Can You Die From Lack Of Sleep? Here’s What Experts Say 2023

can you die from lack of sleep
Over one-third of American adults experience sleep deprivation.

Chronic sleep disorders such as sleep deprivation plague between 50 to 70 million[1] American adults alone. However, when we experience sleep deprivation, few of us ever ask the question, “Can you die from lack of sleep?” While it may seem extreme, considering the effects of sleep deprivation is important.

Sleep is a critical bodily function, and consistent sleep deprivation can lead to severe health consequences. But can it truly be fatal? Let’s dive in and see what the experts say.

Can You Die From Lack Of Sleep?

If you’re asking, “Can you die from lack of sleep?” the answer is no — you cannot die from lack of sleep directly. However, sleep deprivation can still contribute to a number of fatal health issues.

  • Chronic sleep deprivation may lead to chronic diseases, such as heart disease. 
  • Sleep loss and partial sleep deprivation increase the risk of fatal accidents.
  • Insufficient sleep can cause mood swings and alter body temperature.
  • Both acute and chronic sleep deprivation weaken the immune system.
  • More sleep, including daytime naps, can help mitigate the effects of the sleep deprived.

How Sleep Deprivation Can Kill You

It’s widely known that lack of sleep can cause problems such as difficulty focusing, irritability, and even hallucinations. But can sleep deprivation kill you?

Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to serious health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension,[2] and stroke,[3] which can all be life-threatening if left untreated.

Prolonged periods of insufficient sleep — known as severe sleep deprivation — can also lead to serious cognitive impairment due to impaired judgment,[4] attention issues,[5] and delayed reaction times.[6] 

Symptoms Of Extreme Sleep Deprivation

Before you ask the question, “Can you die from not sleeping?” it’s crucial to understand the signs and symptoms of severe sleep deprivation.

The symptoms of sleep deprivation are not limited to feeling tired — they can encompass various physiological and psychological issues.

Intense Fatigue 

This is the most obvious and common symptom of total sleep deprivation. Extreme tiredness is a clear indication[7] of inadequate sleep or even a sleep disorder. Symptoms of not getting enough rest include constant yawning, feeling sluggish, or being unable to stay awake during your usual waking hours.

Another question that’s often asked in this context is, “Can you get dizzy from sleep?” The answer is yes, sleep quality has been associated with various types of dizziness[8] affecting daytime functioning.

Cognitive Impairments 

Severe sleep deprivation can lead to noticeable cognitive impairments. This includes trouble focusing, slower reaction times, and difficulties with memory. 

One question related to this that’s often asked is, “Can you hallucinate from lack of sleep?” The answer is yes, hallucination can be one of the severe symptoms[9] of severe sleep deprivation.

Mood Swings 

Someone with long wake times often experience mood swings,[10] leading to sudden bouts of irritability, sadness, or anxiety. Prolonged sleep deprivation can also exacerbate bipolar disorder and other mood disorders.

Weakened Immune System 

Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences on your immune system, increasing your susceptibility to illnesses.[11] It can also lead to an increased risk of cancer. So, the question “Can you die from insomnia” is as relevant as “’Can you get sick from lack of sleep”?

Physical Health Problems 

Sleep deprivation can lead to a range of physical health issues,[12] such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, even in the face of mild insomnia. Lack of sleep can also cause dizziness and changes in body temperature.[13]

Accelerated Aging 

Symptoms of extreme sleep deprivation can include visual signs of aging such as wrinkles and dark circles under the eyes.

There are also debates about whether you can reverse aging from getting your sleep back on track. However, there’s no question that chronic sleep deprivation can lead to premature aging.[14]

Effects Of Chronic Sleep Deprivation

Chronic sleep deprivation refers to consistently receiving insufficient sleep over an extended period. This isn’t about a few restless nights. It’s about a prolonged lack of sleep that can have profound effects on your health and well-being. Not getting enough restful sleep can lead to:

Increased Risk Of Chronic Diseases

Chronic lack of enough sleep can significantly increase the risk of certain chronic conditions. A lack of sleep over time has been linked to diseases such as diabetes,[15] heart disease,[16] and sleep apnea.

Weight Gain

Sleep deprivation can interfere with the body’s metabolism and appetite regulation.[17] This can result in an increased appetite and cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods, increasing the risk of weight gain.

A Weakened Immune System

As a result of sleep deprivation, the immune system’s function[18] can be severely compromised, making it more difficult to fight off infections. This makes you more susceptible to common illnesses and can extend recovery times when you do get sick.

Mental Health Disorders

Chronic sleep deprivation isn’t just physically exhausting — it can take a severe toll on mental health as well. It can lead to mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.[19] 

It may also exacerbate symptoms of existing mental health conditions, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders.

Cognitive Dysfunction

A chronic lack of sleep can lead to long-term cognitive issues.[20] These can include trouble with memory, decision-making, reaction times, and difficulty concentrating. In severe cases, it can even lead to hallucinations.[9] 

Sleep deprivation can also worsen Alzheimer’s symptoms, highlighting the importance of adequate sleep in cognitive health.

Decreased Quality Of Life

As these health effects accumulate, they can drastically decrease quality of life. You may have difficulty engaging in daily activities, your performance at work or school may suffer, and your relationships may be strained,[21] resulting in an overall decrease in life satisfaction.

The cost of chronic sleep deprivation is high, underlining the importance of prioritizing good sleep hygiene for overall health and well-being. If you’re experiencing persistent issues with sleep, it’s important to consult with a sleep specialist or a healthcare provider to find a solution.

How To Recover From Lack Of Sleep

Recovering from sleep deprivation, whether it’s acute or chronic involves more than simply getting more sleep. It requires a structured approach, focusing on quality over quantity, and making it a priority in your life to improve your sleep.

If you’ve been asking, “Can you reverse aging from lack of sleep?” the answer is that getting more sleep can indeed help improve your skin’s appearance and overall health. Benefits can include reduced inflammation and boosted cell generation.

Consistent Sleep Schedule To Reduce Sleep Deprivation

Creating a consistent sleep schedule is the first step toward recovery from lack of sleep. Your body thrives on routine, and by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, you can help regulate your body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up.

Conducive Sleep Environment To Reduce Sleep Deprivation

Your sleep environment plays a significant role in how well you sleep. It should be dark, quiet, and cool. Consider using earplugs, a sleep mask, or a white noise machine to block out disturbances. 

Good Sleep Hygiene To Reduce Sleep Deprivation

Practicing good sleep hygiene is crucial in recovering from sleep deprivation. This includes limiting exposure to screens before bed, avoiding caffeine close to bedtime, and establishing a relaxing pre-sleep routine. 

Daytime Naps To Reduce Sleep Deprivation

Daytime naps[22] are crucial for better sleep as they can help repay your sleep debt, especially in cases of severe sleep deprivation. However, they should not replace good quality nighttime sleep. Aim for short naps — 20-30 minutes — in the early afternoon to avoid interfering with nighttime sleep.

Consult A Sleep Specialist To Reduce Sleep Deprivation

If your sleep problems persist despite your best efforts, it may be time to consult a sleep specialist. They can help diagnose any underlying conditions, such as insomnia, that may be causing your sleep issues. They may also prescribe certain supplements to help you manage your problems with sleep. 

When You Need To See A Doctor

Are you constantly pondering, “Can sleep deprivation kill you?” or “How long can you go without sleep before you die?” If so, it’s time to see a doctor for professional help

Drivers who do not get at least 7 hours of sleep for just one night are more prone to motor vehicle accidents than someone who was able to stay asleep throughout the night. Drowsy drivers are a risk to other drivers and is a cause to see a doctor.

Symptoms like persistent insomnia,[23] daytime sleepiness, abrupt sleep episodes, abnormal sleep behaviors, and a lack of sleep in general are all that need attention. 

The Takeaway

While it’s unlikely you’ll die directly from insufficient sleep, the associated health consequences of poor sleep can be life-threatening. If you’ve been experiencing sleep deprivation or extreme sleep loss and wondering, “How long can you go without sleep before you die?” or “How lack of sleep can kill you,” it’s important to know that the risks of sleep deprivation are real. 

However, maintaining good sleep habits can help. This involves prioritizing good sleep hygiene and seeking help when necessary to help prevent chronic sleep deprivation, which can reduce the likelihood of dangerous outcomes.

+ 23 sources

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Emma Loker

Emma Loker is a professional writer specializing in psychology. She has a 1st class honors degree in Psychology and is currently training as a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapeutic Counsellor at the University of Cambridge.

Medically reviewed by:

Melissa Mitri

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