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Medicine Science

The Dangers of Being Really, Really Tired 469

Sleepy Dog Millionare writes "Brian Palmer, writing for Slate, asks 'Can you die from lack of sleep?' and shockingly, the answer may very well be Yes, you can. Palmer points to 'ground breaking experiments' in the area of sleep research. It turns out that sleep deprivation can actually be deadly in rats. The obvious conclusion is that it is probably deadly in all mammals. So the next time you think you need to pull multiple all-night hack-a-thons, ask yourself if it's worth risking your life for."
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The Dangers of Being Really, Really Tired

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 16, 2009 @06:51PM (#27982341)

    I wouldn't be able to get a first post.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 16, 2009 @06:57PM (#27982379)

      I really wish people would take the dangers of even small amounts of sleep deprivation more seriously.

      Even missing an hours sleep could be enough to kill some poor sod who happens to be crossing the road at the same time as you miss the red lights.

      In the modern world it seems to be macho to go without sleep. In reality, depriving yourself of sleep makes you less productive.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:12PM (#27982527)

        depriving yourself of sleep makes you less productive

        It may, depending on what you're doing. Being deprived of sleep (or stoned) is the only way I can even contemplate boring tasks -- decorating for example. If I'm capable of doing something... anything that's even vaguely interesting then boring tasks are going to be put off.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Lorens ( 597774 )

          boring tasks -- decorating for example.

          In my experience, it is possible to find someone else who will quite happily actually insist on taking care of all one's home decorating, with even some fringe benefits thrown in. Of course some might find surprising disadvantages to my solution, like sudden difficulties completing 24h WoW sessions, but as TFA says even the average slashdotter needs his beauty sleep.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:15PM (#27982555)

        In the modern world it seems to be macho to go without sleep.

        Stop talking like a pussy, boy!

      • by Thiez ( 1281866 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:42PM (#27982763)

        > In reality, depriving yourself of sleep makes you less productive.

        In reality, there's more to life than being 'at optimal productivity level' all the time. Work to live, not the other way round. If you have an awesome party on your birthday but are a little less productive the day after, then the world can just suck it up. I'm not saying you should drive while (severely) sleep deprived, it's just that there are many things in life that are worth a little sleep deprivation. Just make sure you understand the consequences of sleep deprivation and use that knowledge to act responsibly.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        In reality, depriving yourself of sleep makes you less productive.

        My own experience has been that a mild level of sleep deprivation increases my productivity since my mind is less resistant to menial tasks. However, and this is very important, when sleep deprived, my rate of learning is much lower. My experience is that when I'm sleep deprived it's my ability to form memories that suffers.

        Since ultimately your effectiveness depends much more on how well you've learned than your current mental state, being well rested is of far more value than people give it credit for.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cyn1c77 ( 928549 )

        I really wish people would take the dangers of even small amounts of sleep deprivation more seriously.

        Even missing an hours sleep could be enough to kill some poor sod who happens to be crossing the road at the same time as you miss the red lights.

        In the modern world it seems to be macho to go without sleep. In reality, depriving yourself of sleep makes you less productive.

        Then I hope you drive alone, with the radio off, ALWAYS keep your eyes on the road, don't drink alcohol to maintain optimal reaction at all times.

        I'm less worried about sleep deprived drivers than I am about the ones who are talking on the phone, texting, fixing their hair, and yelling at their kids while hauling ass behind me in their SUV's.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Hal_Porter ( 817932 )

        Sleep deprivation is a myth. Margaret Thatcher got by with four hours sleep a night, before she went mad.

    • by Shikaku ( 1129753 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:54PM (#27982831)

      There's a whole new meaning to being dead tired...

  • Ah...... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 16, 2009 @06:54PM (#27982355)

    But did they feed the rats Jolt?

    It keeps me alive!

    Now if I can just do something about those damned bats...

  • Hack-a-thons? No. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Fanta Menace ( 607612 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @06:55PM (#27982365) Homepage

    It's not the voluntary all-night hack-a-thons that society needs to worry about. It's the insistence by employers that their staff work all night, because of deadline screwups by management, or by the requirement that staff have to do on-call, rather than employing people specifically for night shifts.

    I wouldn't lose any sleep at all, if it wasn't for idiotic decisions by my employer.

    • Re:Hack-a-thons? No. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by paitre ( 32242 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:17PM (#27982575) Journal

      Actually, there are some Really, Really good reasons for certain individuals to be 'on-call'. However, the result of on-call actions should have the commensurate benefit of having additional time off to recover from those over night sessions.

      If THAT happened more often, people would be far more willing to do on-call.


      • by Krneki ( 1192201 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @08:27PM (#27983017)
        *Boss put his hands on his ears*

        Lalalalala, I can't hear you, lalalalalala!
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sodul ( 833177 )

        I used to be on-call a few years ago. We had a pager rotation from Thursday to Thursday followed by Friday off.

        It was awesome since I could start the weekends early. Go to the movies on Friday at discount price (until 1pm or something) in an empty theatre was great. I would regularly take the following Monday off, getting a 4 days vacation and avoiding all the weekend traffic out of the bay area.

        Nowadays ... I have not taken a single day of vacation in the past 10 months. I swear Once I buy that house I wan

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by yourassOA ( 1546173 )
        Volunteer Fire & Rescue I'm on-call 24/7. Our radios have this horrible tone that wakes you from your sleep so well your not even tired. But I'm self employed so in theory I can sleep in but that rarely ever happens.
    • Re:Hack-a-thons? No. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted AT slashdot DOT org> on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:25PM (#27982657)

      Hmm. The real problem is, that you can not go somewhere else when stuff like that happens. Usually they all are that way. And usually they can just reject you and not care, while you can not do the same.

      That's why unions came up. Unfortunately it turned out being something not exactly as good as intended. ^^

      Try a lightweight Hollywood model. That is, when everybody is self-employed, and you can have multiple "bosses"/clients and can always hire your own employees/businesses. Lightweight would mean, to do it, but to group with those bosses/clients/employees/businesses in a kind of "company" that lets you cut down on the administration and tax work, while still being just as free in everything else. Then you could easily say "no" to one boss/client, and choose to do work for the other one.

    • Re:Hack-a-thons? No. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @11:11PM (#27983929) Homepage Journal

      Forced overtime can certainly be bad for your health. But I don't think a few allnighters are going to kill you outright. They might shorten your life a bit.

      And some gamers do play themselves to death. That actually happened at small colo provider where I used to work. They often sponsored LAN parties, and once a guy who'd apparently already been awake for a couple days showed up and played continuously for about 24 hours. Then he stood up, walked out to the parking lot, and dropped dead.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Brandybuck ( 704397 )

      I was at a company that did that. Everyone was told to stay until midnight on a Saturday to meet the deadline. At 6:00pm I walked out the door. The boss tried to stop me, but I told him the truth: "I'm a consultant, you only paid for eight hours. See you Monday morning."

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      An occassional lack of sleep isn't the problem, it's the permanent lack of sleep that's the problem.

      And yes - you can die from it. Either by having an accident or because the brain actually isn't able to recover itself as it should.

      There is a rare disease that shuts off the ability for the brain to go into sleep and that will make a wreck of the victim and after a few months there will be death. Fatal Familial Insomnia [] is the sickness.

  • by Macblaster ( 94623 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @06:56PM (#27982377) Homepage

    According to a reliable source [], a lack of REM sleep in a group of people will cause them to go crazy and start murdering each other...

    • by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:36PM (#27982729)

      Death from too much work/too little sleep is so popular in Japan, that they have a nice name for it here - karoshi.

      Which, surprisingly, translates literally to "death from too much work".

      • by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @09:38PM (#27983483)

        Death from too much work/too little sleep is so popular in Japan, that...

        I'm never going to understand Asian tastes...

      • by kklein ( 900361 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @10:39PM (#27983755)

        Yeah, they call it "death from overwork," but I've rarely seen Japanese salarymen work in the way that I would consider "work." I have decided that the Japanese concept of work has little to do with measurable results and a lot to do with how awful the process was and how long it took.

        When the culture puts a lot of value on suffering for your employer, it's no wonder that some people push themselves to suffer so much that it literally kills them. When you live on cigarettes, One Cup single-serving sake, and vending-machine coffee; when you are getting a couple hours of sleep a night, tops; when you are spending 3 hours of your waking day running after trains and then being crammed into them with the other exhausted, smelly people; when you continue this lifestyle for years on end; yeah, you're going to die. And you probably won't even have that many results to show for it.

        So much of the "work" that Japanese companies have people do is just kind of meaningless activity. All it does is exhaust people and turn bright, energetic college kids into the dead shells you see riding the train (full disclosure: I'm a university teacher in Japan).

        There seems to be a growing movement in Japanese society, however, that is realizing this and pushing back. The economic downturn is helping, too. It used to be that once you landed a job, you were set for life. However, if you ever got fired or downsized, you were screwed for life; no one would ever hire you again. You were damaged goods. Now, the latter is still true, but the former isn't. People get laid off all the time now. Last year a few major companies hired a bunch of new college graduates, those people turned down other offers, and then the companies came back and retracted their offers and paid them about $5k to go away. These people are now both never employed and damaged goods. Hiring only happens once a year here, so they were basically paid $5k to live on for the next year of their lives, after which they got to do the whole grueling interviewing and testing process again, this time with a lingering question about their CV: "Why was this person cut at the last minute by the other company?"

        So all of this is building up what I--and any other Western person, who is used to crap like this--can only call a healthy cynicism about employers, and a rejection of their bullshit in favor of an easier life with fewer problems. Temp agencies are taking over as they have done in the US, etc., with all of the bullshit, but all of the benefits as well. I did IT temp work before becoming an academic, and although the lack of security really was pretty scary, the pay was good and the hours were great. I wasn't a salary slave like I am now. Oh, and guess what? Tenure is getting harder to get, so I'm on a year contract anyway! Nothing has changed. Security is dead. Fuck the companies and live your life!

        I am hopeful that we here in Japan will see less karoshi as the new generation takes over--the new generation who sees that it's possible to live without being a slave to a company--and that the difficult economic conditions force companies to cut out nonessential make-work activities, increasing efficiency, and evaluating people on what they get done, not how late they stay.

        Sleep and lifestyle are important, folks. Don't forget that quality of life is the only thing you should be worried about, because you only get one. If you're having fun staying up all night working (because you might be!) then great! But if you don't like it, don't do it.

        I sleep at least 8 hours a night. I am one of the most productive people I know. I'm not interested in dying for my job.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I agree with some of your statements, but a lot of your rant was (dis)coloured by the typical attitude of 'Foreigner in Japan' syndrome: which is that the Japanese way is not the same as my way, therefore it is inferior.

          Many of my gaijin acquaintances in Japan do nothing but complain about the place, yet whenever I ask them if they've forgotten the correct route to the airport, they clam up and don't speak to me for a while.

          Almost all of them came to Japan for at least one of the four main reasons foreigner

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Patch86 ( 1465427 )

            So you're of the opinion that it isn't possible to live in a place, like a place, and yet still find fault with the way said place does things?

            I live in the UK. I enjoy living in the UK. Given an opportunity to live anywhere in the world, there's a decent chance I'd choose the UK. But I know sure as hell that there is A LOT wrong with the place, and that I'd be remiss (read: a complete tool) not to my best as a citizen to right these wrongs- or at the very least acknowledge that they exist.

            Japan (full discl

  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @06:59PM (#27982399) Journal
    I don't know... so far, research indicates that any test will at some point cause death in rats. I've never read conclusions like "tests indicate that the rats live on just fine throughout the experiments".
  • "Shockingly"?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcmonkey ( 96054 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @06:59PM (#27982405) Homepage

    Who thinks this is shocking.

    We need water. Would you be shocked to find a lack of water can be deadly?

    Why would anyone be shocked to find lack of sleep can kill?

    • Re:"Shockingly"?? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by centuren ( 106470 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:19PM (#27982593) Homepage Journal

      It would certainly be a lot more helpful to have specifics about what sleep provides that we require versus, say, a rest while conscious.

      Water is a good example, where it's thoroughly understood just how our body uses it, i.e. what role hydration plays in our continued functioning.

      What is it specifically that requires us to lose consciousness to get what we need from sleep? Can it be artificially supplemented?

      • Re:"Shockingly"?? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:44PM (#27982785) Journal

        I think the biggest thing you need sooner or later is REM sleep, not just a lie down. Lack of REM sleep (which, as we'll see is possible while technically still getting some sleep) can result in actual brain damage, or in the very long run even death. (Ironically, it's also produced _by_ certain kinds of brain damage.) Also, while we still lack the complete picture, it's proven that at least one type of memory isn't updated without REM.

        REM sleep also doesn't come instantly. In most people you need at least 90 minutes from falling asleep to having your first REM period. Anything under about half an hour is a sign of narcolepsy. Your longest REM episodes happen after several hours.

        On the average over a whole night, about a quarter of the time will be REM. It's safe to assume that in the long run those two hours or so of REM a day are what your body actually needs.

        But again, you don't get them in one big chunk. You get them interleaved with periods of non-REM sleep. So what it boils down to is that to get your normal quota of REM sleep, you'll actually need those 8 hours a night. You might get by with just 7, but anything less (unless you're over 70) is putting stress on your brain in the long run. You might not outright die, but you won't be very smart or attentive after months of getting significantly less.

        But if you know how to get that REM while awake instead, I'm listening.

        Because otherwise, no, you can't get your daily sleep by laying down on the couch for half an hour. You need to actually sleep. Not even from having the occasional half an hour nap. You just don't reach REM that fast, unless you're narcoleptic.

        Which also brings us to: if whatever project or job actually makes you ask yourself if you could get by with just a lie down now and then, well, ask yourself if it's worth the problems in the longer run. Again, even if you don't outright reach the death point, you _will_ lose neurons, and that tends to be fairly permanent. You might also get other problems too.

        And if you're the employer, well, ask yourself if you want to be an evil fuck. We're not talking just greedy, or just pushing them a little harder, but actual long term damage. If actual harm to some people is a perfectly acceptable trade off for a few more bucks in your (or the company's) pocket, that's comfortably in the zone I'd call outright evil.

        • Re:"Shockingly"?? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @08:14PM (#27982927)

          Gotta say that was a very long post that repeated a lot of conventional wisdom but said almost nothing to answer OP's question...

          "What is it specifically that requires us to lose consciousness to get what we need from sleep?"

          From a neurobiological perspective that will not be answered satisfactorily until we know at a basic biochemical level what happens during sleep to "recharge" the brain to its normal function.

          • Re:"Shockingly"?? (Score:4, Informative)

            by Bamafan77 ( 565893 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @08:49PM (#27983169)
            You're being unfair.

            Parent asks:
            "Gotta say that was a very long post that repeated a lot of conventional wisdom but said almost nothing to answer OP's question..."
            "What is it specifically that requires us to lose consciousness to get what we need from sleep?"

            The grandparent post answered that question with:
            "I think the biggest thing you need sooner or later is REM sleep, not just a lie down. Lack of REM sleep (which, as we'll see is possible while technically still getting some sleep) can result in actual brain damage, or in the very long run even death."

            Sure he didn't say "The thing that specifically requires us to lose concious to get what we need from sleep is REM sleep", but he did answer the question.

        • Research disagrees.. (Score:4, Informative)

          by 278MorkandMindy ( 922498 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @10:54PM (#27983829)

          I disagree with your assertion that you need 8 hours to get the required REM sleep.
          Some people have been shown to get 3 hours sleep per day, in 30 minute regulated naps and not go insane (or die) even after 6 months.

          The issue comes when your body does not know when it should be getting the sleep. If you have irregular patterns, then you will suffer. If you have a sleep pattern that is as regular as clockwork, I would suggest that to survive you body would adapt and quite happily live on 6 hours, just run the REM cycles closer together.

        • Re:"Shockingly"?? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @11:00PM (#27983857)

          I'm on first name basis with my sleep doctor. And why not? I put his kids through college. According to him, REM sleep is pretty much garbage sleep - you don't need it at all. In fact there are some drugs that suppress that stage of sleep, and they seem to have no effect on overall well being. Sleep doctors have quantified four different stages of sleep based on EEG readouts, and it turns out what you must have is a few hours of stage 4 sleep, though what that means beyond being the deepest kind of sleep I'm not sure. I can tell you from personal experience lack of stage 4 sleep causes all sorts of problems, from hypertension to memory loss to anxiety attacks.

          It's a bit off topic, but if you're suffering from anxiety attacks make sure you get a sleep study done before you go on an SSRI. You could save yourself a whole lot of heartache.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by CODiNE ( 27417 )

          But if you know how to get that REM while awake instead, I'm listening.

          I'd imagine it would be rather uncomfortable what with your eyes rapidly moving around and making everything wiggly.

  • World Record (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ghubi ( 1102775 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:01PM (#27982423) Homepage
    The current world record for time without sleep is 11 days. []
  • It can do it to cats (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:06PM (#27982467)

    I remember reading some time ago (in the 1970's) of some research that was already old then (1950's?), about sleep deprivation literally killing cats. (Who would do such research is not clear, but looking back on things I suspect a military connection.)

    This must be available in some public archive, if anyone cares to hunt for it.

    • by ushering05401 ( 1086795 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:16PM (#27982559) Journal

      Not sure about which experiment you are referencing... but the 'Who would do this comment' nearly made me snarf a nose-full of green-tea.

      I thought this was a joke first time I heard it referenced on an NPR gameshow: []

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by N3Roaster ( 888781 )

        Odd that it would happen to be green tea. Back when tea started to get popular in England, there was a person who wanted to convince people that green tea was deadly. He did this by preparing green tea at ridiculously high concentration and having cats drink it. Not surprisingly, the cats died.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I remember reading some time ago (in the 1970's) of some research that was already old then (1950's?), about sleep deprivation literally killing cats.

      Anybody who can keep a cat awake deserves a Nobel Prize.

  • by innocent_white_lamb ( 151825 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:08PM (#27982491)

    Years ago I was working on a project to export data from a fancy survey instrument. After working at my office all day, I started work on the survey project in my basement around 5pm on a Friday night and worked on it for a while and had a wonderful time and everything was coming together nicely. After a while I suddenly felt sick; thought I might have to lie down or something. I then noticed that it was about 7pm on Sunday night. I hadn't noticed until then. That's why I was suddenly sick.

    It's one of the strangest things that ever happened to me. I subsequently felt much better after having a meal and a nap.

    I guess that if something is sufficiently interesting and so on, you won't notice that you haven't had any sleep for quite some period of time.

  • This is news? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Malc ( 1751 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:13PM (#27982535)

    That article about "ground breaking experiments" is from 1997. I'm trying to remember when I read the story about Rechtschaffen's experiments the first time, and it is entirely possible that it was a /. story then too, which would make this a dup. This story is hardly news.

  • Sure about that? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tony Hoyle ( 11698 ) <> on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:13PM (#27982541) Homepage

    There was a programme on TV the other week about some guy in Canada who's been awake for about 3 years, using some experimental drug (that they named, but I forget about it other than I discovered it was illegal in this country).

    He didn't seem to be dead. Could have been a zombie, I guess.

  • by shabble ( 90296 ) <> on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:14PM (#27982549)

    It's coming to something when even the submitters can't be bothered RTFA. All night hackathons are not going to kill you:

    All of these physiological changes are reversible, thoughâ"take a nap, and you'll be on the road back to normal.
    After 32 days of total sleep deprivation, all the rats were dead.

    So unless you work 32 days straight, you're not going to die.

    • Sorta (Score:5, Informative)

      by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @08:00PM (#27982861) Journal

      Sorta. After 32 days the damage got to be deadly. It doesn't mean you can't get smaller doses of damage long before that. Keep doing it often enough, and it might just add up.

      And the darndest thing is that your cells have Telomeres [], i.e., maximum division counters. So even damage that can be repaired, only goes so far. E.g., old age and death by old age, are simply a matter of more and more of your cells reaching the limit, and thus more and more damage can't be repaired. So, anyway, that which doesn't kill you, usually shortens your life instead of making you stronger.

      Sorta if you will, like saying that you need a whole 0.45% alcohol in your blood to have a 50-50 chance of death. Yeah, but much smaller doses, if done often enough, can kill you just the same.

      And to answer to your objection from a different message too, yes, 1 or 2 nights you can recover from. (Though if done for work reason, it may still be interesting to remember the study where the students who were allowed to have a good 8 hour sleep solved a problem actually faster than those who pulled all nighters. You're a lot less smart when very tired.) After about 3 you start getting permanent brain damage.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Sorta. After 32 days the damage got to be deadly.

        Most of the damage to the rats was likely due to extremely high levels of stress and not actual sleep deprivation

  • by saiha ( 665337 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:16PM (#27982565)

    If you die from 1 all-nighter then you probably died from something else (very poor health). I think most of science and engineering have been built on all-nighters so sorry, not going to stop.

  • This is news? (Score:4, Informative)

    by itlurksbeneath ( 952654 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:17PM (#27982567) Journal
    I remember hearing about an exactly identical study when taking psychology in the late eighties. This news article [] even mentions a similar thing.
  • by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted AT slashdot DOT org> on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:17PM (#27982571)

    Is there anyone here who seriously thought that it would be even remotely related to ok, to not sleep for several days?

    Not only does it make you stupid as hell, and depressed. Your brain also starts to fail more and more. Even if you do not die, you will not be far away from a zombie.

    Hope you do not run up to me in that state, because I am going to shoot you. I don't take risks zombies. Zombies and raptors. Especially zombie raptors. ^^

  • by jmitchel! ( 254506 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:25PM (#27982655)

    What's the LD50?

  • pain sensitivity (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chris Snook ( 872473 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:43PM (#27982777)

    I once went 9 days without sleep. After 22 hours of sleep I woke up in severe pain, as an injury I had suffered halfway through, which seemed very mild in my sensory-depressed state, was in fact something that required medical attention. If it had been only a tiny bit worse, I could have developed life-threatening complications after several days of ignoring and aggravating it. Impaired motor control, pain sensitivity, awareness, and judgment, all at the same time, is a dangerous combination.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:43PM (#27982779)

    In my early thirties I started snoring a lot, and very heavily. Two years later I started experiencing symptoms such as forgetting where I was going as I driving down the road, getting into my vehicle and not remembering how to start it, forgetting my own phone number, the inability to perform my job at any level of competency, etc.... I thought I had suffered a major stroke.

    I went to the doctor and he said I was a ringer for sleep apnea and referred me to a sleep clinic.

    Long story short I was waking 50 times an hour because that's how often my breathing was being interrupted and my body would rouse me due to low oxygen levels in my blood. To me it seemed as if I was awake all night long and never went to sleep.

    After being fitted with a cpap mask and sleep machine to pump air into my mouth and nose while I slept it took me three weeks of normal sleep to recover my mental faculties.

    Sleep deprivation will kill you, and it will also seriously degrade your mental capabilities. It's nothing to mess around with. In addition to the mental problems the probability of a stroke or heart attack is greatly amplified.

    • by drmofe ( 523606 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @08:54PM (#27983199)

      I have done multiple instances of 7 days without sleep over the years - that's about my limit. Currently I have a regime of around 5 hours per night (over the last 10 years).. At Uni I regularly used to work 9am - 6pm, break, then 11pm to 6am, then break, for months at a time.

      My point is that nothing, NOTHING, prepares you for the level of sleep deprivation that you suffer when you have kids. Strategies for dealing with a 3-year old who is heavily into animals, space and big machines, anyone?

    • by Radio_active_cgb ( 839041 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @11:11PM (#27983925)
      I was diagnosed with sleep apnea about 16 months ago, so the experience is still very fresh in my mind. I did not start CPAP therapy until it was far too late to avoid losing my job.

      For the previous couple years, my performance at work was falling off, and I was constantly flirting with burn-out. I was getting poor performance reviews and couldn't figure out why. I thought one of my problems was that my hearing was going, so I got fitted with hearing aids (I also suffer from mild hearing loss - more on that near the end of this story.)

      My work performance improved slightly, but something else was going on. For some time, my wife had complained about my snoring. It was so bad that we were sleeping in separate rooms.

      Sure, I was always tired, but I thought that was normal. It sneaks up on you. A parallel example would be that you can't specify a date when your eyesight got bad enough that you first needed glasses. You might be able to recall the date you got your first set of glasses though.

      I had received as a gift an MP3 player that could also record 4 hours of sound in one take. About 2 years after receiving my hearing aids, I decided to record myself at night. That recording was extremely enlightening. Life changing enlightening. Based on that recording alone, I was convinced I had a breathing problem while trying to sleep. It was extremely uncomfortable listening to myself struggling to breath. If my wife had made such a recording years before, I would have acted in it then. Unfortunately, all she did was complain about it, and wake me up when I was snoring.

      A week later I spent the night in a sleep lab and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. After another night in the lab, I had a prescription for a CPAP machine (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, Pressure=8cm water). This is essentially a low pressure blower that (in my case) gently inflates my lungs without any effort on my part. I have to exhale against the pressure, but its less than blowing up a balloon. I find the experience relaxing. Humans are much stronger at exhaling than they are inhaling.

      After a month of using the machine, I started feeling a lot better (you don't recover from the long term sleep debt in one night - 2 to 6 weeks seems to be common). For about the next week, I was really angry about how I had been treated at work (I suspect this is a common effect following treatment for a wide range of medical disorders such as waking from a coma.)

      About that time, I lost my job due to poor performance. (The performance issues were real, but the reasons they cited for my release were bogus - they gave me a problem that could not be resolved within the framework I was allowed to work in.)

      I wonder at the obituaries in the newspapers. The cause of death is often given as natural causes, but I suspect many are really breathing issues related to snoring.

      After starting CPAP therapy, I found that perhaps 5-10% of the people about me use CPAPs, and found about others second hand. Two people I know have started CPAP therapy in the last year. CPAP machines may be much more common than the general population is aware.

      I'll likely continue using the CPAP for the rest of my life. Surgical options don't always work, can not be undone, and are often not permanent anyway. CPAP therapy always works, and can be easily adjusted.

      I still wear hearing aids, but I find that I don't need them all the time like I used to. The hearing loss is real. I frequently wear them turned off (the sound of my own typing drives me up the wall) and turn them on when needed. I suspect my brain is still recovering from years of sleep apnea, but it is improving.

  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @07:55PM (#27982833) Journal

    I don't this is something that happens often under circumstances people normally experience.

    First if it was we would already know and not need to be doing the research now, to find out if can be lethal.
    Second nature probably has its methods of preventing you from killing yourself in this fashion no matter how dumb you are about trying to stay up.

    You usually cannot hold your breath until you die. You might be able to do it with some contrivance like a plastic bag tied around your neck or noose, but if you just sit there in your chair and attempt to hold your breath you will pass out before you die and start breathing automatically when that happens.

    I suspect you can't keep yourself awake long enough to die either without getting pretty darn creative.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I don't this is something that happens often under circumstances people normally experience.

      True, the context of the original article on Slate was the "enhanced interrogation techniques" practiced by the US on captured terrorists. According to the recently released memos interrogators were allowed to deprive subjects of sleep for up to 180 hours (7.5 days). The starting technique was to shackle them in a standing position so that if they fell asleep, their entire weight was born on their arms. After fort

  • You bet your life (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NicknamesAreStupid ( 1040118 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @08:00PM (#27982865)
    I guess this is something to think about when you are being wheeled into the emergency room and meet your doctor who has been up for 30 hours. See [].
  • Shenanigans! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeDuncan ( 874519 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @08:31PM (#27983033)

    Let me be the first to call shenanigans on this.

    Any studies on the harmfulness of sleep deprivation are so horribly confounded as to be practically useless.

    The problem lies in the fact that in order to deprive rats of sleep you have to apply some kind of aversive stimulus to disrupt their sleep. Not only that, but the more tired an animal gets, the stronger the aversive stimuli needed to keep them awake. These aversive stimuli cause stress, and we already know that chronic, unavoidable stressors can kill.

    So how can they make the attribution to lack of sleep rather than to stress? There's no simple way to separate them.

    One of the articles even states that one of the physiological results of lack of sleep is an increase of cortisol and TSH - *BOTH* of which are known effects of stress. I would rather say that the physiological results they are seeing have been caused by the stressors they are applying to keep the animals awake than the lack of sleep.

    Shenanigans I say, shenanigans.

  • by cailith1970 ( 1325195 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @09:24PM (#27983391)

    ...understand the joys of lack of sleep for extended periods. You have periods - sometimes weeks on end - where you get interrupted every couple of hours, which means you're not getting much, if any, REM sleep. I know of other parents who say that with multiple young children they have periods of YEARS where everything is just a bit hazy.

    There has been some research (can't remember where I saw it) that sleep is vital for moving the day's memories from short term memory into long term memory where it can be accessed. Extended lack of sleep means that new information isn't properly transferred into the cortex and so gets "overwritten" with fresh information, resulting in some memory loss.

  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @09:39PM (#27983493) Homepage Journal []â(TM)t_slept_in_33_years._2

    It won't pull up the story right now but I recall reading it. Apparently he got some illness and it led to some very specific brain damage, (by fever?) and prevented him from ever being able to sleep again. The article said he used the nighttime over the course of several years to dig a pond to raise fish to supplement the family's income. You'd think this guy would be the subject of intense research by a variety of groups, civilian and military alike?

  • Can't sleep (Score:4, Funny)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @09:41PM (#27983497)

    Clown will eat me.

  • Sleep Apnea (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @10:16PM (#27983637)

    One just has to look at anyone with untreated sleep apnea to see just how dangerous it is. You can easily identify such people just by looking for the signs... darkened eye sockets, labored breathing, swelling of the legs and body, disorientation, lethargy and bruising.

    And it's not just difficulty sleeping either, the body ends up literally consuming more energy trying to sleep than it does while conscious. The lack of oxygen in the circulatory system fools the body into overproduction of red blood cells to compensate. This, in turn, leads to a dangerous shift in blood pressure to the point that the heart may cease to function under the load (chronic-conjestive lung and heart failure).

    In many cases, those suffering from it are often discovered with blood oxygen levels lower than that of a cadaver.

    One thing to remember though, is that the act of sleeping isn't just merely closing the eyes for a few winks, the body *needs* to rest lying down to recover from the negative effects of being upright all day. Blood that is left to pool in the legs for too long can eventually lead to dangerous blood clots.

    At the very least, if you can't afford to sleep regularly, try taking a brief nap lying down once every few hours to help maintain normal circulation.

  • by JavaManJim ( 946878 ) on Saturday May 16, 2009 @11:31PM (#27984021)

    I had a night job at a factory one time. 11pm to 7am. This meant that I slept about every two days.

    I had a beekeeping hobby during the off factory hours. Can't put those little critters off. Once I was so sleepy I gathered a swarm into a box on the top of a 10' ladder. Then took a good nap up there with the idea or waiting for the bees to move to my box. Woke up a couple of hours later to an unpleasant dream which turned out to be reality. I had slept through a few bee stings. The swarm had moved, not into the box, but over and into my bee netting, clothes, hair, face, etc.

    It was just annoying because swarms are fairly placid. So I carefully pulled my bee covered bee netting off and put that in the box. Went and took a proper nap in a bed.

    You folks do anything interesting while sleep deprived? Leave out anything that could get you into trouble.

  • by Etherproof ( 1556207 ) on Sunday May 17, 2009 @02:17AM (#27984733)
    As an undergrad psychology student I recently had a few lectures delivered by a very up-to-date sleep researcher. First of all, circadian rhythms (our internal wake-sleep schedule, sort of) control (a) blood pressure, (b) heart rate, and (c) core body temperature. Despite unverified self-reports that conveniently occur in relatively deindividuated internet forums, I can't possibly think of how severely disturbing our circadian rhythms would result in normal functioning. Secondly, as some readers have speculated while actually reading the linked article, it would most likely take a lot of sleep deprivation to kill an otherwise healthy individual. Last, but not least, studies have shown that sleep deprivation for 11 days led to considerably increased slow wave and REM sleep for several nights thereafter, so obviously the mind is prepared to deal with sleep deprivation. I'd better get some sleep now.

Basic is a high level languish. APL is a high level anguish.