Sleep deprivation is the condition of not having enough sleep; it can be either chronic or acute. A chronic sleep-restricted state can cause fatigue, daytime sleepiness, clumsiness and weight loss or weight gain. It adversely affects the brain and cognitive function. Few studies have compared the effects of acute total sleep deprivation and chronic partial sleep restriction. Complete absence of sleep over long periods is impossible for humans to achieve (unless they suffer from fatal familial insomnia); brief microsleeps cannot be avoided. Long-term total sleep deprivation has caused death in lab animals
Longest period without sleep
Randy Gardner holds the scientifically documented record for the longest period of time a human being has intentionally gone without sleep not using stimulants of any kind. Gardner stayed awake for 264 hours (11 days), breaking the previous record of 260 hours held by Tom Rounds of Honolulu. LCDR John J. Ross of the U.S. Navy Medical Neuropsychiatric Research Unit later published an account of this event, which became well-known among sleep-deprivation researchers.
The Guinness World Records record stands at 449 hours (18 days, 17 hours), held by Maureen Weston, of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire in April 1977, in a rocking-chair marathon.
Claims of not having slept in years have been made at times, for certain individuals, but either without scientific verification, or contradicted in independent verification:
Never scientifically verified: Thai Ngoc, born 1942, claimed in 2006 to have been awake for 33 years or 11,700 nights, according to Vietnamese news organization Thanh Nien. It was said that Ngoc acquired the ability to go without sleep after a bout of fever in 1973, but other reports indicate he stopped sleeping in 1976 with no known trigger. At the time of the Thanh Nien report, Ngoc suffered from no apparent ill effect (other than a minor decline in liver function), was mentally sound and could carry 100 kg of pig feed down a 4 km road, but another report indicates that he was healthy before the sleepless episode but that now he was not feeling well because of sleep deprivation.
Contradicted by claimant himself: In January 2005, the RIA Novosti published an article about Fyodor Nesterchuk from the Ukrainian town of Kamen-Kashirsky who claimed to have not slept in more than 20 years. Local doctor Fyodor Koshel, chief of the Lutsk city health department, claimed to have examined him extensively and failed to make him sleep. Koshel also said however that Nesterchuck did not suffer any of the normally deleterious effects of sleep deprivation. However, when a reporter from The Guardian followed up on this report, Nesterchuk said he was getting 2–3 hours of sleep per night, and that “he did not appear to notice the marked difference between never getting to sleep once in 240 months, and getting fewer than the recommended number of hours each week.”
Contradicted in more accurate reporting: Rhett Lamb of St. Petersburg, Florida, was initially reported to not sleep at all, but actually has a rare condition permitting him to sleep only one to two hours per day in the first three years of his life. He has a rare abnormality called an Arnold-Chiari malformation where brain tissue protrudes into the spinal canal; the skull puts pressure on the protruding part of the brain. The boy was operated on at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg in May 2008. Two days after surgery he slept through the night.
Pathological condition: French sleep expert Michel Jouvet and his team reported the case of a patient who was quasi-sleep-deprived for 4 months, as confirmed by repeated polygraphic recordings showing less than 30 min (of stage I sleep) per night, a condition they named “agrypnia”. The 27-year-old man was suffering from Morvan’s fibrillary chorea, a rare disease that leads to involuntary movements, and in this particular case extreme insomnia. The researchers found that treatment with 5-HTP restored almost normal sleep stages, however some months after this recovery the patient died during a relapse which was unresponsive to 5-HTP. Despite the extreme insomnia, psychological investigation showed no sign of cognitive deficits, except for some hallucinations.
Fatal familial insomnia: Fatal familial insomnia is a disease eventually resulting in a complete inability to sleep. Many patients go six to nine months without sleep, during which time they develop dementia and become unresponsive. Death follows.