Has anyone ever died from sleep deprivation?

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The Sealy blog is one of the spaces that we answer our facebook fans questions. We love helping you to sleep and live better… so ask away!

Facebook fan asks: I know sleep deprivation is bad for me, but I am busy launching my new company and just don't have much time to give to sleep right now. I am getting through each day, but can't stop wondering- Has anyone actually ever died of sleep deprivation? How far can I push it?


Has anyone ever died of sleep deprivation?

The answer is Yes.

A well-documented death occurred in 2012, when a 26 year old Chinese Soccer Super-fan attempted to stay up and watch every game in the European Championships. Most matches were aired in his home town between 1am and 3 am. During the day, he continued to perform his office job, but on day 11 he was found dead in his sleep. The cause of death was attributed to 'exhaustion'.

His death shocked the world as he was young, relatively fit and did not have any chronic health conditions.

There are many more men who have attempted to stay awake, but the effects have been so detrimental that the Guinness Book of World Records no longer prints this category.

How much sleep deprivation is required?

Multiple sources, such as sleep studies as well as world record attempts state that 264 hours or 11 days of total sleep deprivation is sufficient to kill you.

What is probably more worrying is that low grade sleep deprivation (classified as less than 7,5 hours sleep per night) can also kill you- quickly, as you are more likely to be in a motor vehicle accident thanks to drowsy driving the day after a bad night, or over time, as even if you are fitting in 6 hours of sleep per night you are more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

How does sleep deprivation kill you?

The mechanism of death is much harder to establish, especially in humans. What we do know is that when exposed to total sleep deprivation (ie. absolutely no sleep) human beings show decreased cognitive and perceptual function after only one night of sleep deprivation. After three nights, human beings are experiencing hallucinations and other symptoms of psychosis. Whilst scientists can study these 'early' effects, they cannot push human beings passed this as it is simply too damaging.

To get closer to the 11 day mark, most scientists use rat studies. The bad news is that no rat exposed to total sleep deprivation survived passed the 2-3 week mark. Despite these rats being closely monitored, scientists are still unsure what killed them. They could see that the rats body temperatures dropped, that their metabolism became 'catabolic' and they developed bacterial infections, however, during control studies, when they took measures to eradicate a variable (ie. kept rats warm or gave them anti-biotics) all the sleep-deprived rats still died.

What we know for sure?

Sleep is good for you! And whilst sleeping less may seem a good short-term solution to needing more time to build your business, sleep deprivation will make you less productive, less clever and more likely to experience poor interpersonal relationships.

Choose sleep. Choose a better life!

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