What Happens When You Stop Sleeping?

Once every year millions of people in the Northern Hemisphere lose one hour of sleep for one night only, due to daylight savings time, when the clocks go back The health consequences of this loss of only a mere hour of sleep are astronomical

Researchers, examining millions of hospital admission records worldwide found that the rates of heart attack on the day following the evening when the clocks go back skyrocket Similarly, in the Autumn, when the clocks go forward and thus we gain an hour of sleep, there is a significant drop in hospital admissions In the 1960s a seminal experiment took place that had disturbing results Eight healthy young males were hooked up to brain scanning equipment and placed in their own room for five consecutive days and nights The purpose of the experiment was not to deprive them of sleep but deprive them of dreams

Every night when they slept they were allowed as much NREM (Non-rapid eye movement) sleep as they desired but as soon as their brain activity indicated they had slipped into REM sleep (dream sleep) someone would enter the room, wake them up and get them to do maths problems for ten minutes to prevent them from falling immediately back asleep The full five nights of dream-deprivation weren't required to produce some terrifying symptoms After just three nights of little to no REM sleep, the participants all showed extreme irritability and became hostile towards the experimenters They also became extremely paranoid and were convinced that the whole experiment was a clandestine government conspiracy They began to generally distrust those in charge and some of the participants accused the researchers of poisoning their food

We all know that sleep deprivation can affect one’s physical health but do you really know to what disastrous extent? And how little sleep you need to miss to inflict severe consequences upon your body? If you don’t get at least eight hours of sleep every night your immune system’s ability to function properly disintegrates and you’ll be significantly more likely to catch a virus Your focus levels will also plummet Studies show people who sleep less than seven hours per night are much more likely to gain excessive weight There are two hormones that your body uses to tell your brain when you should feel hungry and when you’re full Leptin, makes you feel full when it’s released, whereas its opposite, ghrelin, stimulates your hunger

When you miss just an hour of sleep, the following day your levels of leptin will drop so you will need to eat more to feel full throughout the day and your ghrelin levels will shoot up so you’ll want to snack more throughout the day Sleep less than 5 hours per night and studies have demonstrated that your chances of developing type II diabetes shoot up Sleep deprivation is also strongly linked to increased levels of heart disease and stroke In 2018 a Chinese man died of a stroke after staying up for 48 hours straight to watch the Football world cup During the very same tournament, another man died of a heart attack after staying up for several days and a third man was found dead in front of his computer screen that had been broadcasting a world cup match

Just for the record, football isn’t indiscriminately killing people, it’s just that fans often stay up for days to watch football matches during the world cup that are broadcast at unsociable hours all across the globe But there is one side effect of sleep deprivation that new research has only now fully illuminated and it is particularly worrying Your brain activity, like a car engine, creates waste Numerous toxins accumulate in your brain over the course of the day but your body has a solution Every night your brain gets a power wash, cerebrospinal fluid washes over your brain whilst you sleep, clearing away the toxins

This process is carried out by your brain’s glymphatic system To put it simply, if you don’t get eight hours of sleep per night you are missing out on some of this power washing, meaning some of the toxins will remain in your brain the following morning and over time these accumulate Over many years of sleep deprivation you can build up quite a nasty stockpile of brain toxins, the only way to get rid of them is to make up for all your lost sleep, your sleep debt Scientists have labelled brains that have a large build-up of toxins as ‘dirty brains’ Having a dirty brain can cause your brain activity to become foggy and not function optimally

But one of these toxins is thought to be particularly damaging, Beta-amyloid Beta-amyloid is a toxic protein that studies show could cause Alzheimer’s disease The more you let this toxin build up by not sleeping the more likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s In a recent study, scientists injected dye into the glymphatic system of mice so they could watch the cerebrospinal fluid doing its power washing They found that during the day the fluid barely floes through the brain, but during sleep, particularly REM sleep, the fluid flushes through the brain very rapidly

Some researchers have even postulated that sleep deprivation could be the biggest contributor to Alzheimer's and that by catching up on sleep those that would otherwise develop it could stave it off But the effects of sleep deprivation go deeper and far freakier than physical health In 1959 a radio DJ Peter Tripp thought it would be a good idea to set a record for staying awake and he broadcast the whole experience on his radio show For the benefit of charity and scientific research, Tripp pledged to stay awake for 200 hours straight and incredibly he did, but not without some odd and terrible consequences After the first couple of days, he started to abuse everyone around him and he made his barber cry, whom he had known for years

Then, after 120 hours of wakefulness, the hallucinations kicked in He reported walking into someone else’s hotel room and showering, then when he opened a drawer to retrieve his clothes he witnessed searing flames raging inside the drawer and jumping out at him At one point, when one of the scientists walked up to him, Tripp thought he was an undertaker, come to take him away and bury him – Tripp ran away, into the street He started to see faces everywhere and in the objects around him He began to see spiders in his shoes and got frustrated that nobody else could see them

The scientists monitoring Tripp noticed something very interesting – the hallucinations came and went in 90-minute cycles, which matches the pattern of dreaming whilst we sleep It’s as though Tripp was trying to dream even though he was awake, at the very same time intervals that Tripp would have dreamt, had he been asleep With the help of stimulant drugs, Tripp made it to 200 hours Then enjoyed a much-needed 24-hour sleep The scientists hoped the eight days of no sleep would have no lasting, permanent effect on Tripp

And sure enough, after sleeping he claimed he felt absolutely fine But it didn’t seem that way for everyone around him His personality had changed from before the experiment, he quickly lost his job and his wife divorced him, who claimed he had become an entirely different man Sleep deprivation can also kill in huge numbers, it has happened more times than we probably know of The Chernobyl explosion is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history

Because of the nature of radiation, it is almost impossible to quantify the number of deaths caused by the accident but it is likely to be in the thousands and it still causes illness across Europe to this day It is strongly thought that sleep deprivation can be blamed for the catastrophe – the engineers working at 1 am, at the time of the explosion, had been on shift for 13 hours straight and were severely sleep deprived Similarly, in 1989, an Exxon Valdez oil supertanker ran aground in Alaska spilling 258,000 barrels of crude oil into the water and soil, killing profuse amounts of precious marine species including 500,000 sea birds and thousands of otters, bald eagles and whales The third-mate in charge of the vessel, who made the fatal navigational error had only slept for six out of the previous 48 hours But if prolonging your own life and that of others aren’t convincing enough reasons to inspire you to catch up on sleep perhaps one more reason will appeal to the narcissist in you and make you change your mind

If you don’t get enough sleep, you get ugly Sleep deprivation causes paler skin, wrinkles, bloodshot eyes and droopy eyelids In a study in which participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of people who had slept eight hours per night over two nights, compared to people who only got four hours each night Those who got just four hours sleep were consistently rated as uglier and strangely people also thought they looked less intelligent So turns out beauty sleep is a real thing

Thanks for watching I’ve recently launched my first book which I’m crowdfunding ‘Stick a Flag in it: 1,000 years of bizarre history from Britain and beyond’ The crowdfunding campaign has reached 100% so it’s definitely going to be published, thanks to everyone who has pledged But there are still stretch goals to reach So if you want a first-edition signed copy then head on over to Unbound, the link is in the description, watch the launch video if you haven’t already and pledge today

Thank you

About Thoughty2

Thoughty2 (Arran) is a British YouTuber and gatekeeper of useless facts. Thoughty2 creates mind-blowing factual videos, on the weirdest, wackiest and most interesting topics. Combining fascinating lists with answers to life's biggest questions.

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