Although getting enough sleep can be just as crucial to our health as food, water, and exercise, too many people think they can ‘hack’ their sleep schedule. However, there’s no known way to avoid sleep deprivation, or make up for it, unless you get your regular 8 hours.
How long can you go without sleep?
With busy schedules, long work hours, and non-stop weekends eating into our sleep schedule, it’s no wonder you want to know how long you can go without sleep. Technically, a human can go 11 days (or 264 hours congruently) without sleep, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
Losing only one hour of sleep per day can make it harder for you to focus, and you can’t simply make up for lost time on the weekend. Even if you sleep in for 3–4 hours on Saturday and Sunday, you’ll disrupt your circadian rhythm in the process, making it harder for you to sleep.
Humans can only stay awake for 16 hours at a time before they experience short-term cognitive decline. Staying up late isn’t worth it, as it’s detrimental to your overall health and wellness.
The effects of sleep deprivation
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night is essential for normal functioning. But if you continue to miss out on a good night’s sleep, you’ll experience the following signs, symptoms, and effects.
Signs and symptoms of sleep deprivation include:
- Feeling irritable, tired, or fatigued during the day
- Feeling less interested in sexual intercourse
- Having difficulty focusing or remembering things
- Feeling tired or more sleepy in the afternoon
- Having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning
- Finding it difficult to stay awake while driving
- Having a nap during the day (or when you shouldn’t)
- Falling asleep on the couch or bed in 5 minutes
- Sleeping in late on weekends (or missing work)
- Mood changes, like feeling more stressed or anxious
After prolonged sleep deprivation, you could suffer from the following effects:
- Mental health problems that involve processing emotions, like stress, depression, or anxiety, or in extreme cases, delirium and hallucinations
- Changes in energy and a lack of motivation in your home, work, or school life, causing you to drink more caffeine or eat more sugar
- Weakened immune system, which may cause you to become sick more often
- Impacted cardiovascular system, which could trigger inflammation, high blood sugar, and increased blood pressure levels
- Impaired brain activity, such as a lack of or reduced problem-solving skills, creativity, coordination, reaction time, motor skills, and judgment
- Changes in appearance and hormones, such as weight gain or decreased sex drive
Whether stress, shift work, poor daytime habits, a sleep disorder, medical issues, or substance abuse are affecting your sleep schedule, it’s essential to address these problems right away.
How to address or manage sleep deprivation
Taking sleep aids or prescribed medication can be helpful in the short term, but to address sleep deprivation for good, you need to make a number of lifestyle and behavioural changes.
- Track your sleep schedule. Use apps to promote better sleeping patterns.
- Address stress. If possible, address the issues that are stressing you out.
- Manage stress. Try yoga or relaxing breathing techniques to calm yourself.
- Create a sleep sanctuary. Invest in comfy pillows and blackout curtains.
- Eat healthy and exercise. Avoid sugars and work out for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Maintain a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each night.
- Get caregiving support. If you’re caring for a dependent, seek support from others.
Although these steps can help you manage sleep deprivation, some medical causes, like insomnia, aren’t always manageable on your own. In these cases, seek help from a doctor.
Robert Haynes did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.