How Long Can You Go Without Sleep?

3 min read

Last Modified 3 March 2021 First Added 3 January 2018

By Jessica Kadel

For many of us, sleepless nights are not a rare occurrence. Whether it’s riffs with loved ones keeping you awake or caffeine-fuelled nights of desperately trying to reach a deadline, sleep doesn’t always come as the top priority. But how long can you keep this up without dangerous consequences? And what’s the worst that can happen to your body and brain the longer you stay awake? If you must try this at home, we look into how long you can go without sleep.

How Long Can You Go Without Sleep?

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How Long Can You Go Without Sleep?

What happens if a sleepless night becomes a sleepless week? How long can you last without any kind of sleep? And what happens to your body the longer you stay awake?

We look into the science of why you need your 8 hours.

What is REM sleep?

REM sleep is characterized by heightened brain activity and is the state when dreams are at their most intense.

This kind of sleep provides energy to the brain, so without it you interfere with your long-term memory and your cognitive skills.

Did you know Michael Jackson went without REM sleep for 60 days due to his medication.

Why do you need sleep? 

As well as your memory and performance, sleep also helps you restore and rejuvenate.

With reduced sleep you risk increasing your chances of developing:

Diabetes, Obesity, Heart issues, Depression

What’s the longest someone has gone without sleep?

World record holder:

Randy Gardner

264 hours (11 days)

17 year old Randy Gardner stayed awake for 11 days in 1965, solely to win a school science fair!


Tom Rounds

260 hours (almost 11 days)

As a radio station publicity stunt, Tom Rounds managed to stay awake for close to 11 days in 1959.


Peter Tripp

201 hours (8 days)

Also in 1959, DJ Peter Tripp managed just over 8 days as part of a charity ‘wake-a-thon’. 

What happens to your body the longer you go without sleep?

1 day without sleep:

  • Rising levels of the stress hormone ‘Cortisol’
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Cognitive impairment, which can affect judgement, memory and hand-eye coordination (the same as someone who’s had roughly 3 glasses of wine!)

2 days without sleep:

  • Reduced metabolism. Decreased ability to properly metabolise glucose, which can cause weight gain and diabetes
  • Blackouts these can last between 1 and 30 seconds
  • Lowered temperature. These is your body’s way of telling you to rest.
  • Weakened immune system

3 days without sleep:

  • Reduced concentration, motivation and perception
  • Hallucinations due to a chemical imbalance in the brain
  • ‘Depending on the length of sleep deprivation, approximately 80% of normal people in the population will eventually have hallucinations.’ – Brandon Peters, Neurologist

4+ days without sleep:

  • Neurological problems: Hallucinations, Paranoia and Dementia (in very extreme cases!)
  • Communication problems. Difficulty forming and understanding speech
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Heart problems

How to get an adequate amount of sleep

  • Stick to a routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Avoid stimulants. Try not to consume alcohol or caffeine within 4 to 6 hours before bed.
  • Try meditation or yoga before bedtime.

We hope you can catch an adequate amount of z’s and avoid any symptoms of sleeplessness!

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