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Can You Survive Without Sleep? How Long Can We Stay Awake?

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For those of us either curious about sleep in general or struggling to get consistent sleep, certain questions can come up. One of those questions may include, how long can we survive without sleep? 

Here, we’ll break down the timeline of mental and physical repercussions you can expect without any sleep. We’ll also delve into common reasons why people may struggle to get sufficient sleep. 

With that in mind, if you are having sleep issues, it’s wise to consult with your healthcare provider or a sleep specialist in order to find out what’s behind your sleep problems and receive proper treatment.

The “No Sleep” Timeline

At 24 Hours

If you’ve pulled an all-nighter studying for an exam or preparing for a presentation at work, you’re going to wish you didn’t procrastinate.

When you’ve gone 24 hours without even a nap, you’re not going to be able to think as clearly. In fact, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that this is similar to the effects of having a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent1, which is above the legal driving limit in the United States at 0.08 percent.

Get More Info: One Hour of Sleep – Is It Enough?

In addition to cognitive impairment2, you can experience the following:

Want to know more? See the latest findings on how one night of poor sleep affects our health.

At 36 Hours

A consecutive stint of 36 waking hours will start to negatively affect your physical health. Repeated exposure to this bad habit can lead to cardiovascular disease7. You may also experience complete memory lapses8 and not remember what happened during these hours.

At 48 Hours

There is limited research on the effects of 48 hours of sleep deprivation. According to a systematic review9 of the available research, the 24-48-hour period of no sleep may lead to symptoms such as distorted perceptions, anxiety, irritability, depersonalization, and disorientation. The review adds that after the 48-hour mark, people may experience complex hallucinations and disordered thinking.

A Note from Dr. Raj Dasgupta on Hallucinations

“Sleep deprivation can cause hallucinations as you are falling asleep or as you are waking up, these hallucinations are mainly visual but can also be auditory. One might see shadowy figures, experience distorted audio, or experience vivid dream-like images. These hallucinations signal that your brain needs rest.”

Dr. Raj’s Bio

Therefore, it’s possible people may experience a combination of the aforementioned symptoms at 48 hours without sleep.

At 72 Hours

According to the systematic review mentioned above, people can start experiencing delusions after 72 hours without sleep. They add that this can clinically resemble acute psychosis or toxic delirium.9 

Have You Gone Without Sleep?

Surviving Without Sleep
Have you ever pulled an “all-nighter”? (stayed awake for 24 or more consecutive hours)
Was your all-nighter planned or unexpected?
What was your reasoning for staying awake this long? [select all that apply]
Which best describes your feelings and experiences after staying awake for 24+ hours? [select all that apply]

Sleep Deprivation – Possible Causes & Symptoms

Mental Health Issues

Sometimes sleep deprivation may be caused by certain mental health issues10, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the case of depression, sleep problems may indicate someone has depression, but sleep loss can also increase the risk of depression. 

According to research, people with schizophrenia may simultaneously have a sleep disorder11 such as insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or periodic limb movement disorder.

Research experts say sleep disturbances are common among people with bipolar disorder12. They add that people may need less sleep during manic episodes, and during depressive episodes, they may experience insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness). 
Lastly, the National Center for PTSD13 reports that people with this disorder often say they experience problems with falling asleep, nighttime restlessness, and waking up too early.

Job Schedule

Your job schedule could also lead to sleep deprivation. This can include those who work varying shifts and those who work overnight. When you work different shift schedules, it can throw off your sleep schedule. Similarly, working overnight goes against our natural circadian rhythm14, which prompts us to sleep when it’s nighttime and be awake during the day. 

Work or School Deadlines

Sometimes you might stay up late to meet deadlines for work or school, which could lead to sleep deprivation. However, considering that sleep deprivation can impact cognitive performance, this could mean you don’t perform as well the following day.2

If possible, try to adjust your schedule as best you can in order to complete your work earlier so that you don’t have to stay up late. It may also help to talk to your boss or a guidance counselor for advice if your workload is impacting your sleep.

Morvan’s Syndrome

In some cases, sleep deprivation isn’t a choice. No matter how much we want or need to rest, our bodies simply aren’t having it.

A classic example of this is something called Morvan’s syndrome15. Subjects with this medical disorder were studied, and it was found that people with this disorder sleep very little. One particular case involved a man in France16 who went several months with barely a wink. Instead, he had periods of hallucination and pain in his extremities.

Besides pain and sleeplessness, other symptoms of Morvan’s syndrome include muscle twitching, sweating, and weight loss.15

Expert Knowledge from Dr. Raj Dasgupta

“Morvan‘s Syndrome is a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system and is characterized by symptoms like muscle twitching, stiffness, insomnia, and other cognitive disturbances. In almost all of the reported cases, the need for sleep was severely reduced and in certain cases not necessary. The duration of sleep in some documented cases decreased to about 2 to 4 hours per 24-hour period. Clinical features pertaining to insomnia include daytime drowsiness associated with a loss of ability to sleep. Treatment aims to help manage the autoimmune response with therapies like corticosteroids and immunoglobulins, but there is no specific cure, and outcomes can vary from person to person.”

Dr. Raj’s Bio

Fatal Familial Insomnia

Fatal familial insomnia (FFI)17 is a fatal form of insomnia that unfortunately does not yet have a cure. The extreme deprivation associated with FFI causes the body to slowly deteriorate18.

FFI is extremely rare, with fewer than 1,000 Americans having the condition. The cause of FFI is genetic and typically the result of a variant in the PRNP gene. Symptoms may begin presenting in adulthood.17

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

This sleep disorder occurs when your airway becomes obstructed, creating periodic episodes of reduced or zero airflow19. These low oxygen levels can cause people to wake up multiple times per night, which is why OSA is linked to poor nighttime sleep20 and, subsequently, daytime fatigue.

There are many potential causes of OSA but some common ones may include obesity, physical makeup, sleeping on the back, advanced age, consuming alcohol, or pregnancy.19 

If you have this, it can also negatively affect the quality of rest that your partner gets. It’s important to discuss your sleep concerns with your healthcare professional, as OSA has negative health consequences if left untreated.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Restless legs syndrome is a nervous system disorder that creates an uncontrollable urge to reposition your legs21. It’s accompanied by uncomfortable tingling and twitching, commonly described as “pins and needles” or a “creepy crawly” feeling. As a result, people with RLS often have worse sleep22.

While this disorder is more common among women, anyone can experience these symptoms, and it’s estimated that it affects up to 10 percent of the population. Additionally, people who are middle-aged or older may present more severe symptoms.21

Related: Best Mattress for Restless Leg Syndrome

How Long Can You Go Without Sleep?

There’s no definitive answer as to how long you can stay awake, and based on the effects of sleep deprivation, it’s clear that we require regular sleep to function to the best of our ability. 

There is an anecdotal story23 of a young man in China who forced himself to stay awake and died after 11 days, but there were other factors involved. The ethical dilemma involved in testing these boundaries is too great to define a specific timeline, therefore, research in this area is limited. For example, current studies24 have focused on testing in animals such as rats, not in humans.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you die from lack of sleep?

While not sleeping won’t outright kill you, and death from chronic sleep deprivation is rare, the effects it has on your body can be fatal. In some instances, it could be fatal due to an accident from a lack of sleep.6 We also know that in other cases like Fatal Familial Insomnia, the lack of sleep over an extended period can cause the body to deteriorate.18 

How long will it take before you start hallucinating?

While every person is different, research suggests that people may start experiencing hallucinations after 48 hours without sleep.9


It may be tempting to try to trick your body into staying awake. Think about how much more you could accomplish if you slept less, or not at all. Based on the research, though, it’s not advisable to deprive yourself of shut-eye, especially for long periods of time.

Instead, we advise focusing on getting a healthy amount of sleep each night in order to have the energy to accomplish all your tasks in a more timely manner.

Jill Zwarensteyn

Jill Zwarensteyn


About Author

Jill Zwarensteyn is the Editor for Sleep Advisor and a Certified Sleep Science Coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Combination Sleeper

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  3. Salfi, Frederico., et al. “Effects of Total and Partial Sleep Deprivation on Reflection Impulsivity and Risk-Taking in Deliberative Decision-Making”. Nature and Science of Sleep. 2020.
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  13. “Sleep Problems and PTSD”. National Center for PTSD. Webpage accessed March 5, 2024.
  14. Reddy, Sujana., Reddy, Vamsi., Sharma, Sandeep. “Physiology, Circadian Rhythm”. StatPearls. Last modified May 1, 2023.
  15. Maskery, Mark., et al. “Morvan Syndrome”. The Neurohospitalist. 2016.
  16. “How Long Can Humans Stay Awake?”. Scientific American. 2002.
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  18. “Novel Study Model Reveals New Understanding of Fatal Familial Insomnia”. National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. Last modified January 19, 2023.
  19. Slowik, Jennifer M., Sankari, Abdulghani., Collen, Jacob F. “Obstructive Sleep Apnea”. StatPearls. Last modified December 11, 2022.
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