name suggests, you will die within months…but not before you go crazy. No one has ever just stayed awake as it is thought to be simply impossible, you will just start having microsleeps. We don’t know what would happen to someone who never sleeps again, because the body, thank goodness, just won’t let that happen.
So, what’s the longest you’ve ever gone without sleeping? How did you feel? Let us know in the comments!