You may be asking the question, "How long can you live without sleep?" hoping to get a definite answer. The body does require sleep to function, and to function well. Science has shown that your body requires sleep just as it requires air, food and water. Without sleep for prolong periods of time, you could die. The question is how long does it take to make this happen?
The Effects of No Sleep
Unlike breathing or not getting enough water, there is no specific amount of time limit on your body for sleep deprivation. The body will stop itself in its tracks, for most people, if you don't get enough sleep. Yet, the process will involve a serious breakdown of the body's functions, which often times will kill you prior to getting that sleep. A shortened life span is very possible when you get less than six hours of sleep on a regular basis or on most nights.
Increased Stress Hormones
There is an increased risk of death in people who sleep for less than six hours per night. Doctor's don't fully understand why the body requires sleep, but they do know that when you don't get enough, your bodily functions are thrown off balance which can lead to a number of health risks. With a few days of little sleep, your brain puts your body in a state of high alert, since your mental capacity is less. This increases the production of stress hormones into the body. The hormones raise your blood pressure. At this point, you are more prone to heart attacks and strokes, even if you have no prior history of heart disease or complications.
Increased Medical Risks
Sleep deprivation also causes a higher level of substances in your blood which warn of inflammation. This is a large risk factor for a number of fatal conditions including:
- Heart disease
Over time, the lack of sleep continues to make these illnesses more likely. That's because the body is creating a low grade inflammation which allows you to become more susceptible to illnesses like these. Eventually, they lead to death.
Individuals more exposed to light during nighttime hours have less production of melatonin, which helps to fight off cancer by monitoring levels of hormones like estrogen. People who work at night are more likely to develop breast or colon cancer.
Another problem is diabetes; people who don't get enough sleep may develop problems regulating blood sugar due to a lack of hormone control. This increases your risk for diabetes, which is a life threatening condition.
Mild sleep deprivation can also be a problem. People who don't get at least six hours of sleep most nights will have a lack of regulation of the hormones ghrelin and leptin in the body. These hormones allow for appetite regulation and, when not in place, people can gain weight.
How Long Can You Live Without Sleep?
Again, you come to the question, how long can you live without sleep. The answer isn't set, but it is something you should be concerned with. Doctors recommend that people get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night, with six hours of sleep being the bare minimum. Some studies show that even at six hours of sleep you have a greatly reduced reaction time which could put you in line for fatal accidents or injuries.
Over time the body breaks down, causing illnesses and leading to death. While not sleeping won't kill you directly, it will cause a slow death in those who progressively don't get help.
It's also important to note that not only does your body start to break down, but your mind does as well. The physiological affects may stop your life even farther by not allowing you to focus. When you aren't mentally sharp, you are more prone to being involved in car accidents or work-related accidents.
Those who can't sleep for some reason, need to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your immediate family doctor should be called, especially if you aren't getting sleep for more than two nights a week on a regular basis. Changing your schedule, improving your lifestyle and getting help for sleep disorders could save your life.