It is well known that sleep deprivation causes considerable discomfort in humans (and has even used as a form of torture), but nevertheless there have been people who went through protracted sleep deprivation, apparently with no long term consequence.

I've noticed that sleep deprivation seems to trigger an intense sense of "this is bad for me" - yet given the apparent lack of ill effects (beyond the obvious) I cannot say whether this is merely anxiety over discomfort, as opposed to a genuine perception of physiological damage.

What if you were to go without sleep for as long as possible, despite the discomfort? Is it possible to commit suicide in this way (and what would be the cause of death)? Would you fail because you eventually ignore whatever stimulus was preventing sleep, and sleep anyway? Would artificially counteracting the temporary debilitating physiological effects (such as loss of body temperature) allow you to survive sleep deprivation of arbitrary length?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ yes, you can die! $\endgroup$
    – TanMath
    Jan 1, 2015 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ I heard something on the radio the other day that mentioned studies on rats that eventually died after sleep deprivation, but it took some effort to keep them awake that long, can't remember the reference. IACUC probably wouldn't approve it today. $\endgroup$
    – user137
    Jan 1, 2015 at 1:26
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    $\begingroup$ @user137 There are in fact several such studies (for rats, they usually rotate them into shallow water which forces the rats to wake up and move). The first problem is that these are in rats (or rats, flies, etc) and I am asking about humans. The second problem is that I haven't been able to figure out how exactly it is that these rats die: Do they just drop dead, or do they fall into such deep sleep that they are unable to wake up even as they drown in the water? $\endgroup$
    – Superbest
    Jan 1, 2015 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ I believe one of Michael Jackson's causes of death was lack of sleep - that's why his doctor was sedating him. Trouble was, anesthesia isn't the same as sleep. Sorry, don't have a ref ATM, which is why this is a comment $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Jan 1, 2015 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Superbest the rats die from hypothermia. Sleep deprivation increases the organism's need for energy. At first, sleep deprived animals overeat, but at some time, they cannot compensate and die. After the metabolism has reached the point of no return, you can even let the rats sleep and they will die soon nevertheless. See the popular science book Sleep thieves for a nice summary of the studies. $\endgroup$
    – rumtscho
    Jan 10, 2015 at 17:52

2 Answers 2


The short answer is: Yes.

Fatal familial insomnia is a genetically passed down disease that at some random point in a carriers life will suddenly stop them from sleeping, ever, they die within 7 to 18 months

I know you did not ask about the disease, but it shows (even without illegal war tests) that it will kill you eventually, even in humans.

I believe in humans without the disease a complete lack of sleep may kill them within weeks, but who knows? maybe it was the drug.


Eventually your brain will start to break down and malfunction.

Chronic poor sleep puts us at increased risk for serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. During sleep, our bodies secrete hormones that help control appetite, metabolism, and glucose processing. Poor sleep can lead to an increase in the body's production of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. In addition, skimping on sleep seems to throw other body hormones out of whack. Less insulin is released after you eat, and this along with the increased cortisol may lead to too much glucose in the bloodstream and thus an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.

At 24 Hours: Impaired Coordination, Memory, and Judgment At 36 Hours: Physical Health Starts to Be Negatively Impacted At 48 Hours: Microsleeps and Disorientation At 72 Hours: Major Cognitive Deficits and Hallucinations

After even longer, your brain deteriorates and eventually you will die.


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