What is the record for a human to go without sleep?

Randy Gardner of San Diego is the world record holder for no sleep.  Randy was only 17 years old at the time, and he decided to experiment on himself by staying awake. He stayed awake with no sleep for 264 hours, that’s 11 days.

After the first night of no sleep, Randy reported being nauseous. And by the fourth day, he was hallucinating. It took several friends to keep him awake during his ordeal. On the 11th day, Randy was examined at a hospital, then slept for 14-hours and was well afterward.

How long can you go without sleep?

There is a good reason we spend a third of our lives sleeping. So, how long can you go without sleep to live a healthy, productive life? If you want to live a healthy life you need regular and sufficient sleep. Even a single night without sleep could ruin your day. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will pay the price later. Not getting sufficient regular sleep can weaken your immune system, cause memory issues, result in weight gain, and lower your sex drive.

You need sufficient sleep to lead a happy, productive, and healthy life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should get at least 7 to 9 hours each night. The CDC claims that 1 in 3 adults get less than 7 hours of sleep every night. That means that about 30 percent of the population is sleep-deprived. While ditching sleep may leave time for other activities, there serious risks of skipping out on sleep altogether.

But what happens when you can’t sleep enough? People who don’t get enough sleep may be at greater risk of diabetes, certain types of cancers, and even car accidents. In this article, we look at what sleep deprivation is, how it impacts your daily life, and what you can expect after sleepless nights. Let’s dive in.

Related post: How to Sleep with a Holter Monitor?

Why don’t Americans value sleep?

Are you feeling exhausted? You are not alone. There is a huge increase in people working in two or more jobs, working longer hours, and more focus on trying to find time to workout. For many people, skipping sleep is a choice they can’t refuse. Most people who don’t get enough sleep think of sleep as a luxury they can’t afford. They understand that their mood is better when they get a good night’s sleep and worse when they don’t.

Americans think that they can easily make up during the weekend for the lost hours of sleep during the week. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. When you don’t sleep enough, you are refusing your body the opportunity to literally repair and restore itself. Without rest, you will fail physically and mentally in the long run.

And making up the lost hours of sleep is a bigger job than many people realize. If you cheat yourself out of 8 hours of sleep in a week, for example, you’ll rack up a full night’s sleep debt. You can’t make up so many hours of sleep loss with a few hours of extra sleep on the weekend.

What are the effects of lack of sleep?

If you habitually operate without enough sleep, you may suffer from long-term health problems. Some of the most serious potential problems associated with a lack of sleep are heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and even stroke. Other possible health risks due to the lack of sleep are depression, obesity, a weakened immune system, and lower sex drive.

What is sleep deprivation?

The name says it all; sleep deprivation happens when you’re not getting the sleep you need. Habitually sleeping less than 7 to 9 hours each night can result in chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation can negatively impact all areas of your life.

Students, parents of young children, and workaholics are all too familiar with the practice of ditching sleep to get more done. Initially, going without sleep may seem like a good idea, but you can’t come out ahead without sleep— even if you’d like to think you can.

If you don’t sleep enough, the unpleasant side effects of sleep deprivation will catch up to you sooner rather than later. Sleep deprivation doesn’t have the same impact on everybody. Your body may respond differently than someone else.

If you are sleep deprived, you may experience some of the typical short-term symptoms such as:

  • Irritability and Mood swings – Even missing as little as one hour of sleep can have a negative impact on your mood.
  • Difficulty concentrating – Scientists have found that sleep deprivation causes lower concentration.
  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue –
  • Memory problems – Sleep deprivation impacts your ability to learn because you can’t be focused as well while fatigued.
  • Weakened immune system
  • Weight gain
  • Poor coordination – Sleepiness weakens your coordination, a special problem when operating machinery, driving, or performing tasks that require a quick response.
  • Diminished decision-making skills – Not enough sleep hampers your ability to perform tasks that require complex reasoning.

You need to sleep to give your body a chance to restore and refresh itself after a day of stressors. Depriving yourself of the opportunity to sleep after a hectic day is never a good idea.

What are the symptoms of sleep deprivation?

If you are someone who is getting too little quality sleep, you may experience a range of symptoms, including:

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Shortened attention span
  • Difficulty remembering and learning
  • Reduced sex drive

What are the long-term effects of sleep deprivation?

Even though we don’t know the exact reasons why we need to sleep, but we understand that there are long term adverse effects of sleep deprivation. If we don’t sleep for the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep each night, we are going to pay with our health.

Here are the long-term adverse health effects of sleep deprivation:

Immune System Deficiency

The lack of sleep can make you sick, really sick. One of the long term negative effects of sleep deprivation is a weakened immune system. Consequently, people who don’t sleep enough are more likely to get sick. The lack of sleep can also extend the time it takes you to recover from illness.

While you sleep, your immune system releases proteins. Some of these proteins, called cytokines, promote sleep. When you have anxiety or inflammation, some cytokines need to increase. Sleep deprivation may reduce the production of cytokines. Also, cells and infection-fighting antibodies are diminished during periods when you fail to get enough sleep.

To maintain a healthy body and fight infectious diseases, your body needs sleep. How much sleep do you need to keep your immune system strong? For healthy adults, the optimal amount of sleep is eight hours each night. School-aged children should get ten or more hours of sleep. Teenagers need nine to ten hours of sleep, depending on their age.

Faulty Brain Function

Sleep deprivation impairs brain functions such as decision making and memory. Sleep deprivation could push you to lose money. A study completed by the Journal of Sleep found that sleep deprivation could negatively affect a person’s decision-making at a gambling table by heightening expectations of winning and ignoring the possibility of losses as a result of a poor decision.

To understand the neural drivers of risky decision making under sleep deprivation, Vinod Venkatraman and colleagues of Duke University studied healthy volunteers to measure the haemodynamic reaction related to neural activity in the spinal cord and brain of humans. The study found that the nucleus accumbens, an area in the mind engaged in anticipation of reward, becomes more active when high risk-high payoff choices were made under conditions of sleep deprivation.

Although the quantity of high-risk decisions did not increase with sleep deprivation, the expectation of being rewarded for making the high-risk gamble was raised. Connected to this finding was the detection that there was a weakened reaction to losses in the insula, a part of the brain participating in evaluating the emotional weight of an event.

The findings of the study build on past research that has shown that sleep-deprived participants choose higher-risk decks and exhibit minimal concern for negative outcomes when performing a variant of the Iowa Gambling Task. While sleep-deprived participants choose from the risky decks as the game progresses, well-rested participants learn to avoid high-risk decks and to choose from the advantageous decks.

Depression & Anxiety

Excessive sleepiness not only effects your immune system; it has a significant impact on your mental health. When you don’t get the recommended hours of quality sleep each night, it can change your outlook on life, emotions, stress level, and energy level.

If you are feeling blue, you may not immediately associate it with a lack of sleep. But even minor levels of long-term sleep deprivation can chip away at your happiness. You might experience a loss of enthusiasm for things you used to enjoy. When you are sleepy, you can become more irritable have some of the symptoms of clinical depression. All these changes in your mental health can affect not only your own wellbeing but your personal and professional relationship.

Many studies show the relationship between mood and sleep deprivation. Researchers found that people with insomnia more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than people who sleep enough. People who suffer from sleep deprivation are 17 times as likely to suffer from clinical anxiety and ten times as likely to have clinical depression. The more an individual experiences insomnia, and the more frequently they are unable to sleep through the night, the greater the possibility of developing depression.

Obstructive sleep apnea is also linked to depression. The people who suffer from this condition in which a person wakes frequently and very briefly throughout the night, found to be more likely to suffer from clinical depression. Researchers believe that frequent sleep disruptions can alter brain activity and neurochemicals that affect a person’s cognition and mood.

The interrelationship between sleep and mood is interwoven. We know that disrupted sleep can cause emotional changes, anxiety, or clinical depression. In fact, abnormal sleep patterns are a hallmark of a wide array of mental health issues.

See your doctor to examine your total physical and mental health status and decide if further tests or a treatment plan is necessary if you find yourself sleeping too much or too little.


There is a link between diabetes and sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is a severe risk factor for type 2 diabetes, a disease that involves too much sugar (or glucose) in the blood and raises the risk of heart disease. When you skimp on shuteye, your hormone levels are thrown out of whack.

With ongoing sleep loss, less insulin is released in the body after you eat. At the same time, your body secretes more stress cortisol (a stress hormone), which helps you stay awake but makes it harder for insulin to do its job effectively. The result is that too much glucose stays in the bloodstream, which can increase the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes.

These effects have been seen with a decrease in slow-wave (or “deep”) sleep. Deep sleep is considered to be the most restorative stage of sleep because it appears to play a significant role in maintaining proper blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.

To make things worse, getting too little sleep can increase your appetite, causing you to overeat. In the long run, indulging in these cravings can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and insulin levels, and it can result in weight gain. Keep in mind that obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Plus, when you’re sleepy, you’re more likely to feel tired and less motivated to exercise, which is a problem because regular exercise helps with blood sugar control and weight management.

If sleep deprivation is only temporary, these effects can be reversed. With as little a couple of full nights of good quality sleep, your insulin levels can improve. This is comforting to know when you’re forced to pull an allnighter or two to deal with a family emergency or meet a work deadline. Careful not to make this a habit. In the long run, make an effort to get eight to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep on a nightly basis. It is the only way to feel and function at your highest level and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Psychiatric Disorders

Psychiatric disorders and the amount of regular sleep you get are related in meaningful ways. The relationship is complicated and includes bi-directional causation.

Memory Loss

Poor quality sleep among the elderly can result in brain deterioration and memory loss, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The groundbreaking research is the first of its kind to validate the link between memory loss and poor sleep.

The researchers found that while we sleep, important brain waves are produced, which have a critical role in storing memories. The brain waves transfer memories from an area of the brain called the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain where long term memories are stored.

Sleep deprivation in adults causes memories to stay stuck in the hippocampus and not reach the prefrontal cortex. The result is forgetfulness and difficulty remembering names.


Sleep deprivation increases blood pressure. Insomnia and poor sleep are associate with hypertension.

Heart Attack & Stroke

Both heart attack and stroke a linked to a lack of sleep.  Adults who sleep fewer than seven hours every night are more likely to say they have had health issues, including heart attack. When you sleep normally, your blood pressure lowers. Sleep deprivation means your blood pressure stays higher for a more extended amount of time. Over time, sleep problems such as insomnia and sleep apnea can hurt your heart health.

Decreased Fertility

A study showed that sleeping less than six hours can affect male fertility through reduced sperm motility and survival and a reduced sperm count. Women reporting some sleep issues were 3.7 times more likely to suffer from infertility than women with healthy sleep patterns, according to a ten-year study conducted in Taiwan.

What are the stages of sleep deprivation?

There are five stages of sleep deprivation:

Stage 1 – Sleep deprivation happens after you miss 24-hours of sleep.

What happens after 24 hours of no sleep? It not uncommon for people to miss 24-hours of sleep. Stage 1 sleep deprivation shouldn’t cause major health problems, but you can expect to be in a bad mood and become easily irritated. According to the CDC, going without sleep for 24-hours has the same effect as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent. That’s above the legal limit to drive in the United States.

At stage 1 of sleep deprivation, you can expect symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Impaired coordination
  • Anger
  • Higher chance or accidents
  • Drowsiness
  • Increase levels of anxiety
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Termors
  • Brain fog
  • Puffy eyes
  • Food cravings
  • Dark undereye circles

What happens after 36 hours of no sleep?

Stage 2 – Sleep deprivation occurs after 36-hours of no sleep.

Your symptoms may become more severe. An overwhelming urge to sleep is normal at stage 2 sleep deprivation. Brief periods of sleep or Microsleeps are likely at this stage. After 36-hours of no sleep, different parts of your brain will have difficulty communicating with each other.

This seriously impairs your mental performance, causing symptoms like:

  • Difficulty forming new memories
  • Sluggish reaction time
  • Learning problems
  • Poor decision making
  • Increased errors
  • Behavioral changes
  • Inability to process social cues

What happens after 48 hours of no sleep?

Stage 3 – Extreme sleep deprivation occurs after missing 48 hours of sleep.

By the time you reach stage 3 sleep deprivation, you might begin to hallucinate. A hallucination occurs when you hear, feel, and see things that aren’t really there.

You might experience the following side effects if you don’t sleep for 48 hours:

  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Increased stress levels
  • Depersonalization
  • Unwarranted irritability

What happens after 72 hours of sleep deprivation?

Stage 4 – People feel a heightened urge to sleep after three days of sleep loss.

By this stage of sleep deprivation, the lack of sleep significantly impairs your perception. More extended and more frequent periods of microsleeps are more common in stage 4 of sleep deprivation.

You might experience more complex hallucinations, and you may also have:

  • Depersonalization
  • Delusions
  • Disordered thinking
  • Illusions

What happens after I am awake for 96 hours or longer?

Stage 5 – Your perception of reality may be dangerously distorted.

Being awake for 96 hours or longer without sleep, you might experience an unbearable urge to sleep.  At this stage of sleep deprivation, you might be unable to interpret reality. This state is called “sleep deprivation psychosis.” The only way to recover from sleep deprivation psychosis is to catch up on your sleep. If you want to recover from sleep deprivation, you must make a serious commitment to sleeping more.