Just how long can you go without sleep? Many famous historical figures claimed to go without sleep for long periods of time. Inventor Nikola Tesla claimed to only sleep for two hours a night, certainly giving a record for most accomplishments on the least amount of sleep.
But how long can you go without sleeping at all? Sleep deprivation is a long and well studied topic with a lot of research going into it. Despite this however, there is no clear consensus on how long one can go without sleep. While detrimental effects have been studied and proven from not getting enough sleep, the typical belief that not getting enough sleep will outright kill you is not exactly true.
There are two different categories of sleep deprivation: chronic and acute. Chronic sleep deprivation means a periodic and common lack of sleep. This can be characterized as sleep disorders like sleep apnea, or just genrally not getting enough shuteye at night. Acute sleep deprivation is a complete absence of sleep over a long period of time. The effects of acute sleep deprivation are a hotly studied topic in the scientific community, with no clear consensus on the effects of it.
The longest period of time anyone has ever gone without sleeping is up for debate as many have claimed different times but few have been veritified. The official record for the longest period of time without sleep is by Randy Gardner, who successfully stayed awake for a period of 264 hours, or 11 days and 24 minutes. Gardner suffered no ill effects from his stunt. While Gardner was able to successfully stay awake for this period of time and suffered no ill effects, the jury of whether he was really “awake” is still out.
When staying awake for long periods, the body will make attempts to preserve itself by going through “microsleeps,” or short bursts of sleep with may last from one to thirty seconds. These “microsleeps” are commonly seen as the cause of traffic or air accidents resulting from a lack of sleep. Gardner’s body subjected himself to these sleeps, resulting in his ability to stay “awake” for the period. Lab rats that have been subjected to sleep deprivation tests have not been so lucky. Lab rats subjected to two weeks without sleep or more have not been so lucky. Lab rats deprived of sleep usually die after two weeks. For obvious reasons, this has never been tested in humans.
Because of the lack of research of consensus on the effects of acute sleep deprivation, there are many interesting frontiers in which the sleep deprivation is being studied. There are a few different disorders which prevent the victums from sleeping, all lending to interesting results. Morvan’s fibrillary chorea or Morvan’s syndrome is a disorder that among many symptoms, causes severe loss of sleep. In many cases of patients with this disorder, they would suffer severe hallucinations for a period of 20 to 60 minutes a night, but would otherwise be unaffected from the lack of sleep. Another disorder, Fatal Familial Insomnia, is a disease that also causes an acute lack of sleep. Among other things, this disease is usually fatal after six to thirty months. While death isn’t brought about directly from a lack of sleep, it is brought about by multiple organ failure.
While there’s no definitive answer out on how long you can go without sleeping, it’s probably best to leave it a question unanswered for now. While not sleeping won’t necessarily kill you, it for sure has detrimental effects: the least of which miscrosleeps. Get a full nights sleep each night, or at least get a little sleep!