For most of us, one night without sleep is more than enough. Even half a night’s sleep is less than satisfactory. But if you really had to, how long could you go without sleeping? Incredibly, the longest period without sleeping is 18 days, 21 hours and 40 minutes during, of all things, a rocking chair marathon! Unsurprisingly, the record holder experienced bouts of hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurry speech, memory loss, concentration issues and severe rocking.
This may seem like an incredibly long time to go without sleep, but it can be done with no serious long term effects. It does take a while to return to normal sleeping patterns after a marathon like that, but as far as doctors can tell, there are no detrimental long term side effects.
This doesn’t mean it is entirely safe to go without sleep though, long term sleep deprivation experiments with animals have resulted in deaths, meaning that it is likely people could die as well if they go for long enough without sleep.
Interestingly, scientists have started experimenting with sleep deprivation as a means of treating depression. It would appear that around 60% of patients respond positively to sleep deprivation, with most showing an almost immediate recovery. Some anti-depression medication actual effects REM sleep, reducing it severely, meaning that incidentally, a form sleep deprivation has been used as a cure for a while.