How Long Can You Go Without Sleep?
You’re probably familiar with the National Sleep Foundation guidelines suggesting that people get approximately 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. You also probably know that the human body requires regular sleep so it can perform critical physiological functions, such as muscle/tissue repair, memory consolidation, and hormone synthesis.
But let’s be honest: every so often, you need to stay awake for an extended period of time, whether you’re cramming for an exam or working on a deadline. So how long is a person actually physically able to go without sleeping?
Randy Gardner currently holds the “world record” for sleep deprivation at 11 days, 25 minutes. But according to W. Christopher Winter, MD, president of the Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine clinic, there’s reason to be skeptical about this record: “investigators freely admit he was having near constant ‘microsleeps’ [brief periods of sleep that last just a few seconds] during the experiment,” he told MensHealth.com.
Even if someone does manage to stay up for days at a time, it’s not great for your mental health. In 1959, for instance, a radio presenter named Peter Tripp decided to broadcast his show from the middle of Times Square for 201 hours straight to raise money for a children’s foundation. By day three, Tripp had begun acting out, cursing at people around him, and hallucinating spiders. Although he managed to finish the experiment and recover shortly after, his family members said he was never quite the same again.
There have been many viral internet stories about people who claim they’re not sleeping at all or who only get an hour of sleep per night. But Winter says these stories are probably inaccurate.