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Have you ever wondered how long you can go on without sleep? All-night study during exams, important business meetings, or just post-pregnancy crises- we all have experienced sleep deprivation at least once in our life. Though this occasional lack of sleep might not seem unhealthy in any sense, long-term sleep deprivation causes numerous changes in our bodies all for bad reasons. To be honest, extreme sleep deprivation can also result in strokes or worst death. Chronic poor sleep puts us at increased risk for serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Let’s take a brief look at what happens when we stay awake for days?

So, the basic sleep deprivation effects happen throughout a timeline of events starting with Impaired Coordination and ending with either stroke or death. If we stay awake for more than 24 hours the body will start reacting in unexpected ways. When you are awake for more than 17 hours you feel decreased hand-eye coordination. A kind of cognitive impairment of someone with a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent. It will also increase the chances of heart attack by 24 percent especially if one has a heart condition.

After 18 hours of sleep deprivation, your body will be at increased stroke risk. It is studied that those who sleep less than 6 hours a day are at increased risk of stroke than others. Additionally, other emotional damages could include decreased attention, impaired hearing, and there is an increase in your risk of death from a fatal accident. 

Once you enter the phase of the 24-hour sleep deprivation cycle, your body will start compensating by shutting down for microsleeps- episodes could last from half a second to a minute. Your overall neuron activity will be suppressed and you will start struggling with what you see in your conscious thoughts, in essence, you’ll start hallucinating. Your body’s cortisol level will be increased which will break down collagen in the skin making it duller, wrinkle-prone, and causing dark eyes. Cytokines the cell signaling proteins will be affected that will further hamper metabolism and the immune system.

sleep deprivation

If you stay awake for more than 36 or 72 hours, that’s when the shit gets real! Your emotional tolerance will be at worst and you will experience more extreme “flight or fight” responses in the amygdala than your other counterparts. Your touch sensibility will be reduced and you could not identify objects based on touch. Insulin levels will drastically decrease and most people will start craving carbohydrates putting them at risk of diabetes and obesity. One could also experience partial memory loss with hallucinations. Then comes light sensitivity where everything around you will become intense and brighter and you will be forced to remain in the dark.

Once the 72 hours threshold is crossed, your body will enter a state of paranoia. You will start experiencing chronic episodes of depression, hallucination, lack of positive thinking, and lack of long-term memory creation. Your body’s mechanism will be affected which could theoretically lead to death. Most probably the reason could be entirely blamed on sleep deprivation itself but with the effects of it like accident, stroke, or heart attack.

A condition called Fatal Familial Insomnia causes serious sleep deprivation and the patients will typically die within a few months of onset, despite controlled environments or even attempts to force them into a coma.

But how can sleep deprivation cause such immense suffering?

According to scientists, the answer could be the accumulation of waste products inside the brain.  When we are awake, our cells are busy consuming daily energy sources which further break downs into several by-products including adenosine. The more the adenosine builds up, the more it’ll cause sleep pressure also known as the urge to sleep. Simultaneously, waste from other by-products also cumulates the brain space overloading. This way our thoughts lead to many negative symptoms of sleep deprivation. 

Scientists argue that there is something called the glymphatic system in the brain that clears up the waste in our heads. It removes all the waste products especially during sleep by using cerebrospinal fluid to flush away the waste materials. Thus, when we wake up, we feel much lighter, refreshed, and positive.

For a normal adult, it is important to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep while for teenagers eight to ten hours of sleep is necessary. For elderly people, at least seven hours of sound sleep is recommended. It’s extremely necessary for your overall health to get good and sound sleep, not only because of the potential dangers associated with it but also because those who have better sleep experience more positive reactions such as faster learning and behavioral function, and better emotional health, as well as better overall health in general.


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