This Is How Long You Can Really Go Without Sleep

If you have ever experienced even a small bout of insomnia, you know how it can impact your mental and physical health. According to John Hopkins Medicine, experts agree that 7-9 hours per night is an ideal amount of sleep for adults, but sleep needs vary depending on the individual. That being said, getting enough sleep regularly is essential for optimal health.

The Mayo Clinic states that it is not uncommon for adults to experience short-term (acute) insomnia, which can last for a few days or a few weeks. However, some people experience long-term (chronic) insomnia, which can go on for months. This may lead you to wonder how long you can go without sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that once you have gone 24 hours without sleep, you might experience symptoms similar to a person with a blood alcohol content of 0.10%, which is higher than the legal driving limit.

Lack of sleep can cause health problems

Lack of sleep causes impaired thinking, reduced coordination, increased risk for accidents, slow reaction time, anxiety, and can eventually lead to sleep deprivation psychosis (via Healthline). Despite these side effects, a lack of sleep may still not result in death. However, there are fatal outcomes as a result of not sleeping, such as car accidents, heart disease, and increased risk for chronic illnesses (via Verywell Health).

In 2017, Shankar Vedantam of NPR interviewed Randy Gardner, who stayed awake for 11 days for a science experiment in the 1960s. Gardner broke the world record for most hours awake. He claims he drifted back into a pattern of regular sleep after that stint but explained that mid-life insomnia came back to haunt him. Going those 11 days without sleep somehow changed him, and Gardner suffered "years of unbearable insomnia."

Sleep is crucial to maintaining optimal health, and while a good night's sleep may escape you on occasion, it shouldn't harm you. That being said, long-term insomnia can cause chronic medical conditions. If you are experiencing significant sleep disturbances, make sure to discuss them with your doctor.