It is one of the toughest questions we’ve answered here on Ways to Die: Can you die from a lack of sleep? It’s an interesting one, there is no doubt about that, but if you’ve already made up your mind about the answer then there is a good chance that the truth will surprise you. Confused? keep reading and you’ll see just what we mean.
Can you Die from a Lack of Sleep?
Theoretically, you can die from a lack of sleep. The body relies on sleep to repair and regenerate. You need sleep to function mentally and physiologically. You will likely have experienced just how bad a lack of sleep can feel. A single missed night can make you feel like you’re functioning with limited brain power and that you don’t have the energy or the strength physically.
The more sleep you miss, the worse these feelings get, at least in theory. In practice, there are no recorded deaths from humans as a result of sleep deprivation. However, that’s not quite the whole story.
While no humans have died directly as a lack of sleep, there are likely many deaths where a lack of sleep has been a major cause. If someone falls asleep at the wheel and crashes, it is recorded as a motor vehicle accident; if someone stays awake for several days while on drugs and then has a cardiac episode, it will go down as a heart attack. In other words, the body may shut down, but that process is not how the death will be recorded.
Sleep deprivation has been used as a modern torture method and a Medieval torture method. FArom this we know that some people have been kept awake for over a week without any serious issues. However, sleep deprivation is very serious and it can lead to your death.
Sleep Deprivation Effects on the Brain
Sleep deprivation effects will begin to take hold as soon as you miss a single night’s sleep. In fact, even if you sleep a little later than usual you can begin to feel the effects of sleep deprivation, as they take hold after 24 hours. Sleepiness and difficulty concentrating are some of the initial effects, as are memory problems and disorientation.
Nothing new, right? You’ve probably experienced these side effects yourself. But what happens after a few days of no sleep?
One of the worrying effects of sleep deprivation is hallucinations, which can occur within the first couple days. Mood changes are also common, and those who sleep less tend to take more risks and struggle to prioritize.
Physical Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation
Aches and pains are common side effects of sleep deprivation, with the body feeling weighed down and worn out. They will feel weak and unable to perform high energy activity.
Hunger is also a common side effect of sleep deprivation. The body craves energy to wake itself up and as it is not getting this from sleep, it begin to crave energy dense foods. That’s why the sleep deprived tend to eat more junk food and sugary foods, and it’s why they often stuggle to maintain a healthy diet.
How to Cure Insomnia
Insomnia is not an easily curable disorder. You can certainly cure the symptoms, which is a lack of sleep, but that’s not getting to the root of the issue. It’s akin to treating depression with a few happy pills. It might chemically alter the mood and make the patient’s issue go away, but in doing so it’s not attacking the root of the problem and there is also a risk of addiction (see Deaths from Drugs).
The important thing to remember about insomnia is that it is either long-term and caused by a deep-seated psychological issue, or it’s a short-term thing caused by something seemingly insignificant.
Curing Long Term Insomnia
If you struggle to “shut down” on a nighttime then it may because of an underlying issue with stress and/or anxiety. You will likely find then when you cure this issue, your insomnia will go with it. Of course, that is easier said than done, but the point is you should focus less on the insomnia as the thing that needs to be cured and more on the stress and anxiety.
Some people also have connected sleeping with a fear, whether because of a childhood incident or because of a phobia. It may be that they are scared to enter that stage of “no control” or that they are worried they will not wake up. Such issues can not be easily treated with medication, but a few sessions with an experienced psychologist or therapist could work wonders.
Curing Short Term Insomnia
If insomnia is something that has never been a problem in the past but has suddenly become one, and if you can’t connect it to any recent stress, bereavements or psychological issues, then it might be related to your lifestyle.
These days too many of us go to sleep with a phone in our hand or a TV in the background. It’s a distraction and it also messes with your circadian rhythms. So, rather than watching TV or using your phone, try reading a book or just going into complete radio silence.
You should also avoid caffeine too close to bedtime and make sure that your bed is for sleeping (and…other things) only. If you go to bed early to work, watch TV or generally spend a lot of time not sleeping, then you’re separating it from your sleep and creating a confusion that could be stopping you from sleeping.
Consequences of a Lack of Sleep
As mentioned above, you can die from sleep deprivation if it is pushed far enough, but you are much more likely to suffer a fatal accident as a result of it or to suffer from some other connected issue.
If you are struggling to sleep then you should seek immediate help. Typically, the mind will eventually shut down and sleep, even in chronic insomniacs. The people who usually stay up for days on end are the ones being forced to do it or the ones forcing themselves to do it. Obviously, if you are being tortured then there’s nothing you can do (but kudos to the torturers for letting you use the internet). If you are doing it to yourself, however, then think again. You may end up as part of this statistic.
So, Can You Die from a Lack of Sleep?
We told you this would be an eye opener, and a confusing one at that. It’s a yes, you can, but no, you probably won’t. Still, that’s not excuse to try and stay awake. Sleep is good for you and it feels great, so get to it. You deserve a nap.