Sleep Deprivation Slowly Kills Your Brain

Chronic sleep deprivation has some drastic effects.

"How long can you stay awake?" is a question you probably don't want to try to answer at home. But in 1964, a high schooler broke that record for science. Randy Gardner stayed awake for 264.4 hours (just a bit more than 11 days) for a science fair, and had his experiment observed by Dr. William Dement, a Stanford sleep researcher. The symptoms they found were fairly predictable—irritability, poor motor control, lack of focus, short term memory loss—but the symptoms only tell half the story.

This video from TED-Ed goes into detail on what exactly happens in your brain when you sleep, and why prolonged sleep deprivation is pretty much all around a bad deal. When you sleep, your body repairs its DNA, muscles relax, and metabolic processes stabilize. The brain's glymphatic system cleans up metabolic byproducts like adenosine, which urge the brain to sleep and help cause the symptoms brought on by sleep deprivation. In other words, sleep takes out the brain's trash.

The recommended number of hours of sleep you should get a night is around seven to eight hours for adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. But once you get into chronic sleep deprivation, the symptoms get more drastic: your hormones become imbalanced, blood pressure rises, and, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study, your risk of stroke jumps significantly. A stroke worsened by sleep deprivation even caused the death of a Chinese man after binge-watching soccer for 48 hours.

So close that laptop and get some shut-eye. You're not the subject of some torturous sleep experiment, so you owe yourself this bit of self-care.