Well, it is unlikely that you will die from sleep deprivation directly. The cause of immediate death will most likely be due to falls and road accidents. Long-term effects include increased risk of chronic problems, such as obesity and heart disease.
Animal studies showed prolonged, total sleep restriction can lead to premature death. However, there is no conclusive data about how many days of sleep can cause death in humans. Most of the data are from short-term studies of two to three days or anecdotal reports.
Some extremely rare disorders can lead to death if you do not get sleep for several days. These include fatal familial insomnia or sporadic fatal insomnia.
What happens to your body without sleep?
If you get only a few hours of sleep for several days or do not sleep for several days, you may experience multiple short-term symptoms gradually.
Symptoms of sleep deprivation include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Slow mental reactions
- Daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impairment of decision-making ability
- Tense muscles
- Trouble seeing or hearing
- Lack of energy and motivation
What are the long-term consequences of not getting enough sleep?
Everyone needs different amounts of sleep to function usually in daily activities. Adults should typically get anywhere between seven and nine hours of sleep.
If you are sleep-deprived for many days, the ability of your body to maintain healthy functioning diminishes. Over time, if you don't get enough sleep, you may face long-term impacts on your mental and physical health.
Long-term effects of sleep deprivation include:
- Injuries and accidents
- Sleep deprivation increases your risk of having road accidents by hampering your attentiveness and causing loss of concentration. This is more problematic if you are driving at night.
- Some studies suggest that sleep deprivation may make you mentally and physically impaired as if you are drunk.
- Cardiovascular disease
- Losing out on sleep may make you highly prone to developing cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks. Studies suggest that if you sleep less than five hours per night, your risk of getting heart attack increases by two to three times.
- Inadequate sleep triggers the inflammatory process in the body that can contribute to the development of plaques in the arteries. The plaques clog the artery and eventually lead to a heart attack.
- Multiple studies suggest that sleep deprivation is associated with a heightened risk of obesity. Obesity puts you at risk of developing other chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
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Jiang K. Fruit fly study reveals gut’s role in causing death by sleep deprivation. The Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/06/study-reveals-guts-role-in-causing-death-by-sleep-deprivation/
Alhola P, Polo-Kantola P. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2007;3(5):553-567. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/
Joo EY, Yoon CW, Koo DL, et al. Adverse effects of 24 hours of sleep deprivation on cognition and stress hormones. J Clin Neurol. 2012 Jun;8(2):146-50. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22787499/
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