One of the most important things you can do for your health is getting a good night's sleep. It's just as important as eating healthy, exercising, and getting checkups from the doctor. When people don’t get enough sleep, the body reacts in many ways, from irritability to hallucinations to cognitive impairments.
If you’re someone who doesn’t like to go to bed or has trouble sleeping, you may wonder how long can you go without sleep. Aside from answering that question, you will find out why sleep is so important.
How Not Sleeping Affects People
Almost everyone has some experience with not getting enough sleep because of staying up all night to study for a test, finishing a presentation for work, or due to an emergency. However, most people don’t make it a habit of staying awake for days on end.
While many Americans like to sleep, but many suffer from a lack of it. The
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, report that 35 percent of all adults in the United States don’t sleep long enough at night. This lack of sleep can cost businesses $411 billion and 1.2 million workdays per year.
Going without sleep for only 24 hours has a detrimental effect on being able to work, study, or take care of yourself and others. Not getting enough sleep can affect a person’s mental and physical health. For instance, 24 hours without sleep has the same effect as having a blood alcohol content, or BAC, of 0.10, which is higher than the DUI legal limit in every state.
It can also cause:
The chronic inability to sleep well can lead to the development of several diseases, including:
If someone goes more than 48 hours without sleeping, they can experience microsleeps, which are short periods where they black out. These short blackouts last from two to 30 seconds, and when they wake up, they will feel disoriented. Memory lapses and not being able to concentrate isn’t uncommon. Some people can experience hallucinations if they are still can’t sleep.
The longest amount of time that someone has not slept is 11 days. It was a 17-year-old boy who was experimenting for a science fair in 1965. However, you shouldn’t purposely try to find out how long can you go without sleep because it can have detrimental effects on your mental health.
Sleep studies involving carefully monitored subjects had them go without sleep for as many as 10 days without significant effects on their physical, neurological, or mental health, but they did experience some other issues, including a lack of concentration, perception, and motivation.
How Much Sleep is Necessary?
Most sleep scientists believe that adults should get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night, though 6.5 is acceptable as well. Unfortunately, some people experience a chronic lack of sleep or sleep deprivation. Aside from chronic sleep deprivation, someone could also experience acute sleep deprivation, and the severity in both cases can vary widely.
Anyone of any gender or age can experience sleep deprivation, but many people can develop it like someone taking care of an elderly parent or a sick child because they often sleep lightly, so they can wake up at night to help their charge, they may have stress, and worry about the future.
Shift workers, like medical personnel, are also more susceptible to developing sleep deprivation, especially if they have trouble sleeping during daytime hours or are switching shifts from days to nights. Finally, people with medical issues can experience sleep deprivation as well. While sleep deprivation is from not sleeping enough hours, insomnia occurs when people cannot sleep at all.
Being sleep deprived is very different than having insomnia because a person can control their environment to get better, longer sleep. For instance, when they go to bed, they shouldn't work in bed or watch television before trying to go to sleep, and turn on a fan if they are too hot.
However, people who experience insomnia don’t have control over their sleep environment because they usually don’t know what is causing them to be unable to sleep. Insomnia can be the result of medical or mental health issues that the person doesn't know about or for which they haven’t received treatment.
Before discovering the causes of insomnia, it’s important to define it. Insomnia may involve not being able to go to sleep at bedtime, but it is also the inability to stay asleep or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep.
Some of the causes of insomnia are:
When someone has insomnia, they may feel fatigued all the time, lack energy, and it can cause problems with thinking clearly. Insomnia is either acute or chronic, with acute insomnia being much more common. Acute insomnia is the inability to sleep or stay asleep that comes and goes. It can last for one night or several weeks.
A person has chronic insomnia if they have trouble sleeping for three or more nights in a week for three months or more. While acute or mild forms of insomnia may not require treatment, sometimes those with chronic insomnia may need help from their doctors. They can prescribe a sleeping pill for temporary relief, so the person doesn't feel tired the next day.
The best way to treat chronic insomnia is to treat the underlying cause if it's due to another condition, such as depression or a medical issue. Seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist may help with behavioral problems or mental health problems like depression, anxiety or PTSD.
If you're aware of a medical issue that is causing chronic insomnia, talk to your doctors about getting help with sleeping.
Good Sleep Habits
One way to treat insomnia or sleep deprivation is to develop good sleep habits. These habits could include a bedtime routine or taking all electronic devices out of the bedroom. Here are a few situations for making the bedroom your sleep haven.
Create a comfortable sleeping atmosphere by darkening the bedroom, putting soft pillows and bedding on the bed, and making sure it isn't too hot or cold. If there is a light that is bothering you, use a sleep mask or put blackout drapes on the windows. If noise is a problem, then either use earplugs or “white noise” like a fan running to block out the noise.
Take all the electronic devices out of your bedroom. If you have a TV or computer in your bedroom, move it out into the living room or create a TV or office if you have space. Electronic devices can wind-up people up at night, causing them to be unable to sleep when they go to bed.
Do not use an e-reader or cellphone when in bed. These devices give off blue light, which has been found to disrupt sleep patterns.
Create and follow a bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time in the mornings. Before bed, change into your sleepwear and read a book to wind down or meditate to relax the body and mind. Unless you're sick or extremely tired, do not take naps during the day because they can interfere with the ability to sleep.
Cut back on the consumption of drinks containing alcohol or caffeine, especially at night. Also, try not to eat after certain times in the evening. It takes about three hours after consuming dinner for your stomach to empty, which can help you sleep. So, if dinner is at six in the evening, don’t eat after nine o’clock.
Getting regular exercise helps many people sleep, but don’t exercise three to four hours before going to bed. It can stimulate some people, making it harder for them to go to sleep at night.
Don’t use the bed for anything but sleep and sex. Anything else can affect your ability to sleep or stay asleep and lead to insomnia.
It should also go without saying that you shouldn’t try to find out how long can you go without sleep. Good sleep habits can help you get rid of feelings of fatigue, low energy, and it helps some people feel better mentally.
If you have problems with sleep, try these seven suggestions first before asking your doctor for help. If they still don’t work, discuss your sleep issues with your doctor, so you can discover why you cannot go or stay asleep at bedtime.