August 26, 2018 3 min read

Sleep deprivation is the condition of not having enough sleep. In its chronic state, it may have profound consequences on quality of life and health. In extreme cases even death.

Extreme cases

Randy Gardner holds the scientific record for staying awake for the longest period of time without use of stimulants. He stayed awake for 264 hours (11 days).

Several claims of sleep deprivation lasting years have been made, but none were confirmed. Rhett Lamb was reported to not sleep during the first three years of his life. In fact, he had a rare abnormality called Arnold-Chiari malformation.

The french sleep expert, Michel Jouvet, reported the case of a patient who was almost totally sleep deprived for four months. EEG tests showed he had less than 30 minutes of stage 1 sleep per night. The patient was suffering from Morvan’s fibrillary chorea, a rare disease that led to extreme insomnia.

Fatal familial insomnia is a neurodegenerative disease that results in a complete inability to go past stage 1 of sleep. Death usually occurs between 7 and 36 months after the onset.

On the body

Sleep deprivation may have several physiological effects. The most well known symptom might be the dark circles and eye bags. Less visible ones are increased blood pressure and higher stress levels hormones, posing a risk people with cardiovascular conditions.

Lack of sleep results in a higher tolerance to insulin, the hormone responsible for moving sugar from bloodstream into the cells. This condition increases the sugar concentration in the blood, making our body release more insulin to compensate. This is the precursor mechanism of type 2 diabetes, and also a factor for weight gain. People who suffer from this conditions tend to have their lifespan reduced in 10 years due the increase of cardiovascular diseases and kidney failure.

On the brain

The brain and cognitive function are also affected by sleep deprivation. Researchers using fMRI technology to monitor brain activity discovered that sleepier people had more activity in the prefrontal cortex while performing verbal learning tasks. They interpreted the result as indicative that sleep deprived brains had to work harder to perform the same task, compared with well rested subjects. Also, the temporal lobe, the region responsible for language processing, was activated on well rested individuals during verbal tasks, but not on sleep-deprived ones.

Researchers from Chicago Medical Institute found a link between sleep deprivation psychiatric diseases including psychosis and bipolar disorder. The link with the former was documented in 2007 at Harvard Medical School. Using MRI scans, the study determined that sleep deprivation reduces the brain's capacity to put emotional events in perspective and incapable of making a suitable response to an event.

Also, there is a correlation between sleep deprivation and decreased attention, working memory and learning abilities.


The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that one in every five serious injuries caused by driving accidents is related to driver's fatigue. In the USA only, there are 80,000 drivers falling asleep while driving, and 250,000 accidents caused by sleep deprivation.

According to the British Medical Journal, people who drive after being awake for 17-19 hours performed worse than people with a blood alcohol level of 0.05%. After 21 hours awake, their performance were equivalent to someone with 0.08% of blood alcohol content.

Several major disasters were also attributed to the lack of sleep. Chernobyl accident, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and The Challenger explosion are few examples of bad decisions taken by sleep-deprived people

Sleep deprivation may pose a serious health issue, and significantly reduce the expectancy of life. Moona improves life quality by enhancing sleep using temperature and data.