There has never been documented proof of a human who did not sleep. The longest a human has gone without sleep is 11 days, 25 minutes. The world record was set by 17-year-old Randy Gardner in 1963 as an experiment for his high school science fair. Guinness World Records has since deleted the category because of the health dangers of severe sleep loss. Come along with Tidbits as we stay up late!

MIND OVER MATTRESS

Between 10% and 30% of adults struggle with insomnia.

• Although adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep in each 24-hour cycle, children need between 9 and 13 hours, and toddlers and babies need 12 to 17 hours. It’s a myth that elderly people require less sleep as they age.

• It normally takes ten to 15 minutes to fall asleep after getting into bed. If it takes 5 minutes or less, you’re probably sleep deprived. If it routinely takes 30 minutes or more, and it’s not due to external stimuli, then it qualifies as insomnia.

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• For adults over age forty, 69% of men and 76% of women get up to go to the bathroom at least once per night.

• People who share a bed with snorers have their sleep interrupted an average of 21 times a night, compared to an average of 27 times per night for the snorer.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION

A pregnant woman will generally sleep up to two hours a night longer than she did before she got pregnant.

• A new baby typically results in 400-750 hours of lost sleep for parents in the first year alone.

• In sleep deprived people, it is most difficult for them to stay awake between the hours of 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. This is because the body reaches its rhythmic low at that time. An opposing low occurs around twelve hours later— in the afternoon after lunch.

• In a sleep lab, volunteers who got eight hours of sleep were tested for reaction time on different tasks. The following night they were shorted on their sleep. When the tests were repeated, it was not surprising that their marks fell as their reaction time increased. Following a normal 8-hour sleep, reaction times returned to normal. The next night, they were allowed to sleep more than 8 hours. Researchers were surprised to see that their reaction time decreased after over-sleeping just as it had when they under-slept.

• Sleep-deprived subjects can perform almost any test perfectly if it’s a brief test. However, severe impairment occurs if tests are sustained, repetitive tasks.

• The accident rate in industry for night workers is almost twice the rate for those who work only in the day. Shift workers are 2 to 5 times more likely to fall asleep on the job than employees with regular daytime hours.

• Lab animals subjected to a six hour phase shift of their light/dark cycle every week (which corresponds to a rotating shift system) showed a 20% reduction of life expectancy.

• If you lose 2 hours of sleep, you can impair your performance equal to a .05 blood-alcohol level. After five nights of partial sleep deprivation, three drinks will have the same effect on your body as six would when you’ve slept enough.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION

We think of going to sleep as a gradual procedure, where we slowly drift off. However, going to sleep is actually an instantaneous process: one second the organism is aware— the next second it is not.

• Although it’s possible to force yourself to stay awake, it is impossible to force yourself to stay asleep. The longest recorded sleep period was 17 hours by a person who had been deprived of sleep in the prior few days. He was able to sleep only 5 hours the following night.

• Sleep deprivation will kill you more quickly than food deprivation. After several days of sleep deprivation, you’ll be almost completely unable to function, whereas if you fast for a week, you might be weak and hungry but otherwise fine.

• Of major cities in the United States, Boulder, Colorado has the lowest percentage of adults who sleep less than seven hours per night, coming in at 24.2%. Camden, New Jersey and Detroit, Michigan tie for the highest rate of people who sleep less than 7 hours, with 49.8% of adults in those cities reporting short sleep.

• In 2019, a survey of over 2,000 adults found that 88% lost sleep to binge watching TV series; 72% of adults ages 18 to 34 and 35% of those age 35 and older lost sleep due to playing video games; 66% lost sleep due to reading books; and 60% missed sleep due to watching sports.

• Sleeping pills drastically reduce body movements in the night.

• People who are in a coma or under anesthesia may seem to be asleep, but the complex, active brainwave patterns seen in normal sleep are absent.

• Alcohol, which can act as a sedative, prevents deeper stages of sleep necessary for adequate rest.   

It’s more difficult to get quality sleep at higher altitudes. The higher the altitude, the worse the sleep disruption. The disturbance is thought to be caused by diminished oxygen levels and accompanying changes in respiration. Most people adjust to new altitudes in approximately two to three weeks, but at altitudes of over 13,000 feet (3,962 m) above sea level, sleep will always be difficult.

• Humans sleep on average around three hours less than other primates like chimps, rhesus monkeys, squirrel monkeys and baboons, all of which sleep for 10 hours.

• Between 135,000 and 200,000 people in the U.S. suffer from narcolepsy.

• Jet lag most often affects people when they fly across five or more time zones, with jet lag worsening the more time zones that are crossed. Jet lag is worse when flying eastward than westward.

TOSSING AND TURNING

One study on sleep incorporated rats and a large turning cylinder. The drum rotated slowly in a pool of water. The rats were easily able to walk in the direction opposite of the turning cylinder. If they stopped walking, they were dumped onto the water. Food and water were readily available, and the drum turned slowly. The only problem the rats faced was the need to walk constantly. As soon as they fell asleep, they were dumped into the water.

• Researchers found that young rats adapted very quickly and were able to survive for weeks. They learned to sleep in twelve-second snatches, with twelve seconds being the time it took the turning drum to dump them into the water. They would awaken the moment before disaster, scurry to the top, then immediately doze off for another 12-second nap. However, only young rats were able to adapt so well. Older rats could only stand the routine for a few days at a time.