By Sophie Hecht from the Space FoamTM team
What happens to your body when you don’t sleep?
The year is 1964. Randy Gardner is a high school student in San Diego, California. He is studying sleep in his tenth grade biology class and wants to try an experiment. His question: how long can he stay awake for before his body begins to completely and involuntarily shut down. A log is kept by two of his classmates. His results? Gardner stays awake for 264.4 hours (11 days and 25 minutes). He broke the record for longest time without sleeping and remains the world record.
Though it sounds impressive, and frankly, very productive, to be awake for such an extended period of time, Randy Gardner’s results might disagree. So what exactly happens to our bodies when we deprive ourselves of sleep?
The most common and quickest result of not sleeping enough is moodiness and minor behavioral changes. You’re not quite you when you are tired, and most can attest to not feeling one hundred percent themselves after a long night of working and studying. They often have a shorter temper and less patience than usual and are not so much fun to be around.
After just twenty four hours without sleep, our bodies move slower than normal: we experience sluggish thoughts and a lag in cognition. The International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health released a recent study that suggests that not sleeping for a full day can cause your body to act as if you had an alcohol intake of 0.10%. This condition worsens with every hour you don’t sleep. Sleep deprived individuals can become a danger to others, especially if they are put behind a driving wheel.
And that’s only twenty four hours in!
After a few more sleepless days, doctors and scientists have recorded more serious cognitive and behavioral changes. These include short term memory loss, paranoia, and problems with concentration. Your motivation to finish even small tasks can disappear, your concentration will diminish and your body will experience many negative side effect that can affect your health and the function of your internal organs. During Gardner's experiment, he was asked on the eleventh day to subtract seven repeatedly, starting from one hundred. Gardner stopped at sixty five. When asked why, he replied that he had forgot what he was doing.
The last, and arguably most serious consequence of sleep deprivation are hallucinations. Some of these include:
- Auditory hallucinations, which are imagined sounds that often take the form of one or more voices.
- Visual Hallucinations, which are less common than auditory hallucinations and are seen rather than heard.
- Olfactory Hallucinations, which cause you to smell things that are not there.
- Somesthetic, or tactile, hallucinations, which make you experience a sense of touch that never actually occurred.
- Gustatory hallucinations, which cause the illusion of a usually unpleasant taste.
These hallucinations scare people and can cause the very sleep deprived person to become a danger to himself and everyone around him. Although no research shows an example of a human who has died from direct sleep deprivation, many studies have been done on rats and showed that the rat died after thirty two days of no sleep. Scientists believe that this could happen to human beings as well. This is not because of what happens to your body when you don’t sleep, but rather what you are preventing your body from accomplishing while you do. When you sleep, you experience a time of rest and repair. Your muscles grow, your tissues strengthen, your proteins synthesize, and your brain prepares itself for another day of information overload.
We understand how busy days can be with work and family, but let’s not forget what can happen to us if we forget about sleep. As Mindy Kaling, American actress, comedian, and writer said, “There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.” If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, we know one definite solution: a new pillow. Sleep well, Space FoamTM readers.