How Long Can You Go Without Sleep?

Consistent healthy sleep has a deep impact on how we function daily. Getting the right amount of sleep allows us to feel focused, energized, and ready for anything. Once our sleep patterns are altered, we feel tired, sluggish, and can struggle to focus on the tasks at hand.

In this post, we will discuss the recommended amount of sleep and what happens when we don't get enough of it.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Each of us has our own set of unique sleep requirements. There are physiological and biological factors that affect how long we sleep and if it’s enough. Even though sleep patterns and lengths vary from person to person, there are recommendations to consider.

Sleep specialists are constantly researching this topic and modifying recommendations from year-to-year. Across the board, many doctors and specialists tend to settle on these numbers:  

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14 to 17 hours
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12 to 15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11 to 14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10 to 13 hours
  • School Age Children (6-13 years): 9 to 11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17 years): 8 to 10 hours
  • Adults (18-65 years): 7 to  hours
  • Older Adults (ages 65 & up): 7 to 8 hours

We can see that the amount of sleep needed in children and teens is higher than those of adults. It’s important to adjust your sleeping habits throughout life to ensure you’re getting enough healthy rest.

How Will You Feel When You Don't Get Enough Sleep?

Not getting enough sleep quickly leads to sleep deprivation, which can leave you feeling tired and unable to function your best. An ongoing cycle of getting little sleep will worsen as time goes on. Along with experiencing chronic fatigue, other areas of the body and mind will suffer.

Side effects and symptoms of sleep deprivation can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Decreased level of motivation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased stress
  • Weight gain
  • Diminished cognitive function
  • Increased risk of accidents

When we are tired, daily tasks take longer and focusing becomes harder. Lack of sleep can also compromise the immune system. The physiological needs of your body are crucial to good health and they require healthy sleep.

Will You Suffer Long Term Effects from Sleep Deprivation?

Long term effects of sleep deprivation are linked to certain medical conditions. If you are not getting enough sleep, the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and heart disease are all heightened.

A lack of sleep can also lead to a rare condition called fatal familial insomnia (also known as FFI). FFI is classified as a prion disease due to the accumulation of misfolded prion proteins in the brain. This condition is characterized by an initial mild case of insomnia that progressively becomes worse. Symptoms usually begin at middle age, though they can start earlier.

Sleep deprivation usually resolves itself as you build healthy bedtime habits and fix your sleep schedule. Getting enough rest will help you regain focus and concentration.

Can Children Suffer From Sleep Deprivation?

Yes, children can suffer from sleep deprivation. In reports from the CDC, sleep deprivation in both adults and children is a public health epidemic. Parents and teachers are experiencing the consequences of children who are not sleeping well. Children are hindered from doing their best because they are unable to concentrate on assigned tasks.

They will have similar symptoms as adults. Children can find it hard to focus, communicate with others, and meet developmental goals.

Children experiencing a lack of sleep can become antisocial as they find it hard to get along with others. Their academic performance will suffer as their grades may drop. Appetite and mood can be affected as well.

An Hourly Breakdown

Sleep is the foundation of healthy living. Along with diet and exercise, it creates a bodily environment that can fuel you each day. In today’s society, sleep is often set aside to work, study, or even to just have fun. But what actually happens when you go without sleep?

After 24 hours the ability to perform tasks significantly decreases. The release of hormones is compromised. The hormones we need to grow, control metabolism and appetite, strengthen our immune system, and manage stress are lessened. Your judgment is negatively affected and memory will become impaired. Your decision-making skills will deteriorate and hand-eye coordination will decrease.

Rolling into 36 hours without sleep will prove to worsen the symptoms you are already experiencing. At this point, you are at risk of developing health issues. The inflammatory markers in the body will be heightened which could lead to cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Your emotions will become sporadic as you feel like your all over the place.

Once 48 hours have passed without sleep, others will notice a continuing decrease in cognitive function. The body will begin to experience episodes of microsleep. Microsleep is when the body shuts down regardless of what you are doing. An episode can last from half a second to half a minute. A person is not consciously aware of this and may feel slightly disoriented after each episode.

If you go 72 hours without sleep you will experience extreme fatigue as well as negative effects on your mood and cognition. You will have difficulty multitasking and communicating. Most likely, you will experience times of paranoia and hallucinations.

Sleep deprivation is not a pleasant experience. It affects every part of the brain to some degree.

Pushing the Limits and Negative Consequences

With that said, there have been people who dared to push the limits. The first person was Peter Tripp, a radio DJ. In 1959 he decided to sit in Times Square and host his radio show for 201 hours in an effort to raise money for a local charity.  

Another experiment was tried in 1964 by a highschool student named Randy Gardner. His goal was to win his school’s science fair. He enlisted two of his friends to help. The publicity of this experiment led Dr. William Dement to extend his expertise to the boys. His final time was 11 days and 24 minutes. Gardner and his friends won the science fair and Randy got his name in the Guinness Book of World Records. The effects of this experiment are why this is no longer an accepted request for holding a world record.

While both sleep deprivation experiments did not result in a definitive answer to our question, they did prove something else. Both Peter and Randy reportedly experienced periods of hallucinations, paranoia, and speech problems. It was also noted that both had a dip in cognitive function and memory. This proves that sleep deprivation has negative effects no matter the age. It also stands to show why we should not go without sleep for any amount of time.

Fortunately, both men did not suffer long term effects.

How To Avoid Sleep Deprivation

The easiest way to avoid sleep deprivation is to set a consistent bedtime routine to ensure you’re getting the necessary amount of sleep each night. Plus, practicing good sleep hygiene helps combat certain sleep troubles. And investing in the best mattress for your sleep needs doesn’t hurt, either.

Sleep deprivation arises when we allow ourselves to overlook sleep to make time for other tasks or we neglect sleep troubles and fail to take the steps towards better rest. A couple of late nights may not be a problem for you. But if those few nights turn into a regular routine, you will feel the effects of sleep deprivation.

Practicing good sleep hygiene can help you avoid sleep deprivation. It is completely possible to regain focus and balance in your life. The CDC has listed tips you can follow to prevent and treat symptoms associated with a lack of sleep.

Final Thoughts

How long can you go without sleep? There is no real answer.

What we do know is that people can begin to feel the effects of lack of sleep within 24 hours. Some may experience symptoms earlier. Continuing to not sleep will only worsen these symptoms.

For adults, getting the recommended amount of sleep is vital to your health. It will keep you energized, focused, and alert. Anything less can leave you sluggish, tired, and may put you or someone else in danger.

Medical Disclaimer: The information contained on the site should not be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other health care provider. The information provided here is for informational purposes only.

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