Humans need sleep. There can be no denying that we really need our sleep. Most of us struggle to survive with less than seven or eight hours a night. Some people are able to cope with only a few a night but even they need to get some shut eye. In the past sleep was seen as a way for people to recharge their batteries but as we have studied sleep we have learnt that it is so much more than that, sleep plays a vital role in our physical and psychological wellbeing. It helps with a huge range of physiological functions, from regulating appetite to helping control mood, from processing and storing memories through to healing the body. So what would happen if you just stopped sleeping?
Most people love to sleep. By the end of a long day there is nothing like getting into bed and closing your eyes for the night. You wake in the morning feeling refreshed and ready for another day. The more we have learnt about sleep the more we realise how vital it is to our wellbeing, both mental and psychical. so what would it be like it you suddenly decided one day to stop sleeping all together?
Initially you may actually feel energised as to cope with the lack of sleep your brain will produce and excess of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This will stimulate you and make you feel pretty good, though this cannot and will not last.
As time goes on your brain starts to shut down areas of the brain. It is almost like it is running out of energy and has to turn off lights to make it last as long as possible. One of the first areas to go is your decision making, specifically the area associated with planning and evaluating decisions. In other words, you will start to be more rash in your decision making, leaving you open to more mistakes.
The next thing to go will be your reaction times as the brain struggles to operate with its reduced capacity. You will find that your coordination will suffer and your ability to react to external events will drop significantly, leaving you more prone to accidents.
After about two days without sleep your ability to properly metabolise glucose is drastically reduced and your immune system stops working meaning that you energy levels will drop and that you are likely to pick up any diseases you come into contact with.
After three days you will begin to suffer from hallucinations as the brain struggles. Some people believe that the hallucinations are a form of waking dreaming, as your mind tries to process the memories that it has been unable to deal with.
After around four days it becomes increasingly hard to stay awake and few people have ever lasted longer than this. The body and brain desire the shut down of sleep so badly that most people will fall asleep despite attempts to stay awake.
The record is 11 days and even though this person suffered from all of the above, the reality is that they did not suffer any long term consequences.
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