While the amount of sleep you need varies throughout your life, the average adult requires 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. Nonetheless, there are situations where you may need to go 24, 48 or even 72 hours straight without sleep. Going without sleep for this period of time can cause a wide variety of physiological effects.
Sleep deprivation causes your brain to operate less effectively as it works harder to counteract sleep deprivation effects. In particular, your decision making abilities and memory can become impaired, and your concentration levels can drop. In some cases, you may also experience hallucinations.
Going for long periods of time without sleep can also cause physical impairments. Along with general fatigue and restlessness, you may experience slower reaction times and a lack of coordination. Other physical effects like high blood pressure and heart attacks may result from consistent, long-term sleep deprivation.
How to Cope
There are a variety of ways you can reduce the effects of sleep deprivation if you are in a situation where you need to stay up for 72 hours. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, for example, recommends getting extra sleep in advance of a deprivation, as well as short naps followed by caffeine during deprivation. These options, however, are short-term solutions. The best cure for the effects of sleep deprivation is simply sleep.