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15 Gnarly Things That Happen To Your Body When You Die Of Sleep Deprivation

Updated October 17, 2019 1.1m views15 items

Sleep deprivation sucks, and if you've ever suffered from it, then you know it can make you act pretty strangely, make your work sloppy, and give you the worst sort of headaches. What you might not know is that sleep deprivation death is a real thing. That's right. You can in fact DIE from a lack of sleep! With that grim knowledge, you may now be wondering what dying of sleep deprivation is like. Well, lucky for you, you don't have to stay awake for eleven days to find out. You just have to read on to discover the horrifying, fascinating facts.

You may have had a period of insomnia so severe that you felt like you were dying. But you can rest assured; you've probably never even gotten close to that point. It can happen, though, and it's totally different than dying from a fall or dying in an explosion. It's slow, painful, and pretty darn confusing.

If you're still wondering how close you are to your lack of sleep limits, or if you're just curious about how sleep deprivation death happens, you're invited to climb into the sleepless sack of the insomniac. But be warned: what you read here might either make you want to take a nap right now, or it might make sleep tonight (and every night) pretty difficult.

  • Death From Sleep Deprivation Is Incredibly Rare

    Don't worry, you can go ahead and finish that cup of coffee. There are only a few documented cases of people dying from lack of sleep. In 2014, a Chinese man in the city of Suzhou tried to stay up to watch the FIFA World Cup in one, long marathon TV session. This meant he was awake for at least 11 days, and that was enough to kill him. When he was brought into the hospital (in one of the first recorded cases of that type), doctors concluded his death was, in fact, brought about through sleep deprivation.

    Shockingly enough, this isn't the first time soccer has caused someone to stay awake until their death. During Euro 2012, another Chinese man stayed up to watch the whole thing in one sitting. After 11 days, Jiang Xiaoshan also succumbed to death from exhaustion, suggesting that, even if you love soccer, you probably shouldn't watch it nonstop for over a week.

  • It Will Probably Stem From A Medical Condition

    The fact of the matter is the average human probably wouldn't be able to keep themselves awake long enough to die from lack of sleep. To actually die this way takes either a lot of commitment (to soccer apparently) or a preexisting medical condition. Because human bodies are built to, you know, stay alive, they have failsafes that will force you to get some sleep. In other words, your body literally won't let you stay awake long enough to die from sleep deprivation.

    That being said, there are some medical conditions that can keep you awake or keep you from getting sleep long enough to cause you harm. One such condition is fatal familial insomnia (FFI), a genetic disorder in which you have serious issues sleeping for months, and your body eventually wears out. The best-known case is that of Michael Corke, a man who died after six months of regular sleep deprivation brought on by FFI. So, if you have a condition like that, death from lack of sleep is far more likely.

  • You'll Start To See Symptoms After Only 24 Hours

    You may be wondering how soon you'll start noticing the negative impacts of sleep deprivation. Shockingly, the consequences of a lack of sleep start to manifest right away! In fact, you may notice the very first symptoms starting to slip in after only 24 hours of sleeplessness.  

    The body needs regular sleep – as in every night – so after one missed night, your body will experience slight hormonal changes. For example, your levels of cortisol and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) will begin to rise as a response to a lack of rest, which leads to everything from increased blood pressure to carb cravings and a weakened immune system.

  • Your Blood Pressure Will Rise

    As your body goes through the hormonal changes related to sleep deprivation, your blood pressure will also gradually begin to rise. This causes more than a few problems with your mind and body. While it may cause no issues at all, sometimes high blood pressure can lead to dizziness and headache, which explains why people who don't sleep well often complain of migraines and nausea. Your face may also become flushed, and your vision may be clouded or unfocused. This vision problem can also cause headaches and dizziness in and of itself, so you should expect to feel some head pain when you don't get rest. 

    And while the exhaustion you feel might seem like a no brainer (you didn't sleep, so DUH), increased blood pressure can make even simple tasks feel exhausting.