Sleep deprivation is a fascinating topic, spawning a wide range of research and experimentation over the years.
Many of the experiments were rigorously scientific. But there have also been some controversial and cruel tests done, both by scientists and the military.
Then there are the handful of brave individuals who willingly documented themselves going through extreme sleep deprivation to add to the picture.
Some did it in the name of science, others to raise money for charity or to get their name in the Guinness World Records book.
Whatever the case, we’ve learned a lot from observing their steady mental and physical decline as the lack of sleep took its toll.
Note: This article focuses on extreme cases of sleep deprivation, and is not an overview of sleep deprivation in general. If you’re having problems with your sleep, and it’s affecting your well-being, please speak with your doctor. I also recommend trying self-help for sleep, as there are lots of different techniques that can help.
1. Peter Tripp’s 201 hour DJ set
Way back in 1959, the radio presenter Peter Tripp came up with a unique way to raise money for a children’s foundation.
He decided to sit inside a glass booth in Times Square and broadcast his radio show for 201 straight hours.
He was observed in his giant goldfish bowl by scientists and doctors throughout, along with the curious general public.
At the outset, he seemed very much in good spirits. By day 3, however, he was cursing the people around him and hallucinating. He thought there were spiders in his shoes, for example, and took them off to check.
Dreaming while awake
The observing scientists noted that his brainwaves appeared to mirror what would usually be the 90 minute REM sleep cycle – the sleep stage when dreaming typically occurs.
He was hallucinating during those specific periods, so they hypothesized that he was seeing dream imagery whilst awake.
Despite struggling to keep a grip on reality, he managed to finish the experiment. He then slept for 13 hours, after which he reported that he had recovered well.
His family and friends disagreed though, saying he was a changed man and still suffering the effects of his experiment. Not long after, he got divorced, lost his job, and eventually became a traveling salesman.
Here’s a fascinating documentary about Peter Tripp’s brave sleep deprivation experiment.
2. Randy Gardner’s sleep deprivation world record
It’s not clear who holds the record for the longest period of time with no sleep. Despite numerous claims throughout history, most are anecdotal and lack indisputable proof.
The Guinness World Records organization no longer registers this category because of worries about the damage people might cause themselves. So there’s no longer an organization that can answer this question once and for all, and sleep-deprivation hobbyists (if that’s even a thing!) will have to agree amongst themselves.
11 days and 24 minutes awake
One interesting candidate for the record is a scientifically observed experiment in 1964. Amazingly, a high school student in San Diego called Randy Gardner stayed awake for 11 days and 24 minutes.
The experiment was observed and documented by professionals, including a Stanford sleep researcher. So despite more recent claims to have broken the record, this one stands out because it was carefully monitored.
During the experiment, it was noted that he experienced diminished cognitive functioning and behavioral changes. He was moody, suffered from paranoia and hallucinations, along with memory and concentration problems.
Incredibly though, he still won a game of ping pong against one of the observers on day 10!
Randy was able to hold a press conference at the end, in which he appeared to be well and healthy. And after two very long sleeps over the next few days, he seemed to fully recover.
Shattered – a controversial reality TV show
In 2004, a British reality TV show called Shattered was aired. 10 contestants had to stay awake for seven days, competing in challenges and tasks along the way.
The eventual winner was Clare Southern, who endured 178 hours of sleep deprivation, winning £97,000 for her efforts.
Despite numerous complaints about the concept behind the series, none of the competitors suffered any health consequences of note.
In 2018, the Guardian published an interesting article looking back at the show if you’d like to know more.
4. Do you need your beauty sleep?
People have long joked that they need their beauty sleep, and it seems that they might be right.
In 2013, Swedish researchers conducted a study of the effects of sleep deprivation on facial appearance.
They photographed five men and five women after a normal night’s sleep, and again after 31 hours of sleep deprivation.
20 men and 20 women were asked to judge the photos based on factors such as fatigue, facial cues of different emotions, and sadness.
The study found that following the period of sleep deprivation, people were judged as having:
…more hanging eyelids, redder eyes, more swollen eyes, darker circles under the eyes, paler skin, more wrinkles/fine lines, and more droopy corners of the mouth…In addition, sleep-deprived individuals looked sadder than after normal sleep, and sadness was related to looking fatigued.
5. If you look tired, will people avoid you?
In 2017, Swedish researchers again studied how people perceive others when sleep deprived.
122 people rated photos of 25 people after two days of sleep restriction. They found some startling results:
- They were less inclined to socialize with the sleep-deprived people.
- They were seen as less healthy, and more sleepy.
- They were judged as being less attractive.
- Interestingly, trustworthiness didn’t change.
So along with your physical appearance, could your social life also suffer if you don’t sleep well? Personally, I’d like to think my family and friends would still enjoy my company if I have bags under my eyes!
6. Can you die from sleep deprivation?
One of the most common questions about sleep deprivation is “can I die from it?” I’m happy to report that the most straightforward answer, at least for humans, appears to be no.
It seems that somewhere along the evolutionary path, humans developed a safety mechanism that literally forces us to sleep.
It’s not a normal sleep though: it will happen in short stints of just a few seconds, and you’re unlikely to even notice it just happened.
These brief episodes are called microsleeps, and are thought to be one of the main reasons that humans can survive prolonged sleep deprivation.
My personal view is that this simple and reassuring answer applies most to people who are in a relatively safe environment and just not sleeping.
But what happens if you don’t sleep for several nights and then drive a car or engage in other high-risk activities?
What happens if you’re responsible for someone else’s life in a way that requires you to be fully alert and capable of making good decisions?
I’ll leave you with those questions as food for thought!
7. Can animals die from sleep deprivation?
In contrast to humans, who appear to be resistant to sleep deprivation, rats aren’t so lucky.
Sadly, research has shown that they always die if they’re kept awake for too long. Experiments in 1983 and 1995 confirmed this effect, with no rats surviving either test.
Rats do experience something similar to microsleeps, but it’s limited to one tiny part of the brain at a time. So without the safety mechanism that humans have, they usually die within 11 to 32 days.
Some people, myself included, will understandably find the rat experiments upsetting. It’s even more disturbing to think back to some of the earliest sleep deprivation experiments at the end of the 19th century.
In 1894 and 1898, experiments were done by Russian and Italian scientists in which dogs were kept awake by continual walking. All of the dogs died in under two weeks. Sorry – I promise there are no more sad animal stories in the article!
8. A natural antidepressant
One of the established consequences of sleep deprivation is a worse mood. However, it may be that it can temporarily have the opposite effect for some people.
A single 24 hour period of Sleep Deprivation Therapy (SDT) was shown in a study to improve mood and behavior in people with treatment-resistant depression or bipolar disorder.
The improved mood was found to last for up to 48 hours or until the person falls asleep, after which the symptoms usually return.
In 2017, researchers published a review of 66 different studies into sleep deprivation and depression. They concluded that:
These findings support a significant effect of sleep deprivation and suggest the need for future studies on the phenotypic nature of the antidepressant response to sleep deprivation
My personal view, however, would be that intentionally staying awake for long periods of time and skipping sleep altogether on a regular basis is unlikely to be a cure for depression.
9. Sleep Deprivation as Torture
If you’ve ever experienced a long bout of sleep deprivation, you’ll know that it can be a torturous ordeal.
So it’s no surprise that it’s been used to extract information from prisoners and in brainwashing scenarios on many occasions (and by many nations).
Techniques include constantly moving captives around or making them change cells regularly. Sometimes prisoners are eventually allowed to fall asleep, only to be immediately woken up again.
In 2005, the CIA admitted to authorizing up to 180 hours of continuous sleep deprivation during interrogations. That’s over a week without sleep.
In 2014, the United Nations criticized the United States for continuing to use sleep deprivation as a form of torture, despite banning other controversial techniques such as waterboarding.
The United States is by no means the only country to have engaged in this kind of torture though.
Interestingly, a New York Times article reported that the United States military adopted the technique after training their own people to cope with classic Soviet-style torture.
10. The Russian sleep experiment hoax
If you search online for sleep deprivation experiments, you’ll no doubt encounter the graphically disturbing Russian sleep experiment.
I’m not going to dedicate much space to it here, other than to say it never happened.
People still debate its veracity online, but the fact that it first appeared in a forum thread asking people to invent the best urban legend is proof enough, I think.
Sleep deprivation is a complex condition that scientists still don’t fully understand yet, much like sleep itself.
Part of the reason there’s still so much to discover is that it’s hard to get volunteers for sleep deprivation studies. And it’s not easy to get ethics boards to approve experiments that can result in ill-health and suffering for the volunteers.
What we do know though is that it can result in mental and physical ill-health sooner or later.
As the sleep deprivation experiments here demonstrate, even if there’s a potential positive side in very specific circumstances, for most people it’s something to be avoided.
Have you experienced sleep deprivation?
Have you ever spent one or more nights with no sleep at all? What were the circumstances and how did you feel?
Please leave a comment below with your story and thoughts.
This was a really interesting article, thanks! I love the range of different experiments included, from the extreme personal challenges to the more scientific ones. I don’t think I’ll be doing either haha
You’re welcome Adrian – I’m glad you enjoyed the variety I tried to include. I won’t be either – my mission is to sleep more, not less!
I think you are talking about fatal familal insomnia. Its a rare diseases and only affects 46 families in the world. Your sleep gets worse until you stop sleeping completely and develop dementia symptoms. Which is sad especially if you are still young. Chronic insomnia is different its something people develop since childhood and lasts the rest of their lives. They are used to it so it won’t kill them. Its part of their life.
I once went camping at a festival and just could not ‘switch off’ and fall asleep in my tent, I think I got about 5 hours sleep in total over a 150 hour period. (And I hadn’t taken any drugs!) Several nights in weird hallucinations would keep me awake at night although interestingly I didn’t hallucinate in the day. By the time I got into my own bed I felt as if my brain chemistry was ‘off’ and that I was deconstructing somehow. Even after one afternoon and night of recovery sleep although I felt on top of the world the next day at first, by the late evening my concentration had crashed and I felt a little depersonalised. Sleep deprivation is scary stuff!
I worked two jobs back when I was 19 and in my early 20s. I worked at a movie theater and as a waitress at a pancake house. I did not have a car, so I always took the bus or I would ride my bike. There was a big event happening at my first job(movie theater) that caused me to have to work overtime. I had time to take the bus home but no time to sleep. I would take a shower and get ready for my next job(the pancake house) then after taking the bus to my theater job. I did this for 3 1/2 days and I would take naps on the bus and naps on my break. I was so tired that I got food orders wrong, gave away the wrong change, I probably smelled bad and started seeing lines across my eyes as I dozed off while trying to get side work done. It was terrible. I struggled, but I did eventually have to quit one job, because it was impossible for me to stay functional.
The article was very interesting. I am a physician and during my internship and residency training it was common to be awake over 48 hours on a routine basis. Sometimes I recall being awake for over 4 days. In retrospect I recall seeing orders on patients that I didnt recall writing, and seeing patients I performed procedures on and had zero memory of the entire event. I also recall falling asleep in traffic on the highway and the feeling of being asleep with my eyes open. 7 years later after I completed my training I found myself to be a completely different person. I was less happy. Many of the things that were important to me no longer were, i.e. birthdays and holidays. I needed only 3-4 hours of sleep per night to be functional. But most importantly I felt like my energy level reset. It never got back to the original super high energy level I had before I began my training. It has been 25 years since I finished my training and it still has not returned. Sleep deprivation is not without consequences.
Thanks for sharing your story here. It sounds like that period of time really took a toll on you. Do you think it was down to the chronic lack of sleep, or could other factors like the stress of the job have played a role too?
Thank you for your reply. Believe it or not, I didn’t find the training stressful at all. I trained in trauma and critical care and have always felt best in high-intensity situations. So, I believe it was simply a chronic lack of sleep.
I imagine it may well have been then!
I have experienced three episodes of sleep deprivation, each between 72 and 110 hours. They have all been coincident with manic episodes–I have bipolar type I. The first was in 2004, the second in 2008, and the most recent was just a week ago, March/April 2020. Each episode has been characterized by delusion, audio and visual hallucination, paranoia, and magical thinking. Those symptoms manifest as a religious fervor with some ESP thrown in for good measure. I have believed that I am psychic, that I am a conduit for the dead to speak to the living, and that I am either the reincarnation of Christ (first two episodes) or, fun twist, the Whore of Babylon/personified Wisdom (most recent episode). Each time I have felt compelled to bring about the apocalypse by behaving in specific (sometimes dangerous) ways, including driving the wrong way up busy streets in order to manipulate time, placing books and household items in (seemingly) nonsensical locations in order to perform “miracles,” and creating “divinely inspired” poetry and artwork. As an atheist/agnostic/absurdist, that type of delusion seems at odds with my more “normal” mental state and belief set.
Anyhoo I just slept for 20 hours thanks to a combo of melatonin (3mg) and mirtazapine (7.5 mg) that I was prescribed during a 3 day voluntary stay at a behavioral health unit. After the high of mania, the abrupt pendulum swing of depression seems especially intense and disheartening.
I am looking into ketamine treatments and am absolutely willing to participate in sleep deprivation studies under the care and supervision of mental health professionals.
Thank you for sharing your experience so honestly – I am sure others will benefit from reading such a candid description of what you experience. I’m glad that you are receiving medical support, as I know it’s not easy to live with these kind of episodes in your life.
All the best
In 2001, I spent about 3 months only getting 4 hours of sleep per night, while doing manual labor all other hours. I was hallucinating, microsleeping, yelling, the whole nine yards. I eventually had a catastrophic brain-crash and … rebooted. For nine months, I was a shadow of a person who could not take care of myself or hold a job, though I tried. I know two other people this has happened to… Why doesn’t it have a name?
Thanks for sharing your experience. That sounds very intense and stressful. Did your doctor ever give it a name or a diagnosis of what happened to you?
Back in my methamphetamine days I routinely would stayed up over a week. The longest I ever stayed up on a bender was over 3 weeks by then I had to be admitted into a hospital for temporary psychosis.
I have experienced a very similar episode. And am still dealing heavily with the effects. Out of curiosity, would you go a little more in depth on your experience if comfortable with it?
People have died from severe insomnia, which is a sleep disorder where the person is unable to sleep or has habitual difficulty sleeping.
I’m so tired. I can’t remember the last time I actually slept; I know it’s been at least a week without quality sleep.
I’ve tried everything to fix my sleep hygiene but nothing has worked. I contacted my doctor and am waiting to hear back.
What helps me most is:
– Replacing bedroom ceiling bulbs with smart bulbs that fade in on a timer in the morning
– Making my room cold at night
– Nutrients–Multivitamin, Magnesium, L-Tryptophan, B6, etc.
– Lowering caffeine dose to <= 80mg/day. As an adenosine receptor antagonist, caffeine is an extremely potent anti-sleep agent!
We did a sleep experiment as a group a few years ago to prove why people all see the famous “shadow people” when forced awake using high doses of caffine and taurine. After around 3-4 days the group can become wary of each other and short tempered and shadows moved around ect . I think the most we goto was 6 days before the mind was playing tricks, moral judgement was the worse that happened to two of the group, and the “micro naps” were taking over literally forcing sleep. We recorded constantly to ensure we didn’t miss anything and after a good 18 hour sleep we were all fine. Why do we need to sleep is always going to be a unanswered question for some time to come yet as we spend half our life doing it lol.
Thanks for sharing what sounds like an interesting experiment – if a little stressful I imagine! Where did you do this experiment?
I have seen a dark figure once. I was in sleep paralysis. I didn’t realize it at the moment. I had woke up around 3 am. I was just laying there with my eyes open. Then I noticed something odd. It was a very dark spot. At first I thought it was my vent. It was located above my door. Then I saw the vent beside it. So I kept staring. All of a sudden it was growing. I realized something was actually there. I wasn’t seeing a random shadow or etc. By then I was freaking out. I tried to grab my husband. He was sleeping beside me. That’s when I figured out I couldn’t move. I thought that thing was holding me down. I would describe it as a black shapeless being. Looked more like a cloak. That could move on its own? Lol it was pretty large. It made no sound. I could tell it was staring at me. After it came through the wall it lowered some. Just hovering in the air. By then my fear turned into anger. I cussed at it. Don’t judge me. I was literally half asleep and thinking I’m going crazy. Lol, Well that seemed to really tick it off. It flew straight above my face. Then it stopped. I just knew what was about to happen. All of a sudden it flew straight at my face. Right when it did that I finally broke free. I was hysterical all night. Just crying to my husband. I didn’t have sleep deprivation at all. I loved to sleep at that time. I went through a period kinda recently. I was scared to sleep. It all started with astral projection. I ended up with sleep deprivation and paranoia. That is a way longer story. With several stories inside. Mostly horrible but a couple of incredible experiences I would never change. I’m not sure why I added this. Just thought I would say lack of sleep had nothing to do with it on my part. This singer Ariana Grande had described the same thing I saw. She called it a demon. I know I felt pure fear. So it’s possible. I also think I was hallucinating. Not sure
I can agree with you. I have experienced sleep paralysis from 2011 to now, 2020. I started talking to my current boyfriend how last Thursday I experienced sleep paralysis. During this sleep paralysis I heard a whisper at our bedroom door telling me to look at him. At first, I refused to look at him. Then I looked towards the door and saw this black figure with scary eyes looking into our bedroom staring right at me. I proceeded to go back to sleep and woke up. I went about my day when I finally told my boyfriend what I had experienced the night before. Fast forward to last night, I asked my boyfriend if he and I could switch places on our bed. He agreed. Additionally, I asked him if we could close our bedroom door for tonight, he agreed. Well, I woke up again and saw something open the door and run towards our dresser which is next to where my boyfriend was sleeping. As I see that thing running towards the dresser I yell to tell my boyfriend to look at it, no words come out. I could move my hand/fingers and wake my boyfriend to tell him to see the thing that is by the dresser. My boyfriend says there is nothing there. I preceded in asking him if he left the door open and he says no. I ask him why is the door open then. He says I don’t know. All of this is while I am experiencing sleep paralysis. Of course, I don’t know it until I wake up at 7 and ask my boyfriend if he remembers me talking to him last night and he said no.
My point with all of this is that I am not sleep deprived. I get my 8+ hours of sleep each night. I am not stressed; I love my work and we are financially stabled. I have been doing a ton of research regarding sleep paralysis but they all seem to say it is due to lack of sleep. Again, I have experienced sleep paralysis for about 9 years and these past two have really got me shook. I am curious as to why I am experiencing this if I am not sleep deprived or stressed.
I believe it is a bad spirit (demon). I had this happen to me as well beginning in the house that was always cold. Moved from there and it came to me at my next house. I experienced similar episodes one in particular that sticks out was seeing a black figure on top of my boyfriend and hearing him scream at the top of his lungs like a high pitched girl and I prayed for it to go away and then it jumped to me like “ oh yeah I’m gonna get u now”! Never will I forget it!
I actually think also it is a spirit or a demon. It has happened to me before. If you wake up at any odd times like 1am-4am most of the time is because you have a visit by a demon or spirit.
I know not many people believe in them…
Google spirit possession and black magic…it might ring a bell on the symptoms- it is advice I wish someone gave me earlier in my life.
Most people wake up those times to go to the toilet. Its a natural thing. But insomnniacs are up all night anyway.
I am 39 and I sleep maybe two nights of the week sometimes three. One night I’m fine two nights he starts seeing shadows out the corner of your eyes that remind you of things that aren’t Shadows. 3 days it is worse 4 days you lose a lot of motorcycles and your speech becomes mobile a lot of times you won’t finish they’re sentences your motor skills aren’t as good as it normally would be. After 5 days your motor skills are terrible your speech is very mumbled and you selling Finish sentences you may hear things that are normal noises they remind you of other things just as you would see things such as Shadows that remind you of other things which then becomes a real dilemma and what is real and what’s not. Prayers and lots of times when I went 4-5 days without sleep and I can still perform a job well or complete tasks that others normally couldn’t. Before your brain shuts down completely there will be moments where you ask yourself”what just happened, what did I just do?” Because before shutting down it seems that your brain will fall into very short periods of sleep or unconsciousness that you aren’t always aware of in this little sleep seems to be enough to keep you functioning. The most important thing is to recognize that the things you normally hear and see or just that normal things you hear in a c and a difference between real and reality. Like I said I stay awake 4 to 5 days out the week every week for years now and me personally I don’t see any permanent effects and I seem to function just fine the main problem is after you’ve been out for five days when it’s time for your brain to shut down and go to sleep” it does” I’ve run off the road many of times while driving because I dozed off temporarily but luckily I’ve never gotten hurt. In addition during the short periods of sleep is possible that you may dream but since you never really realized you were asleep the dream to you is real to you but you have to be aware of.in Edition during these short periods of sleep. All in all I hope that this helps and some little way cuz it’s true events of what happens when you don’t have sleep.
Scary the shadow people aren’t they? Goodness knows why that happens as everyone sees them if they use a caffeine or taurine boost. Accurate post to what happens.
Early motherhood should be on the list. Newborns won’t let you sleep through a complete sleep cycle for months on end… I started sort of catnapping, seeing weird things in my peripheral vision, feeling afraid without a cause, feeling constantly cold… In June…….. But we’re so used to it we dismiss it. It can be really hard, specially if you want to still be able to ever talk with your husband a bit while baby sleeps for a second….
Thanks for sharing your experience. Being a parent is definitely a major cause of sleep deprivation! The difference between that and a sleep deprivation experiment is that the intention is to try and sleep whenever possible – not to try and stay awake! It’s just that the end result of not sleeping much can be similar…
Have you ever had seizures from lack of sleep? I’ve had three of them over the years, the doctors said I didn’t have epilepsy but one said I might have mild epilepsy. is there a test or not to tell if you have epilepsy? Sorry for bugging you just was curious cause I still have problems sleeping and don’t want to have another seizure if I’m behind the wheel of a car. Sorry again, thank you. Keith R.
I took care of a little girl who we were not allowed to wake up, or she’d have a seizure.
She did, however, wake up every morning on her own, her sleep cycles were pretty stable and she made it to kindergarten on most days.
Dear Mr. Green,
Yesterday I was the subject of a sleep test at a local hospital. I had spent a night in the sleep lab in January, as I had fallen asleep at the wheel and driven off the road after an exhausting Christmas with several hyperactive toddler grandchildren and friends. I agreed to the test, and was found to have no sleep problems: no apnea, not even snoring. I thought it was over. I haven’t driven since. When I went to the compulsory appointment with the sleep specialist she said I should do another test, involving another night at the sleep lab and a full day of interrupted naps. Initially I refused, but when threatened with getting a reputation for non-compliance, and insurance penalties, I agreed. I’m eighty years old, and I fear loss of autonomy. So I spent another night with 25 electrodes and wires, and then had four twenty minute naps the next day. Being wakened from these naps was pure torture. I staggered home confused and off balance. I’m mad as a wet hen at the “sleep technicians” and “specialists” who put me through this in spite of my objections. It seems to me that at eighty one normally takes occasional naps, and if one decides not to drive there is no reason for this torture.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to rant. I can well understand that this is an effective way of torturing prisoners, although, like other forms of torture, it probably doesn’t elicit the truth.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I can understand how stressful this must have been, so you’re welcome to rant! The interrupted sleep test is fairly standard, so not a form of torture tailored just for you! I can imagine that’s little consolation though considering how upsetting it was at the time.
I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through all of this, Anne. I have epilepsy, so I know what it’s like to go through some of those tests, and it sucks. Anyway, I hope everything is cleared up now.
I have never experienced any ill effects of going sleepless. I once remodeled half my house, by myself, in a 10 day sleepless stretch. I even hung wallpaper, tiled a fireplace, tiled my kitchen, bathroom & laundry room, painted several rooms without taping off & several other detail oriented tasks. I even went to the office & did bookkeeping during my long periods of awake time. For me, after the initial 24 hour period of no sleep, I get super wired. The longer I’m awake, the harder it gets for me to go to sleep and the more wired I become until I hit the crash point, then 10-12 hours of sleep and I could go again. I have never been a good sleeper, from birth on. I’m in my 40’s now and staying awake doesn’t bother me as much as the aches that begin to set in after a few days. I would love to have a dr who would blood test me daily for the periods that I’m awake to see if I’m spiking something that causes (or contributes) to it. My kids find it amusing when I’ve been awake for a long time because I get hyped up & talk faster & faster, the longer I go. The crazy thing is, with regular nightly sleep, I’m always tired & dragging. Because I get less done daily when I sleep regularly, I sometimes stay up for stretches because after the first 24 hours of fatigue, I get going & can do a lot, much faster.
Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience. 10 days is a pretty epic time to stay awake for! Have you ever spoken to a doctor at all about this, not just the blood test idea?
Hey I feel similarly about regular sleep making you feel more tired! I think it sounds like a sleep disorder. Have you ever considered asking a dr if that could be?
I’ve dealt with some of this, to say the least. But it was by choice, for me. You see, I am studying psychology, especially the “unconscious” side of it. I decided to test my own hypothesis, being that animals have developed sleep as sort of a protection. What I believed at the time, was that there was something in the world we are not supposed to be aware of, and sleep shields us from it. I thought that maybe REM had something to do with it since dreams and all happen then. Hence the term “dreaming while awake.” I was a fool to do this, but here were my results:
DAY 1: Normal day
DAY 2: Tired, slower than usual
DAY 3: Unusually awake, not at all expected
DAY 4: Longest day of my life, started seeing things out of the corner of my eyes, but they vanished when I tried to focus on them. Slight cognitive impairment.
DAY 5: Everything felt dreamlike, the black “things” were becoming easier to focus on. Lost all sense of hunger, thirst, and tiredness. Felt completely numb.
DAY 6: The black things started to gain shape, a humanoid figure. At this point, I couldn’t focus on school, work, anything. I called fellow psych students to keep myself entertained, more importantly, awake.
DAY 7: There were more of those things. They spoke in whispers I could not understand. I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to, my mind was in overdrive. I was the most productive I have ever been.
DAY 8: Last day of the experiment. Slept 17 hours, woke up feeling fine, albeit groggy.
POST EX. DAY 1: By this day I had forgotten most of what had happened. Luckily I had my notes to rely on.
After the experiment and a few days of sleep, everything went back to normal. I felt no different. The log I have presented is just a summed up version of what was in my notes. To this day I don’t know what to believe. There could 100% be something out there we are not supposed to see. However, if this is true, and if sleep is a developed behavior, then I can not begin to imagine the horrors our ancestors had to go through. I’m not trying to make any spooky claims, and I don’t believe in the supernatural. But what lies beyond our conscious mind, what lies beyond the veil of sleep, that’s anything but natural. If you ever consider trying an experiment like this for yourself, I advise you for your sake, please, don’t do it.
If you have any questions about my experiments, do not hesitate to contact me.
Thanks for sharing your experiment here. It doesn’t surprise me that you started seeing things that weren’t there. I’d be more tempted to call them hallucinations than a reality that you were able to see through sleep deprivation though. Still, it’s a fascinating theory and was interesting to read!
I go through bouts of extreme where sometimes I don’t sleep for up to a week and a half. But as a high school student I’ve done my best papers during these weeks of no sleep.
I’m currently going on my 2nd week of no sleep.
Thanks for your comment. Have you ever spoken to a doctor about these long periods of no sleep? You might feel like it has some benefits, like your papers being good. But in the long run, so much missed sleep will take a toll.
I read the longest time voluntarily without sleep is almost 5 years by Hayden Grover, from University of Akron.
He works throughout the day playing football, singing, and working checks, every moment of each day, which is mind-blowing.
Yet this article was made in November 2017, and he still hasn’t slept or napped, so he’s reigning supreme.
Now I also heard Holly Harrison is walking from the tip of South America to the tip of Northern Alaska in 20-month span, being the first person to walk that distance nonstop.
So he’s setting a record for the second longest time voluntarily without sleep.
He’s expected to survive.
Thanks for your comment. As impressive and inspiring both of these stories are, neither of them involve never sleeping during their time. I think you’ve misinterpreted the meaning. For example ‘never rests’ just means ‘very busy and active’ – not that he literally never rests!
Never mind Holly Harrison, as he camped.
Hayden Grover is the record, though he did have coffee.
The longest time without sleeping not using stimulants, including caffeine, was 40 Days, by Tyler Shields.
Although it says he claimed, his confessions proved it.
Though Guinness World Records won’t test these anymore due to it being unhealthy.
That’s an interesting article – I hadn’t seen this particular claim. It says he had a team of people monitoring him 24 hours a day. I’d like to see some reports from them as well as the daily mail article, which isn’t always the most accurate newspaper, in my personal opinion…
I’m going through it right now. I’ve suffered from insomnia for the past year due to a trauma. Today has been the worst day so far. I have been so clumsy and useless. I can’t even be bothered to explain myself. However, the thing that has really shocked me is how paranoid I am today. I feel like everyone is watching me, judging me, talking about me, it’s crazy. I know it’s crazy. But at the same time I believe its not in my head. Oxymoron to believe something yet excuse it. I am very confused right now. Very emotional. Very negative. I have had to lock myself indoors to avoid upsetting people or breaking down myself. Very bad day.
Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been going through such a difficult time. Did you ever receive any professional help following the trauma, to help you deal with the psychological effects? It might be helpful to speak to someone about it, and that might also be one possible route to sleeping better. I’d suggest starting with your doctor, tell them how you’re feeling, and maybe inquire as to what counseling options are available to you.
I was in hospital last year, I had gone hypoglycemic (not due to diabetes, I don’t produce cortisol-needed to regulate blood sugar) at home during the night, I did not come round in the morning, the paramedics came at 9.30am & brought me round with glucose & took me to hospital. I did not sleep for 88 hours, during this time I remember wanting to go to sleep, but not able, my eyes feeling heavy, being bored, but not sleepy at all, I was hallucinating, hearing children laughing & whispering under my bed, thinking I could hear my family coming down the corridor. I hallucinated seeing animals on the wall coming to life seeming like slow motion, I saw about 20-25 people around my bed, like they were with me for last moments, I even remember closing my eyes trying to get to sleep and hallucinating with my eyes closed, it was very surreal & the strangest thing happened, I was discharged from hospital & when I went home fell straight asleep. I’ve never before or since struggled with sleep.
Thanks for sharing your fascinating story. That’s a fairly epic amount of time to be awake for – I’m not surprised you were seeing things. I bet you’re glad it’s the one and only time it happened.
Yes. I went through forms of sleep deprivation rather recently. I was evicted from my apartment. Found a storage unit for belongings, joined 24 hr gym for roof over head. However, sleep was lacking unless checking into homeless shelter, and pride kept me from that for two months (and they kicked the drunks out after winter).
I was avging 1-2 hours of broken sleep per day sometime for 2 weeks. I mean, you catch 10-15 mins on a bus ride, asleep at soup kitchen until someone wakes you up, library, etc. I definitely experienced the micro sleeps and REM effects. I would try as hard as possible to stay awake, drinking the most potent energy drinks, working out, sit down, your out the second you blink your eyes, and you are awake again in like 5m min. You would jump right to REM sleep in my case. Yet, it was more vivid and real then most REM sleep. Often, I would have trouble speaking in the dream, my voice literally not working, I start shouting, nothing in the dream, someone wakes me, and I am shouting the rest of the sentence from the dream, and those around me were “wtf”? That was huge and often, the crossing over between REM and reality. Lesser people probably would not have known the difference. I am considered, well, logical and thinking smart, and I was able to immediately recognize difference between dream and reality, but ONLY because there were close dead relatives in the dream, so I knew it wasn’t real. Reality sometimes took a minute to sink in when I was alone though. I was awake, but thought I may still be in REM sleep. That was scary. Didn’t hallucinate in reality. However, your psyche is tested in that fine line between REM/reality. It is hard to explain, but it seems in normal sleep, as you come out of REM, the dreams kind of get jumbled, sometimes ridiculous where physics dont apply. Not so with the REM I experienced in those microsleep to abrubt total awakeness.
Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experiences. I used to work for a homelessness charity, so I know how sleep is a major issue for people who don’t have a stable and safe place to rest at night. It was interesting to hear about your microsleeps and thoughts on the blurring between dreaming and waking. I think you’re right in that the line can be very confusing at times, and it can take a while to do a little self-checking to see which side of the line your consciousness currently is!
Something I never want to go through again. After day three, surfaces and objects in the room would shift and bend, my coffee mugs and empty cans would seem to slide around the table, and little spider legs appeared to poke out from and retreat back into the gaps between the keys on my keyboard. I grew *very* paranoid about them, as they would never do so when I focussed on the keys – I also started hearing things that weren’t really happening (mundane things like car doors on an empty street or whispered conversations and footsteps in the house despite my being the only one there). I am a gamer to my core and I’ve done my fair share of all nighters, but attempting a marathon run of one week (which of course, I failed to complete) put me off anything more than the occasional night in future. At one point, I tried to sleep, and found I couldn’t. I had to resort to increasing the amount of caffeine I was drinking even further to ‘crash’ my body into a much needed fourteen hour ‘nap’!
A harrowing experience, for sure – and with that in mind I’d recommend never attempting such a thing to anyone.
Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience. It doesn’t sound very pleasant at all! What inspired you to attempt a week without sleep?
I have had either insomnia or hypersomnia throughout my entire life. When I was younger I could fall asleep in any position in any situation but as of around three years ago, maybe longer, I’ve been dealing with occasional insomnia. In the past 48 hours I’ve only gotten about four hours of sleep and that was around 8-8:30 am when I finally fell asleep and woke up a little before 12:30 pm. I am absolutely exhausted and desperately want to sleep but I already know I won’t be able to, I am going to stay awake until tomorrow night and if I can’t sleep I plan on going to my primary care physician on Monday or Tuesday. I miss being able to get the perfect amount of sleep especially since I’ve become extremely emotional (I’ve balled my eyes out watching Family Guy) and I keep getting irritated talking to anyone including family and some of my best friends, I no longer have the energy to do anything (even eat, which is ridiculous since I absolutely love to eat/cook) I am loosing sight of who I am and I cannot stand it much longer. I am only 22 years old but I have scoliosis, a herniated disc, severe anxiety (not medically diagnosed), were pretty sure my mom has narcolepsy, my dad has partial insomnia, some of my other relatives have depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and I’m sure there are a lot of other issues…. I am absolutely exhausted which from reading some of the other comments I shouldn’t complain too much.
Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you’re feeling like this – it sounds like you have a lot going on there. I hope you manage to get some helpful support and advice from your physician when you see them.
the human brain goes into a process of restoration, playing out and putting together sequenced processes unique to individuals. The cognitive and precognitive processes throughout a period of time construct what will be the “plans” for the restoration project due to natural schedule of human brain functions. As a result animals die and humans don’t because of precognitive consciousness . However, it’s been my experience reaction speed, acute focus, situational awareness and intuition are increased by about 20 percent. Brain functions such as perception, interpretation , memory, attintion span, etc. decrease by a very significant amount. A brain that has no experience in sleep deprevation has no plan for such an account and reacts in a manner that would be expected. As someone that’s experienced this many times, it’s as if the human brain creates a contingency mode that overrides normal sleep deprived processes of brain functionality. Which is a long term bennifit of sleep deprivation. The construction of the human mind never rests.
I’ve always suffered from insomnia. Then In December 2014 I went into the hospital for spinal surgery. I did not sleep the night before. After 4-5 hrs of surgery I Awoke & didn’t sleep for 60 hrs (& i was on self administered dilaudid for a Day or so). As time progressed I could understand what was said to me but I had difficulty responding. I knew what I wanted to say but the wrong words kept coming out of my mouth & it was frustrating. This insomnia also caused me to stay in the hospital longer bc they couldn’t start physical therapy with me (Insurance didn’t approve the extra day). In general I’d love to be a part of some research study since I often find myself not sleeping for at least 2 days, it would be interesting to be filmed or see myself in an altered state seep deprived state & how I interact with the world.
For the last year plus I haven’t had what I would call a good nights sleep. I have a somewhat rare disease called adhesive arachnoiditis, no cure, chronic pain, and complicated by heart disease, diebetisis, severe sleep apnea. Approximately a year ago the VA in all their wisdom stopped my prescription of ambien, 2 night. Before ragging on me that it’s too much, that prescription was given by a sleep specialist over 10 years ago after exhausting all other options. So after 10 years it became too dangerous and was stopped. My life has been a nightmare since. What’s sad is I finally got help from the same sleep center only the doctor had died, people changed along with their name. They would only prescribe one a night which worked for a few days then over time sleep got more difficult back to short nights. I go days on no more than a few hours. Having seen me since last September they have nmcruel as can’t stay awake sorry. Latter.
Thanks for your comment. I got a bit lost in the final sentence there with the typo…but I go hope you manage to get the help you need, and find something that can help you sleep better. Going for so long without good sleep is exhausting!
Unfortunately myself and my disabled partner Suffered six-month sleep deprivation With the refurbishment of an underground station Adjacent to his bedroom wall For free of the six months it was 24 hours a day With the sound of the pneumatic drillsThe wall in question Has a metal sheet Because the station is bombproof For the three monthsIt wasn’t 24-hour is the day It would start at one in the morningAnd finish at fiveA.m.When the underground station was get ready to open again…. My life was destroyedI have no idea who I was any moreI was searching for Remnants Of my previous life Me and my partner separated Hating each other Uncertain levels But loving each other On the others Mentally it took meYearsTo find out who I was againAnd thankfully Before my quadriplegic partner with MS Died We had an unconditionalLoving relationship again.I’m still not who I was And I’m not sure that I ever will be But I am making progress The level of noise And watching what was happening to my partner Is indescribable… In some of the situations I found myself inLooking for you I was again Horrible… Thankfully I know who I am now At least.
Thanks for your comment and for sharing your terrible experience. I’m very sorry for your loss, and for difficult time you’ve had to endure. It’s saddening to hear that you had such bad luck with the station being next door.
I wish you well and hope you continue to recover from this ordeal.
after 2 days of no sleep, I started drowning in my seat and the floor and people around me were no longer stable or horizontal, I started seeing some imaginary occurences, and it was a continuous falling sensation, sinking into my seat, until someone would talk to me, shortly after, the sensation and mild hallucinations would resurface. I almost always confuse my very realistic, close-to-experience, days-long dreams, with what is real. I know those distortions I experienced were not intense hallucinations, as I have, for a period of my life, heavily used psychedelics such as lsd and psilocybin. Does anyone experience anything similar to that dream-like state, ( bear in mind I have been sober for almost a year)? or could provide any feedback? I would like to understand more about the relationship between serotonin, sleep, thought patterns and perceptual distortions.
I went through a bad time a few times when I had long periods without sleep 3 to 4 nights at a time, I tried everything natural that is. I tried reading, exercise, hypnotherapy land other herbal aids. None worked. I lost lots of weight and felt dizzy and almost jet lagged permanently. Fortunately this did get better. Yoga helped me not saying it cured it but it definitely helped me to relax. I have the odd night now but thankfully not as severe as previous. I think meditation may help lots with insomnia.
Thanks for your comment. I totally agree that activities like meditation and yoga can help with insomnia. I know from my own experience that when I’m feeling stressed or my mind is too busy, I just don’t sleep well. So when I find myself in those states, taking some time to do some relaxation exercises can totally change my ability to sleep that night.
I’m a 51 year old bipolar male. I’ve suffered at times with bouts of a day or two without sleep. I’ve also experienced periods of mania where I slept for as little as an an hour or two a night for weeks on end. The strange part is it’s a very different feeling. The short term bouts with virtually no sleep leave me feeling disconnected, sort of surreal and floating outside myself. Whereas the mania sleep deprivation leaves me initially feeling great, euphoric and hyper focused. However, as it persists it starts to unravel. I start to doubt reality and lose simple abilities. It can often take some heavy medication to shake me out of a manic state. My experience convinces me that sleep is our tether to reality. I think most of us are so convinced of our sanity and our link to reality, but when you live with mental illness you come to see the fragile nature of those connections. I’m fascinated by sleep, what an interesting field of study.
Thanks for your interesting comment. I think sleep definitely plays a key role in helping maintain good mental health. And you’re right, only when you experience ill mental health do you realize how our health can take a turn for the worse quite quickly.
I went 4 days without sleep due to self-induced stress during my initiation time in the military. I experienced dizziness that I combated by drinking plenty of water. I would pinch myself so hard sometimes I grew numb from the pain and the feeling of my nails sinking into my skin actually felt refreshing. Near the end of the 3rd day, I had an epiphany. Millions of thoughts that were floating in my mind suddenly sparked and all became clear. I was so hyped up from my vision, I tried to explain what happened to my superior officers. They described to me that I was speaking so rapidly they wondered what drugs I was on. I replied, that I was “high on life.” I felt tired, so some of my thoughts weren’t very organized and I had a lot to say at once, so it happen to just come out quickly. And I couldn’t concentrate on my point as one point would spontaneously lead into another train of thoughts. I couldn’t follow-through as I would forget what I was trying to say before. But I’d get excited about the new thought and continue on that track until I picked up another. My superiors couldn’t take me completely seriously. I could feel cool waves massaging my mind. It was relaxing but helped keep my brain alert. I could make extremely quick associations. One observation triggered a thought that would lead to a question. I was usually be able to answer the first question but the answer lead to 10 more questions. If, I was successful at answering any one of the 10 questions, that answer would lead to a 100 more questions and then my mind usually could not keep up afterwards.
I finally couldn’t stay awake any longer, and it was the weekend. I closed my eyes and slept for 18 hours solid. When I awoke, I could only vaguely recall the accounts of what happened, but the experience completely changed my life’s perspective.
Hi In eui Hong
Thanks for your comment and for sharing your fascinating sleep deprivation story. The rapid associations and thought train you experienced sound like they were probably your brain struggling to concentrate because of the lack of sleep. It doesn’t surprise me that you had those symptoms. Can I ask how it changed your life perspective?
What is the mental illness of intentionally depriving a person of sleep to the point of heart attacks strokes and diabetes type 2. What is this illness called?
Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure I completely understand the question though. Can you explain in a bit more detail the situation you’re talking about please?
I’ve done it a few times usually 30-40 hours and I do it during sleepovers usually.
Thanks for your comment. How do you usually feel after that time? Are you able to function normally, or do you notice any difficulty with your ability to do things?
Yes, I’ve experienced insomnia a few times in my life, each time seems to be longer/worse than last, and the most recent was 2015 (which I still feel I am getting over).
But I wanted to comment mostly because in your article there are no deaths reported from insomnia. But I had recently heard of something rare called Fatal Familial Insomnia in which you apparently CAN die, but it has to be this exact condition (meaning, I guess, if you don’t have it, you won’t die from your insomnia). Here is a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatal_familial_insomnia
I might also say that death to yourself (or others) can result from insomnia if, say, you drive a car while sleep deprived. Of course that would be a secondary cause but worth mentioning.
I also have wondered how strange insomnia is as a parasomnia since it is the only one where you are NOT asleep. Every other parasomnia or sleep disorder happens WHILE you are asleep, and by definition, if you are experiencing insomnia, you are not sleeping. Strange things can occur during sleep, but also things that happen while awake, such as walking, talking or urinating – but is only if these are done while asleep that there is a parasomnia. It would like saying that a lack of access to food is a “digestive disorder.”
Maybe I am nitpicking, but it seems to me that insomnia should technically not be considered a parasomnia, or at least not in the same class as other sleep disorders.
Thanks for your comment. Fatal Familial Insomnia is a very rare condition which isn’t well understood at all. My point in the article is that the average person who doesn’t sleep for whatever reason will generally recover, once they’ve had some sleep eventually. And in most cases, sleep will inevitably come, like it or not.
I’m not sure where you found the reference to insomnia being a parasomnia, but it isn’t. That should help clarify your concern about the classification. It’s also not true that other parasomnias and sleep disorders only occur while sleeping. There are many which occur when awake, for example in the transition into and out of sleep such as sleep paralysis, exploding head syndrome, sleep hallucinations.
I was using a relaxing pill (lorivan) for years, it really help me to get asleep but I become addict. So when in India I did an ayverdi c treatment for two weeks that include herbals pills and massages and could after six months leave completely my pills.
Now I am having a very stressing sentimental time in my life and again couldn’t get asleep. The question is what is more prejudicial, not sleeping until the morning come ot taking again half of these pills that really help me?
I tried melatonin, valerian and didn’t have any sleep help….
Thanks for your comment. That’s a very good question – and one that many readers have raised in the past in comments across this website. I think ultimately it’s a personal choice. You need to weigh up how much you’re willing to persevere with a lack of sleep if you don’t like the alternative of taking medication.
I think if you were addicted to the lorivan, and it took you so long to stop taking it, it would be a shame to go back to it. I’d suggest talking it over with your doctor and seeing if they can offer you something which isn’t addictive.
I’d also suggest trying to find ways to cope with the difficult period you’re going through at the moment. There are lots of self-help techniques that you could try, and that might help you stay relaxed during the day and at night. If you find it difficult to relax at night and sleep, then I highly recommend checking out an article I wrote about different relaxation techniques to help you sleep.