Under experimental conditions, it has been discovered that humans can safely stay awake for at least 264 consecutive hours, or the equivalent of 11 days. A 17-year-old high school student named Randy Gardner set this record for a science fair.
During research studies, people have remained awake for 8-10 days on a regular basis while being carefully monitored.
In every circumstance, there were no psychological, neurological, or medical problems that developed because of the prolonged time of being awake. Each could recover over the course of 1-3 regular sleep cycles.
On the other hand, staying awake for a prolonged period also shows that humans experience progressive and significant declines in their perception, motivation, and concentration. Sleep deprivation can also delay other higher-level mental processes as well.
Certain Medical Conditions Can Extend Sleep Deprivation
There are rare autoimmune disorders that can also affect how humans sleep. One of these disorders that have been studied quite extensively is called Morvan’s Syndrome.
Morvan’s Syndrome can cause hallucinations, continuous muscle twitching, urinary problems, stiffness, palpitations, and many more physical symptoms that can prevent an individual from getting sleep. When left untreated, an individual with this disorder may go several months with hardly any sleep at all.
It can also be difficult to receive the right amount of sleep if you are dehydrated, which is a much more common condition. Thirst can be triggered if you experience a 1% loss of hydration. You can increase dehydration by consuming products with stimulants or by taking diuretics. Caffeine is a diuretic and can have a half-life of 12-24 hours in some individuals, which makes it difficult for them to sleep.
Then there is a condition called Fatal Familial Insomnia. It is an autosomal dominate disease that is fatal within 3 years for most individuals. It causes the degeneration of the thalamus and other brain areas, which eventually causes permanent insomnia before death. Most people die from organ failure instead of sleep deprivation, as it is an infectious prion disease.
How Long Can Humans Stay Awake?
The final, definitive answer of how long someone can stay awake safely will probably never be answered. Each person has unique physical and mental needs that must be met. If those needs are not met, then it may lead toward a more serious health concern, including prolonged insomnia, later down the road.
If you are struggling with your sleep, then your current routines and responsibilities are likely triggering an acute case of insomnia. Try to balance out your life. Establish a healthy morning routine. Get into a consistent bedtime routine. Restore balance to your circadian clock by utilizing a wake-up light, sunrise alarm, or SAD therapy light.
Getting a good night of sleep is one of the many overlooked blessings that we all have in this life. We might be busier than ever before, but we must all rest at some point. It is something that we might be able to delay, but it will not be defeated.