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  • A lack of sleep is dangerous. Were often told not to drive whilst tired and falling

  • asleep at the wheel can be fatal. During World War II many sleep-deprived pilots fell asleep

  • mid-flight and crashed their plane on the way home from the war zone. In fact, you may

  • be horrified to hear that in a study, 56% of consumer aircraft pilots admitted to falling

  • asleep in the cockpit whilst the plane was in autopilot.

  • It’s fair to say that our body needs sleep but how long could you theoretically stay

  • awake for? Could a person die if they were forced to stay awake for a long time? And

  • what happens to your mind and your body when you miss out on sleep? Let’s find out.

  • If you live to 78 you will have spent around 25 years asleep. But what if you can’t sleep?

  • Well It’s not as simple as that. Eventually your brain will make you sleep. After only

  • a couple of days the urge to sleep will become greater than the urge to eat. At this point

  • you might experience a phenomenon known as microsleep. This is when your brain forces

  • you to sleep for a short time without you being aware.

  • Microsleep is a common symptom amongst insomnia sufferers. Your brain suddenly shuts down,

  • but your eyes remain open. It can last for a few seconds or a few minutes. During microsleep

  • the person’s eyes usually remain wide open but they will have a blank, distant stare.

  • They will go into a brief, zombie-like state and won’t respond to any outside information.

  • Youve probably experienced microsleep, if youve ever drove for a long period of

  • time on the motorway or highway, on very little sleep. It’s that feeling when you blank

  • out for a couple of seconds and it feels like you lost a brief period of time but you don’t

  • remember actually falling asleep. As you can probably imagine, microsleep is the cause

  • of many accidents. Microsleep is your brain’s way of goingOkay dude I know youre

  • trying to stay awake at the moment, but I’m really tired, you carry on as you are, I’m

  • just gonna catch a few z’s for a minute. Okay?”

  • But when it comes to wanting to sleep, some people don’t have a choice. A rare genetic

  • disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia or FFI, prevents people falling asleep at all.

  • It affects around just forty families worldwide. The disease destroys the area of the brain

  • that controls when we sleep, the thalamus. Sufferers of FFI will experience progressively

  • worse insomnia, after a while they start to hallucinate and eventually they will because

  • extremely confused, similar to dementia patients, and then, they will eventually die. The average

  • lifespan for someone with this tragic and scary disease is just eighteen months.

  • But even for the regular person a lack of sleep can have severe effects on the body

  • and can even be fatal. After missing just one night of sleep the first thing you will

  • notice is a decrease in cognitive function. First and foremost, a lack of sleep impairs

  • attention, concentration, reasoning, problem solving and your ability to learn. But perhaps

  • what’s even scarier is that by missing out on sleep you can wipe whole days from your

  • memory.

  • It’s believed that during sleep our brain consolidates, organises and permanently stores

  • that day’s memories and what we learnt. If you don’t get enough sleep, instead of

  • storing those memories forever, your brain will simply forget them altogether.

  • But that’s only scratching the surface. Continual sleep loss over a period of several

  • days or more can have substantially worse effects on the body. Chronic sleep loss or

  • insomnia has been linked to a significant increase in heart disease, strokes, diabetes,

  • obesity and depression. In fact, a study showed that over 90% of people with insomnia also

  • suffer from another serious health condition.

  • Oh and sleep also keeps you looking young. It’s during sleep that the growth hormone

  • is released that repairs tissue, keeping those wrinkles at bay. When you don’t get much

  • sleep, specifically slow-wave sleep, your body doesn’t get an opportunity to repair

  • itself, so you age faster. Not only that but when you miss out on sleep your body releases

  • the stress hormone cortisol which actually breaks down skin collagen, the protein that

  • keeps your skin smooth, bouncy and looking mighty fine. Sleep loss, even a few missed

  • hours per night, causes droopy, yellowish skin, puffy eyes, fine lines and dark circles.

  • So now you know why you really, really shouldn’t miss out on sleep. But how long could you,

  • theoretically stay awake? If you were forced to stay awake by an evil scientist who strapped

  • you to a chair, Clockwork Orange-style, and gave you a quick electric shock every time

  • you started to drift, how long would it take before your body gave up, and what would be

  • the consequence?

  • The answer to the question how long can humans stay awake for is 264 hours, or about 11 days.

  • In 1947 a 16-year-old high school student in San Diego, California named Randy Gardner

  • set the world record for the longest scientifically documented case of someone going without sleep,

  • without using stimulants. Gardner stayed awake for 264 hours, or 11 days. Before Gardner’s

  • attempt there were many attempt to stay awake for a prolonged period and since then there

  • have been many more.

  • The current record holder is Tony Wright, a man from the south of England who broke

  • Garner’s record by just two hours, staying awake for 266 hours. Noticing the trend here?

  • Almost everyone who’s attempted to break the record hits a road block at around 11

  • days. That seems to be the bodies limit. In fact, many researchers have attempted to stay

  • awake over the years and the average period they reach is eight to ten days. After which

  • the urge to sleep becomes far too overwhelming, to continue fighting against.

  • There haven’t been any recorded cases of someone staying awake for longer than eleven

  • consecutive days. But if they did, could it result in death? In the sleep laboratory at

  • the University of Chicago an experiment was conducted on rats to find out if sleep deprivation

  • can kill. Rats were put on a rotating disc which was suspended over a pool of water.

  • Sensors were attached to the rats to record their brain waves and a computer program was

  • setup to analyse those brain waves and detect when the rats were about to fall asleep. At

  • which point the disc would spin faster, meaning if the rats fell asleep and didn’t steady

  • themselves on the rapidly spinning disc, they would inevitably fall into the water below.

  • This harsh treatment prevented the rats from sleeping at all, for risk of falling into

  • the water.

  • I know, us humans do some rather horrendous things in the pursuit of knowledge. So was

  • this horrific experiment worth anything? What did we learn? Well, all the rats that underwent

  • the experiment eventually died from a lack of sleep. The average lifespan of the rats

  • was 11-32 days. The scientists conducting the experiment believed the cause of death

  • to be whole body hypermetabolism, a condition which causes extreme weight loss, and if not

  • remedied, death. The hypermetabolism was most likely brought on by the lack of sleep.

  • It’s highly likely that if a human were to stay awake for much longer than eleven

  • days then hypermetabolism would kick in and cause one’s eventual demise. Or some other

  • equally extreme condition brought on by sleeplessness. Although it’s believed to have happened

  • at some point in history, after all, sleep-deprivation has been used as a method of torture. There

  • has never been a case well documented enough, to study the effects of forcing someone to

  • stay awake and so, scientists aren’t exactly sure what would happen. But, just like the

  • rats, the general consensus is that if one were to stay awake for much longer than eleven

  • consecutive days, they most certainly would die.

  • The cause of death wouldn’t be sleeplessness, there’s no such condition, it would be some

  • horrific side-effect brought on from not sleeping. For example, hypermetabolism, as was the case

  • with the rats. Although, the body’s urge to sleep is so strong that this almost never

  • happens, so there is very little evidence to be able to know for certain what exactly

  • would be the cause of death, at least in the case of humans. But, just to be safe, try

  • not to miss out on your precious beauty sleep, because if you do it enough, it very well,

  • could, kill you.

A lack of sleep is dangerous. Were often told not to drive whilst tired and falling

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How Long Could You Stay Awake?

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    Jim posted on 2016/04/28
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