Sleep deprivation does not occur all at once; in fact, your symptoms can vary greatly depending on how long you have gone without sleep. Typically, the side effects of sleep deprivation will intensify the longer you have been awake. Here’s a breakdown of the different stages of sleep deprivation, and what symptoms one can expect to experience, as well as how sleep loss affects your body, at each stage:
After 24 Hours
Going a full day without sleep is not uncommon, and though it may not be the most enjoyable experience, it won’t be a huge detriment to your health. However, you will still feel the effects of sleep deprivation at this stage, and it does have an impact on your mental and physical health.
At this stage, you will likely feel drowsy and irritable. Your ability to make decisions or use sound judgment will decrease, as will your ability to recall and form memories, and you may feel more emotional. Your hand-eye coordination will decline after 24 hours without sleep, which increases your risk for near-misses or fatal car accidents. One study actually found that this level of sleep deprivation is similar to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent, which is above the legal driving limit in most states.
You may also experience tremors, impaired vision and hearing, and a generally altered sense of perception. While these consequences may sound severe for only one night of missed sleep, most of these symptoms will go away after a full night of quality rest, and won’t have any long-term effects on your health.
After 36 Hours
The effects of sleep deprivation get far more intense after an additional 12 hours without any shut-eye. After 36 hours, sleep deprivation poses a much greater threat to your health and well-being. At this point, the regulation of some of your hormones, including cortisol and insulin, can change due to the shift in your sleep cycle. This can affect your bodily functions, including your appetite, metabolism, temperature regulation, and stress level.
Your memory may become severely impaired at this stage. You will probably also begin to feel extremely fatigued, lose motivation, and experience even greater impairment in regards to judgment, decision-making, and your ability to pay attention or concentrate. You may even have difficulty speaking, and may particularly struggle with your word choice and intonation.
Your appetite often changes at this stage of sleep deprivation, and you may also find yourself craving carbohydrates and fatty or sugary foods. While you may be able to mitigate the effects of sleep deprivation by eating lean sources of protein and properly hydrating, going to sleep is the only way to reverse its effects.
After 48 Hours
When you go two full days without sleep, it will become increasingly difficult to actually stay awake. At this stage, you may being to experience “microsleeps,” in which your body essentially falls asleep for up to 30 seconds at a time. During a microsleep, your brain enters a state similar to actual sleep, and you may feel confused and disoriented upon “waking.”
Additionally, sleep deprivation to this degree can compromise and disrupt your immune system. Research suggests that the activity of cells that fight viruses and bacteria decreases after 48 hours without sleep, which makes you more likely to get sick.
After 72 Hours
The effects of sleep deprivation become even more serious after 72 hours without sleep. Your cognitive functions greatly decrease, and you may have even more difficulty paying attention, staying motivated, and completing ordinarily simple tasks. You are also more likely to feel irritated, anxious, depressed, or paranoid.
After three days without sleep, you may also begin hallucinating or experiencing illusions. Though similar, hallucinations occur when you see or hear something that isn’t there, and illusions are a misperception of something that is actually here. At this point, you may struggle to stay awake, if you are able to at all.
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