Can sleep deprivation be fatal?

Can sleep deprivation be fatal?

Sleeping is like breathing, an essential requirement of human being. People can survive three times longer with no food than with no sleep. Why is it so? What really happens inside our body when we are sleep deprived?

Initial stages of sleep deprivation

Within the first 24 hours of sleep deprivation, our stress hormone such as cortisol elevates and Thyroid Stimulating Hormones (TSH) levels also increase, this leads to rise in blood pressure. Further sleep deprivation of between 36-48 hours results in termination of glucose metabolism, leading to carbohydrate cravings, within that time our body temperature drops drastically and our immune system becomes dangerously suppressed.

A Fatal Experiment

A study done on rats in the 1980s by a university of Chicago showed that, within 23 days of no sleep, all rats were dead. The exact cause was not established, however, three hypotheses were suggested. First was that, due to being sleep deprived, rats' body temperature became extremely low and shifted them into the state of hypothermia, which could have been the main cause of death. The second hypothesis suggesting that due to sleep deprivation rats' immune system became almost dysfunctional and that put them at risk of bacterial infestation spread throughout the entire body causing an infection, with which antibiotics did not help, and the outcome resulted in death. The final possible cause of death could have been the fact that rats, being sleep deprived, were incurring some brain damage which was inevitable due to missing on sleep. The reality of the cortisol elevation within the body could have also contributed to the rats' demise.

A reported case of death from sleep deprivation

It has been reported that a 26-year-old Chinese man, staying up for 11 days straight, died after falling asleep, being previously in a good health. Experiments have been done on humans as well, under close supervision, suggesting that humans are able to stay awake without the fatal outcome for 264 hours, which is 11 days in duration, taking into consideration, that the subjects were taken care of in all other areas of health, whereas the Chinese man was reported to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes during his waking hours.

Fatal Familial Insomnia

There is a disorder known as Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) that is fatal within about 3 to 18 months. This is the condition that causes extended sleeplessness caused by the protein PrPc mutation. However, studies show that the reason of death from FFI was multiple organ failures and brain damage.

Final Word

So indeed sleep deprivation can be fatal and result in death and/or very serious health conditions. And this is why sleep needs to be taken seriously.

For more information, refer to my books:
Fix my sleep book
Sleep now book

 


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