Can You Die from Lack of Sleep?

Ahh, sleep is a beautiful thing. Everyone needs it from the time they are born. Sleep constitutes about 1/3 of our lives and is the time when our bodies and our brain are set to recharge. Sort of like plugging in your cell phone, you won’t work right if you don’t get sleep.

Sleep deprivation is a common problem in today’s world. Insomnia affects millions of people every single night, causing them to struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. Sleep deprivation not only affects physical energy and makes people tired, but it also affect a person’s ability to function mentally. Missing out on a little bit of sleep every once in a while may not be so bad, but a chronic or long term lack of sleep can be detrimental to all sorts of aspects of your life.

People lose sleep for a variety of reasons. More than just college students staying up all night to study for exams, people of all ages are losing sleep due to stress, anxiety, health issues, medications, poor sleep hygiene habits and other issues. As it turns out, sleeping isn’t nearly as easy as babies make it seem.

Dangers of Lack of Sleep

Going without sleep can be an extremely dangerous idea and not recommended. Extended times of sleeplessness can begin with hormonal changes. As your body is struggling to cope with lack of sleep, your stress hormones, such a cortisol and TSH, will rise and lead to an increase in blood pressure. After a couple of day, your body will stop processing glucose which creates cravings for carbohydrates (as your body is looking for quick sources of energy). Over the long haul this could result in a diabetic response.

Other physical results of sleep deprivation include a drop in body temperature, suppressed immune response, lowered libido, impaired balance, strain on the heart, impaired appetite control, and other problems.

Signs and symptoms of sleep deprivation may range from minimal to interruptive, including:

  • Yawning
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Sleepiness during activity such as driving
  • Lack of balance (acting almost drunk)
  • Headache
  • Slowed motor skills
  • Poor judgment
  • Memory loss
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Paranoia or hallucinations
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • High risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Weight gain

Driving may be one of the most obvious dangers related to sleep deprivation. A person who is behind the wheel and sleep deprived is not only at risk of falling asleep but also has slower reflexes, impaired judgment and generally is going to be a poor driver. Sleep deprivation may actually affect a person’s ability to drive just as much as drinking alcohol would. Statistics show that sleep deprivation may be responsible for more than 72,000 vehicle accidents per year, including around 6000 crashes which are fatal.

People who are sleep deprived are likely to make decisions that they would not make under normal circumstances. This could mean taking unnecessary risks like crossing the street when a car is quickly approaching, or gambling excessively without thought for the consequences. These types of inability to make wise decisions can result in losing a job or even committing a crime because of poor judgment.

Sleep deprivation could even have the power to destroy relationships as mood and personality have a tendency to be disrupted. If the person who is sleep deprived begins to exhibit extreme irritability and anger or manic behavior, this could lead to broken relationships, divorce, or other negative life consequences. Associated with the strain on relationships are the psychological effects of lack of sleep that may include hallucinations and paranoia.

Is Death Due to Lack of Sleep Possible?

Although the ability to do research is difficult, scientists and medical professionals have posed theories about whether staying awake too long can actually kill a human being. Based on studies of animals (specifically rats), many researcher hypothesize that the human body would likely respond in a similar way to animals who have been known to die after an extended period without sleep.

The actual cause of death of the animals subjected to sleep deprivation is not always agreed upon by scientists. Some think death was related to brain damage or stress caused by lack of sleep, while others think it may be due to a weakened immune system. In any case, the researchers do agree that sleep deprivation is a critical factor in the fatality of animals who have been studied along these lines.

One Man Who Died From Not Sleeping

Some records have indicated that a healthy 26-year-old man from the city of Suzhou, China, eventually passed away because he didn’t sleep for eleven days straight. His goal was to stay awake to watch all of the 2014 World Cup FIFA matches as a marathon. The results, however, were less than victorious. Toward the end of 11 days the man was rushed to the hospital and the doctors could only conclude that it was the lack of sleep that ultimately led to his demise.

How to Keep Lack of Sleep from Killing You

Documented cases of people dying immediately from lack of sleep are obviously unusual, and most people wouldn’t be able to stay awake long enough to test the theory. On the other hand, many people have medical conditions that may be exacerbated by lack of sleep and could be leading them to a slow death.

For instance, people who don’t sleep enough have a tendency to gain weight. Obesity can cause heart problems and diabetes, which can lead to an early death. In order to fight against the possibility that insomnia will kill you, practice healthy sleep hygiene habits such as these:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a bath or reading
  • Make sure your room is dark
  • Stop using electronics two hours before bedtime
  • Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine in the evening
  • Get a comfortable mattress and pillow
  • Use a white noise machine to drown out disruptive noises


If you have insomnia, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor to rule out a sleep disorder that may be affecting your help. And if you’re worried about dying from lack of sleep, then you may need to help to reduce your stress levels as well. In general, it is highly unlikely that sleep deprivation will instantly kill you. On the other hand, we could all probably use a bit more shut eye on a regular basis, just to be sure!

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