How important is sleeping?

How badly do we need to sleep for hours each night? Might it just be a waste of time? If I quit sleping entirely, would I die as a direct result?

First, you would be very tired, be unable to concentrate, and feel muscle aches. Then you will start having auditory and visual hallucinations, then you will begin to lose perception of reality and become quite insane. Then you’ll pass out.
Yes, I’ve been through this. It sucks.

Friedo, how long did you stay awake before passing out?

Read a science article about sleep deprivation:
scientists prevented a rat from sleeping for 17 days, then it died of brain damage (how or why, I don’t remember).
Needless to say, GET YOUR SLEEP!

Sleeping is important. Very important. In one documentary I saw footage of a famous radio DJ (I don’t remember his name) who tried to stay awake to play continous music for something like 8 days (it was during the roaring 20’s). They showed how his cognitive functioning and presence just deteriorated to the point where he was no longer himself but just a record spinning vegetable (I’m not sure if he suffered any permanent damage, but I don’t think so). I don’t think he actually made it through all the days he intended.

Somewhere else I saw a documentary hosted by Alan Alda where Alan was deprived of REM sleep (everytime he would begin to REM they would wake him so that he slept but never REM slept), and each day that passed he would do worse on a series of cognitive tasks they gave him. So, REM sleep seems to be the important factor, not just sleep.

Finally, in a documentary (BTW these might have all been from the same documentary, I don’t know) there was a guy who couldn’t sleep all of sudden. Days passed, then months, I think possibly even a year or 2 and he never received a good night sleep. One misdiagnoses after another, finally it was determined that he had contracted a rare form of mad cow’s disease which distroyed the part of his brain responsible for sleep. He slowly became but a shell of human, freaking the hell out of his wife, and eventually died. IIRC, I believe the cause of death was said to be “sleep deprivation”.

Sorry I don’t have specific source info, and that my details are kinda hazy (I could use some sleep myself) but I’m sure that, if I’m remembering these somewhat correctly, others will fill in my gaps.

BTW, Friedo is quite correct. Been there as well, more times than I care to admit.

I wasn’t awake the whole time; I had dozed for 20-30 minutes several times, and had slept about 90 minutes on one occasion. I imagine the hallucinations I had were basically dreaming while standing up. The whole thing was about five days, most of the symptoms occuring on the fifth day. The muscle aches and loss of ability to concentrate started towards the end of the second day. Eventually, I just passed out and slept in a chair, in the same position, for at least five hours. I then walked, barely conscious, to my bed, and slept for 13 more hours.

BTW, I often stay up longer than I should (ie, if I get eight hours of sleep, I may stay up 20 hours instead of 16) and so sometimes my sleep schedule is irregular. This often doesn’t bother me, unless I stay up for days.

What I find interesting is that one time when I was awake for almost 70 hours because of drugs (two lines of some apparently very powerful methamphetamines) I was perfectly functional until it wore off, and then I just felt sleepy until I got to bed. If I stay awake without the help of drugs, I start mishearing things and forgetting what I am doing around hour 36, and will have mild visual hallucinations and ‘repeating’ (where you will see the same thing happen twice) after a few more hours.

If you are talking about reducing your amount of sleep and not eliminating it, you might be surprised with how little you can get by on. I thought I was one of those people who needed close to 8 hours every night to function, but I have gone extended periods of time where I would usually get no more than 4 hours of sleep a day, often getting none, and there didn’t appear to be any effect on me except for the fact that I felt a lot groggier when I first woke up. When you have been awake a while, 2 hours of sleep does make a lot of difference. There are also some people who just naturally sleep less than most people, who can’t sleep more than 2 hours a night yet are not insomniacs, they just don’t need as much sleep.

One of the late night talk shows – Letterman or Carson – had a guest who claimed that he hadn’t slept in years and hadn’t suffered any ill effects. I think he also had a hobby of producing miniature artwork like decorating the heads of pins or somesuch. Does anybody know if that guy was ever studied?

Check out this thread

Also, check out the book called Sleep Thieves by Stanley Coren (1996).