How Long Can You Go Without Sleep?

Here at Ted & Stacey’s Mattress Guides, we tend to go on a lot about how important your sleep is.

We’ve all felt the sheer exhaustion that comes with a bad night’s sleep, and it really shouldn’t take anyone too much convincing to admit that quality sleep-time is often one of the first steps to a better life.

But what if you just… stopped?

Obviously you shouldn’t, and nobody in their right mind would ever try something like that, but still – what would happen if you just didn’t sleep anymore?

Would it kill you?

What would you experience?

Well, buckle up, insomniacs – you’re in for a wild ride.

Has Anyone Ever Died from Not Sleeping?

Let’s start with the fundamentals: is it possible to die from lack of sleep?

Image: spooky graveyard late at night

The answer is… it’s complicated.

The thing is, lack of sleep in general leads to a whole host of medical symptoms –reduced cardiovascular health, depression, increased appetite, lack of motivation, and more.

Both your brain and the rest of your body need sleep and dreams in order to repair themselves and keep functioning like normal.

You cut back on sleeping, and your health rapidly deteriorates.

The Horror of Fatal Familial Insomnia

So, to get back to the question, the clearest case of anyone dying from lack of sleep probably comes from sufferers of an extremely rare genetic disorder known as fatal familial insomnia.

This is a truly horrific disease that’s known to haunt around 40 families around the world.

And it will kill you, make no mistake – but only in one of the longest, most agonizing ways possible.

Symptoms typically kick in late in life, around age 50, although they’ve been known to start as early as the teens.

It starts off relatively “mundane” – just a bit of insomnia that gets increasingly worse and worse over several months, often resulting in things like phobias and paranoia.

Then, about four months in, patients start experiencing frequent panic attacks and hallucinations.

This goes on for about five months – getting progressively worse the whole time – until at some point, you just stop sleeping.

This is when the bad stuff starts happening.

It starts off with a period of rapid weight loss for around a quarter of a year, followed by regressive dementia that slowly eats away at the sufferer’s brain as they descend deeper into this personal hell.

At some point, they grow completely unresponsive to any stimuli whatsoever – stuck in a state of limbo, their brains desperate for sleep but, unable to find any release, left lingering at the gateway.

Sufferers in this state will often move around periodically, as if dreaming.

Their physical health continues to deteriorate for about half a year after they’ve completely stopped sleeping, until finally they pass away from sheer exhaustion.

So in a word, yes.

A person can indeed die from not sleeping.

How Long Could YOU Go Without Sleep?

Now, thankfully, fatal familial insomnia is an extraordinarily rare disease, effecting a negligible portion of the population.

Image: middle-aged woman holding her eyes open

Realistically, it would not be possible for you to go half a year without sleeping.

The record longest time someone not suffering from this disorder has gone without sleeping is much more reasonable – set scientifically by the 17-year-old high school student Randy Gardner back in 1963.

There’s a good story behind this guy, too (and thankfully, it’s a little more lighthearted than all that fatal insomnia stuff!).

You see, Gardner’s family had always moved around a lot when he was a kid, and for whatever reason, he always liked to enter into his school’s science fair competitions wherever he went.

In 1963, Gardner had just moved to San Diego.

It was a much, much bigger city than he was used to, so this year, Gardner really wanted to outdo himself.

So, science fair rolls around, and this kid decides he’s going to see exactly how long he can make himself go without sleeping.

He recruits a couple of his friends to keep him awake, and for the next 264 hours (that’s 11 days!) Gardner does not sleep a single wink.

Clearly, this was not a good idea.

He started suffering from a whole mess of symptoms pretty early on: difficulty concentrating, hallucinations, paranoia, short term memory loss, etc.

Still, though, he told NPR that he didn’t let himself fall asleep until he’d been whisked off to a naval hospital, where researchers attached some electrodes to his forehead and he finally let himself sleep.

After a solid 14 hours, he woke up groggy but functional – and a Guinness World Record holder!

How Little Sleep Can You Get Per Night?

So, somewhere around 11 days is the upward limit on how long a person can make themself go without sleep in one shot.

But of course, that’s not sustainable – not even Randy Gardner would be likely to try another 11 day marathon after waking up from his much-needed sleep!

So, we’re still left with another key question: how little sleep can you make yourself get per night?

Again, just another quick disclaimer before we get into this – you need sleep.

Not sleeping is one of the absolute worst things you could ever do to your body, and we’d really advise everybody reading this article to get their full seven to nine hours every night on a nice, comfy mattress like a Puffy or a Nectar.

Doesn’t that sound nice?

Quality mattresses, quality sleep?

Not pushing your body to the limits of what you can physically make it do?

…but you’re still here, aren’t you.

Alright, it’s your funeral.

Let’s dive in!

The Uberman Sleep Schedule

It would be extremely scientifically unethical to try to test people and see how little sleep they could sustainably get per night, so there’s not really any information out there on what the typical person can get away with by just cutting back on their regular sleeping hours.

Image: Caped superhero flies through the sky

However, there is something called polyphasic sleeping that can let some people get away with far, far less sleep than the rest of us.

Basically, this works by breaking up your sleep into a schedule consisting entirely of 20 minute naps, generally spaced evenly throughout the 24-hour cycle.

There are a couple different variations on this people have come up with over the years, but most famous one – and also the one that leaves you with the least sleep – is the Uberman Sleep Schedule.

This schedule involves just six 20-minute naps per 24-hour period for two hours of sleep per day.

It seems crazy (and to be clear, it probably is), but some people have actually made it work.

There are a couple folks out there who have lasted for years on this schedule, seemingly without any ill effects.

If you wanted to end up trying this thing out, you’d just need a couple of friends around you basically 24/7 for the first several weeks, forcing you to stay awake.

(No one has ever gone full Uberman without help from other people.)

The Limits of “Polyphasic Sleeping”

As you might expect, however, there are a couple limits to the amount of good polyphasic sleeping can do.

First of all, please understand that there has never been any kind of scientific study on the long-term effects of this schedule.

Sleep in general is extremely poorly understood, and it’s not like anyone has ever lived into their old age sticking to the Uberman schedule.

So on the one hand, this might let some people reclaim a good six hours every day.

On the other hand, though, it could just as easily take years off your life.

 There’s no science saying one way or another – though honestly, if you’re this far into this article, I’m kind of questioning how much you really care about your personal safety, so do whatever you want.

Be aware, however, that even the Polyphasic Society’s website warns you against trying certain kind of heavy exercise while on this routine.

Your body needs sleep to repair itself during the night, and once you start messing around with sleep itself, there are some things you might not be able to get away with anymore.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of scheduling.

The fact is, our society is built around the assumption that most people will be getting some somewhat reasonable amount of sleep each night.

You obviously couldn’t hope to keep a nine-to-five while rocking the Uberman!

Conclusion

By this point, we’ve hopefully answered at least a couple of your burning questions about how long you can go without sleep.

In all honesty, sleep is still one of the most poorly understood aspects of this crazy human existence of ours, and there’s still quite a bit we simply do not know about how it works.

Here at Mattress-Guides.net, we just try to go by the simple philosophy of comfort.

In general, your body knows what it needs, and whatever makes your body happy is probably the best way to go.

That’s why we really have devoted a lot of time to collecting the best mattress reviews from around the internet – because we care about comfort, and we think everyone should be able to get to sleep as easily as possible.

If that still sounds reasonable to you after all this wackiness, feel free to check out our full guide best mattresses out there today by clicking here.

And now, seriously – go to sleep!

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