Can I Die From Too Little Sleep?

Is it possible to die from no sleep? According to Yahoo! Sports Eurosport, a Chinese soccer fan actually died from staying awake too long.

Insomnia and Sleep Loss Result in Death

From the NY Daily News:

A Chinese soccer fan has reportedly died from sleep deprivation after staying up to watch every single game of the World Cup.
The 25-year-old was reportedly discovered slumped in front of his TV at his Suzhou home, near Shanghai, on Saturday morning — hours after Spain was beaten 5-1 by the Netherlands.
With the game taking place at 4 p.m. local time in Salvador, Brazil — which is 11 hours behind Shanghai — he would have had to stay up all night to see the clash.

As unbelievable as this and other reports of death from sleep deprivation may be, death by lack of sleep is quite real. So real, in fact, that when the popular US FOX television show, Housefeatured an episode stating that human brain's degenerate and eventually die after 10 days without sleep, insomniacs nationwide panicked.

How Sleep Deprivation and Sleep Loss Endangers Your Life

Fiction isn't far off from reality. Humans can live longer without food than they can without sleep. Humans who inherit the rare Prion Disease, Fatal Familial Insomnia, eventually reach a point where they are unable to initiate sleep and die. According to Scientific American, the longest a human can remain awake is reported to be about 11 days.

Sleep is so critical to life and basic human functioning that sleep deprivation has been used as a means of interrogating prisoners: According to Slate:

CIA interrogators at Guantanamo Bay subjected dozens of detainees to sleep deprivation, shackling the prisoners in a standing position for up to 11 days at a time. Recently released Justice Department memorandums claim sleep deprivation studies show that "surprisingly, little seem[s] to go wrong with the subjects physically." Wait, is it really safe to go without sleep?
No—extended bouts of sleeplessness can cause an array of physical symptoms and might eventually kill you. The effects begin within the first 24 hours of sleep deprivation. First, the body undergoes subtle hormonal changes—cortisol and TSH levels increase, leading to a rise in blood pressure. A day or two later, it stops metabolizing glucose properly, creating carbohydrate cravings. (This phenomenon may have gone unnoticed among the detainees, who were already on a calorie-restricted diet.) A person's body temperature will also drop, and his or her immune response becomes somewhat suppressed. All of these physiological changes are reversible, though—take a nap, and you'll be on the road back to normal.
It's possible that given enough time, sleep deprivation can kill you. While no human being is known to have died from staying awake, animal research strongly suggests it could happen. In the 1980s, a University of Chicago researcher named Allan Rechtschaffen conducted a series of groundbreaking experiments on rats. After 32 days of total sleep deprivation, all the rats were dead. 

Concerned you aren't getting enough sleep? If you or someone you care about snores or is tired and fatigued during the day, sleep-disordered breathing (and sleep apnea) may be a serious risk. Get your sleep tested today by SleepSomatics, a professionally credentialed and accredited sleep test center located in Austin since 1999. Call 512.323.9253.


SleepSomatics Diagnostic Center is a credentialed and accredited sleep center serving Austin and Central Texas since 1999. We provide sleep diagnostic and therapy services including In-Lab Sleep Study, Take-Home Sleep Test, and Sleep Therapy. We gladly accept most insurances and provide you with a written quote of any costs. Questions? Get answers. Let's talk. Call us. We're ready when you are. Call SleepSomatics at (512) 323-9253.