Here’s What Happens When You Go Without Sleep

Sleep is a daily requirement, and it’s not a stretch to say that we wouldn’t be able to function properly without it. We need 7-8 hours of good sleep each night to keep our minds and bodies working. Although there’s no record of humans dying from not sleeping, a lack of it can lead to potentially serious health conditions. In 1964, Randy Gardner set a record for going without sleep the longest – a total of 264.4 hours. His feat broke the previous record held by Tom Rounds, which was 260 hours. It’s claimed that Gardner wasn’t really affected by the sleep deprivation, but according to John J. Ross who monitored him, there were many indications that all was not well.


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Ross reported that Gardner showed signs of ataxia after two days of no sleep. Ataxia is a neurological indication of a lack of muscle coordination such as difficulty with speech. As the days passed, Gardner is said to have become moody and uncoordinated and also began to hallucinate. He had a short attention span and failed the serial sevens test. Remarkably, he was able to recover from the experiment with no long-term effects.

We already know that lack of sleep, in the long run, can pretty much wreak havoc on one’s system. But what happens each day you go without sleep? What exactly unfolds? Let’s take a look.

24 Hours

Staying awake for 24 hours puts you in a similar state as being drunk. It’s the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of .1 percent. Joseph Ojile of the National Sleep Foundation says that the ability to think is the first to go. Coordination takes a nosedive, you become irritable, and you’re able to feel pain more frequently. The immune system suffers too and can leave you susceptible to infections.

36 Hours

Those who make it past 24 hours and reach the 36-hour mark will find themselves struggling to remember things. The cardiovascular system undergoes heavy stress and heart rate, and blood pressure increases. Stress levels go up too, and the body has trouble regulating hormones like cortisol, which is released in response to stress, and other ordinary events like waking up and exercising. In fact, just a single night of sleeplessness can lead to high cortisol the next evening so you can imagine what 36 hours of sleep deprivation does. Over time, elevated cortisol can lead to fatigue, weight gain and high blood pressure.

48 Hours

Unsurprisingly, not sleeping for two days and nights straight has even more of an impact on your body and mind. It becomes increasingly difficult to stay awake, and your system compensates for this by initiating microsleeps. These are short episodes of sleep that last for just a fraction of a second to about 10 seconds. You may not be aware that you’re micro sleeping and it can happen anytime, no matter what you’re doing.

Cerrahpasa Medical School did a study on the effects of sleep deprivation over a period of 48 hours. They found that the amount of NK cells (natural killer cells), a type of white blood cells, fell during sleep deprivation. These cells are very important for killing virally infected cells. They also detect and control cancer cells.

72 Hours

Making it to day 3 without sleep takes a lot of effort because the urge to sleep is so strong. By this time, doing even simple tasks is tough. You’ll find it hard to remember details and may start to hallucinate and experience illusions. Microsleeps continue, and paranoia may set in. You basically become a mess.

It’s not known if sleep deprivation is fatal for humans although it appears to be for rats at least. Allan Rechtschaffen from the University of Chicago did an experiment on rats where he kept them awake for 32 days. They all died although no one knows what exactly killed them. One theory says that they succumbed to hypothermia as their body temperatures dropped. Another says that their immune systems were so compromised that bacteria that normally live in their intestines made their way to other parts of their bodies.


I used to believe I was just a bad sleeper, until I bought my first NUVANNA bed! I haven’t slept this well in years, or possibly ever! I could not be more excited about the quality of this bed and the improvements it has brought to my sleep! This is an investment that you will not regret.

Kori Theusch | Published on Thursday, November 13, 2018

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Americans average around 6.8 hours of sleep a night. That’s about an hour less than we slept in 1942. It may not seem like a big gap. But, since we need between 7-8 hours of sleep each night and most of us aren’t getting it, it’s time we prioritize this most essential of needs. There are a few ways we can improve sleep quality and meet the recommended number of sleep hours. Powering down gadgets at least an hour before bed and keeping work and distractions out of the bedroom are a couple of examples. Using a mattress designed for better sleep such as Nuvanna is another.


No one has been able to stay awake for 32 days so we may never know if sleep loss can kill. But, it wouldn’t be surprising if humans went through a similar fate, especially seeing as what just 72 hours without sleep can do. According to a Consumer Reports survey, 27 percent of Americans had difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep on most nights. 68 percent said they struggled to sleep at least once a week. Those are worrying numbers, and they should motivate us to prioritize sleep as we do other vital things in life.

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