Sleep tight: Why insomnia can be dangerous

You probably know what it’s like. You had difficulties falling asleep yesterday, which means that you are tired and cranky today. You may also be clumsier than usual and have a hard time concentrating. Why would anyone want to experience that? Sleeping is great, and most people love sleeping! But half a century ago some wanted to see how long they could go without sleep. But when the body does not get the sleep it needs, it starts to play tricks on you. This became very evident to 17-year-old Randy Gardner.

In 1963, Randy Gardner signed up for the local science fair in San Diego, USA. A few years previous, a New York radio host had become a national sensation when he – surrounded by pedestrians and yellow caps in his small studio by Times Square – went for 201 hours straight without sleep. Passers-by outside looking through the window could follow the weird experiment as he broadcasted live to the entire country. “No big deal” was 17-year-old Randy Gardner’s response when he heard about the record. “Anyone can go without sleep”. Why, sleep is an asset, not a necessity. And Randy broke the record. But his attempt was the last to be recorded in the Guinness Book of Records. Today, Randy’s record has been removed due to health hazards. This is what happened during the 11 days Randy that didn’t sleep:

DAY 1

Things are fine. Randy is focusing on not going to bed and on standing up as much as possible.

DAY 3

Randy is beginning to hallucinate and his eyesight is bothering him. Difficulties speaking. Cranky.

DAY 6

Randy loses control over his muscles. He has poor short-term memory and soon forgets what just happened.

DAY 9

Randy’s thoughts are incoherent, interrupted and fragmented. He is unable to complete sentences and disappears into a dreamlike state of severe hallucinations. His eyesight is bothering him a lot. His facial expression is impassive, and he has stopped smiling altogether.

DAY 10 & 11

Eyesight is blurred and his right eye makes uncontrolled sideways movements. The alpha waves in his brain are significantly reduced, which suggests that Randy’s brain is microsleeping.

Not sleeping does seem like a bad idea. But why really?

What does your brain do while you are asleep?

Since we go through all four stages of sleep several times during the night, experts say that you don’t necessarily have to sleep for eight hours in a row.

In fact, you can divide your sleep into segments without negatively affecting your health. There are even words describing the different sleep patterns: monophasic (sleeping once every 24 hours), biphasic (sleeping twice a day) and polyphasic (sleeping more than twice a day).

So perhaps the idea that a good night’s sleep should last eight consecutive hours is just a myth?

In the past, we used to sleep several times a day

So in the past, humans have slept in shorter segments. And according to modern-day sleep research, dividing your sleep into segments presents no biological hazards. In fact, you could choose to sleep for one hour eight times a day! But it may not be a good idea to do like Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. It may not be true, but he is said to have slept for 15 minutes every two hours!

Regardless of the year or method, humans have always been interested in sleep. But only recently, namely in the past 20 years, have we seen a surge in sleep research.

There is still a lot we do not know about sleep. And in 2017, Danish Professor Maiken Nedergaard proposed a sensational theory:

The sleeping brain is like a washing machine that rinses the brain of waste material.

So remember to get some sleep!

And if you have difficulties falling asleep at night, here is a piece of advice from the researchers:

Don’t just lie there. Turn on the lights, get up and do smomething. Do not go back to bed until you feel tired.

Now sleep tight!