timberland leather boots Can you die from lack of sleep
Your brain goes woolly, your limbs feel like lead, and the smallest mishaps make you intensely cranky. But do the ill effects go deeper than that? Can lack of sleep be enough to kill you?
At least one popular television show has suggested it can.
While sleep is important to human health, there’s no good evidence being sleep deprived has direct and profoundly deadly effects on your body, he says. But it can impair your judgement in potentially fatal ways; going without sleep does increase your risk of death from a fatal accident.
Lack of sleep has been reported to play a role in a number of industrial accidents including the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
And people who drive after being awake for 17 to 19 hours have been found to have impaired coordination, judgement and reaction times equivalent to those with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 per cent.
“People are just more likely to do stupid things and put themselves in life threatening situations when they’ve not been sleeping,” Marshall says.
11 day recordWhile we feel terrible when we don’t sleep, some reports suggest nothing too serious happens at least in the short term.
In an attempt observed by some sleep researchers in 1964, American high school student Randy Gardner showed that even after 11 days of total sleep deprivation, he was still able to function although his mood and concentration were affected and he had periods of paranoia and hallucinations. Even longer periods without sleep have been reported by others.
“Gardner is still regarded as the record holder because he was not using stimulants,” Marshall says. “He kept himself awake by doing things he found fun like playing basketball.”
At the conclusion of the attempt, Gardner’s health seemed good; he was able to speak, play games and do limited mental tasks. When he finally slept,
he did so for just 14 hours and 40 minutes, awoke naturally, stayed awake 24 hours, then slept a normal eight hours.
“This kid showed that you can stay awake a long time and it’s not fatal. I mean I’m not recommending it he was a special case and he had experts supervising him but it’s not fatal. He just slept for 14 hours.”
However Marshall points out the effect of Gardner’s experience on his health was not examined in any detail in the experiment.
While studies on rats show sleep deprivation can cause death, Marshall doesn’t think the findings have relevance to humans: “To make rats go without sleep, you have to do nasty things to them and you’re essentially torturing them. That’s not comparable to humans.”
The rare human genetic disorder Fatal Familial Insomnia causes extended sleeplessness and is fatal after about six to 30 months, according to Scientific American magazine. However, it says the condition is misnamed because death results from multiple organ failure rather than sleep deprivation.
Keep a balanced view of sleepOur bodies’ requirement for sleep is something we should respect, Marshall says.
While he’s cautious about overstating the evidence, lack of sleep has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic changes that in turn may increase our risk of obesity.
Immunity may also be affected with studies showing people who are sleep deprived have half the immune response to vaccinations compared to vaccinated individuals who are not sleep deprived. But whether this translates to an increased risk of infections isn’t known.
The bottom line? Sleep does matter and you shouldn’t be blas about it. But worrying obsessively about lack of sleep can make sleeplessness worse, so it’s important to take a balanced view.
“It’s probably not good for you to fail to get enough sleep for long periods of time. You should try and get enough sleep for you. And while the amount people need is highly variable, for most people, it’s about seven or eight hours a night. But small perturbations in your sleep are not something you should worry unduly about.”
If you have trouble sleeping,
some habits that can help include:
Sticking to fairly regular sleep and wake times seven days a weekEstablishing a “wind down” routine 30 to 60 minutes before bedAvoiding stimulants like caffeine and intense exercise close to bed timeNot watching TV in bedFor more information see our Insomnia Fact File.
Nathanial Marshall is a research fellow with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Centre for Integrated Research and Understanding of Sleep at the University of Sydney. He spoke to Cathy Johnson.