Almost everybody has been there, you barely closed an eye for some reason or maybe you couldn’t sleep at all. Others complain that they only slept for a few hours, maybe even just one or two. Most people experience the negative effects of lack of sleep already after just one night. Tiredness, for example. However, this symptom is by far not the worst that can happen to you by missing your precious hours of sleep. What people often don’t realise is that not sleeping can be fatal, and it doesn’t even take that long.
The American Randy Gardner could not believe that sleep is necessary. Therefore he did a self-experiment and stayed awake for 11 days and 24 minutes without the use of medicine, alcohol, drugs or any other form of stimulant. Eventually he had to give up, he experienced paranoia, hallucinations and many other medical phenomena.
Not yet convinced that a good night sleep is a must? Then we suggest you take a look at the list below. This is what people with a chronic lack of sleep can expect to experience.
10. Car accidents
No, lack of sleep does not always lead directly to you crashing your car, especially if the person that’s lacking of sleep is not driving the car himself. But what does happen, is that too little sleep can build up in a longer period of time and can appear at times when you can least afford it. For example, when you drive your car on the highway.
Research has shown that drivers who have a lack of sleep have a good perception of the risks they take, but in fact it is more dangerous to drive with lack of sleep than when you ‘re drunk! The difference is in the perception; people who drank more (at least until they are too drunk) know that they are under the influence. A person with sleep deprivation won’t notice any of this until it is too late, and they park their car in the crash-barriers.
9. Inefficient Brain
Any chance you are sleeping less because you need more time to get certain things done ? You may be disappointed. Sleep deprivation can make our brain much less efficient. To put it in other words, regular naps can help your brain to remain effective and efficient. Just like a computer, you must quit now and then and we must also allow the occasional night of sleep for our brain.
Studies have shown that people with sleep deprivation pump a massive amount of blood to their ‘ prefrontal cortex ‘ (forehead – brain used for conscious thought and behavior). There is a reason for that, because your brain is working very hard to overcome the effects of sleep deprivation. And all that energy is not put for any other use then only to keep your consciousness awake. So that’s a lot of lost energy , even though you thought you had won a couple of hours by not sleeping!
8. You mess up your short-term memory
Your active memory, with a time span of actually only a few seconds up to a few minutes, needs sleep. Without sleep, your memory can not even remember a few numbers, let alone learning a phone number by heart. Perceptions are not always stored directly in the long-term memory , but always go through your short-term memory first.
If you have sleep deprivation, your short-term memory is often compromised as one of the first. The symptoms start mild, you’re a little confused and have trouble remembering numbers , but it can easily start to get completely out of control . Randy Gardner, our self – experimenter in the intro, was asked on the eleventh day of his experiment which numbers one gets when one subtracts repeatedly 7 from 100. He had to stop at 65, he had no idea what he was doing… We ask ourselves the same question.
7. Long -term memory, also gone!
No short -term memory, but you will at least have memories from before you sleep abstinence. Right? No, maybe you see it coming, but eventually your long -term memory will also be messed up. This is because our brain needs sleep to integrate, put in order, and process everything we experience and have experienced in the past. Not only that, but we seem to consolidate our learning while we sleep. Lack of sleep badly disrupts this process, meaning it’s difficult to lay down long-term memories and it’s harder to learn new skills.
You can look at it as if our brain is putting all of our experiences into place when we are asleep. If we do not get our needed hours of sleep, this can’t be done. So don’t even think about trying to learn something if you have quite some sleep deprivation. Especially when it comes to skills , just forget it.
6. No attention at all
Do not underestimate a regular person. Humans in an awake state are very good at paying attention and being alert about his or hers surroundings. We can perceive, feel or hear the smallest movements when we want to. A decent lack of sleep, however, can ruin all those ‘super’-powers.
Lack of sleep makes us more or less deaf, stupid and blind for things happening around us. Not literally, of course , you still see those things, but you barely notice them. You are literally unable to concentrate or to focus your attention. You are only able to respond instinctively on certain signals, and even that is going quite terrible for you. Hence that is why people with sleep deprivation often feel distant and distracted from their surroundings.
5. Don’t even think about planning
After about 36 hours of no sleep, your ability to plan and coordinate your time and actions will be totally off track. Tests have shown that a major part of your brain, the part that takes care of the scheduling of operations to start and stop, simply stops working, already after a few days of sleep deprivation. That’s why people with sleep deprivation easily remain in a circle of certain behavior, and keep repeating the same act, or continue to walk around in a cloud of doubt, rather than making decisions.
For example, the rice you want to buy in the supermarket. Most of us won’t spend much time on that. Some people maybe inform themselves about the caloric content, or search for the sustainability logo, but a sleep-limited individual can require minutes to decide to buy the rice. And you can imagine that shopping for groceries is going to take very long as you need at least 10 minutes for each product to decide.
4. Habits rule
Exactly, if you are no longer able to make decisions, then you fall back on your habits. These are built into your automatic thought patterns, and therefore require less intervention from your prefrontal cortex (see number 9). So your habits are the only thing you have left.
However, it could turn out well if your habits are generally positive, but most of the times this is not the case. People with sleep deprivation eat significantly more fast food, they fall back on old habits (smoking) and generally are less able to think about the consequences of these actions.
Studies have investigated whether lack of sleep has an effect on your own sense of risk, and yes, there is a connection. With too little sleep people are less able to calculate certain risks properly. In other words, your sense of risk is reduced. One of the reasons why you think you can drive, after missing two nights of sleep.
This has been studied with card players that go on late into the night, and don’t get enough sleep. These players seem to be quickly fixed into a single strategic plan or way of playing, and can’t adapt their game. When normally you would have given up, now you just keep betting and raising. Not so smart…
2. Dying Brain Cells
All of the above things are worth worrying about in an everyday context, but even if you’re safely in your own room, surrounded with some healthy food, lack of high-risk business, and enough material to keep yourself in life? Then you’re still not there yet.
Studies with mice have shown that after a long period of no sleep, about 25% of the brain cells just stop working. And eventually they die off. Other studies have shown that sleep deprivation reduces the integrity of the white part of your brains. It will not be immediately fatal, but it’s certainly not healthy at all!
Finally, if you think you’ve seen it all, there is mania. At first it may seem like you just beat the need for sleep, and you don’t feel so tired anymore. But what you don’t realize is that most of the facts listed above may also be occurring to you. You may suddenly experience a huge amount of energy and an urge to talk a lot and keep talking. How that may seem positive in ‘some’ situations, mania is more or less a collective name here for many symptoms, such as psychosis, paranoia, hallucinations, aggression and so on. In other words, you get mentally wrecked. Not a nice thing to experience.
Author – Jacob van Heusden