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What Happens When You Go Without Sleep for 3 Days?

Updated May 16, 2024
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Sleep is essential for the human body. Without it, we can experience a myriad of problems, including lack of concentration, memory issues, slower reaction times, mood swings, and hallucinations. While we all experience nights of tossing and turning now and again, going without sleep for multiple days at a time can be very detrimental to your health.

Although, astoundingly, the record for the longest time without sleep is 11 days and 24 minutes (set by 17-year-old Randy Gardner in 1964), three days seems to be something of a tipping point when it comes to the serious consequences of sleep deprivation. Seeking immediate medical care is recommended for individuals who have gone more than three days without sleep.

However, it doesn't take that long for the consequences of sleep deprivation to become apparent. Hormonal imbalances can be triggered after 36 hours without sleep. The human body’s oxygen intake also decreases after this amount of time. Lack of sleep also affects the immune system, making an individual more susceptible to illness. A person’s heart rate will increase and their brain will begin to stop functioning properly.

Not getting enough sleep can have serious consequences, as it increases a person’s risk of being in a car crash, fall, or workplace accident. In fact, after just 24 hours of no sleep, a person’s performance is affected so much that it is equivalent to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10%, which is considered too drunk to drive in the United States.

Better get some sleep:

  • Various factors can contribute to sleep difficulties, including stress, social obligations, family and work demands, and environmental factors such as noise, pollution, and safety concerns. Whatever the reason, it is estimated that 1 in 3 American adults do not get enough sleep.

  • Most adults require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Age and gender (among other factors) may affect these requirements. For example, women tend to require a little more sleep than men.

  • Fatal insomnia is an extremely rare disorder in which people are not able to sleep for months. This disorder will eventually lead to death, whether due to the lack of sleep it causes or the negative impact it has on a person’s brain cells.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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