What Happens to Your Brain After 36 Hours Without Sleep?

Watch as three people attempt to stay awake for 36 hours.

What Happens to Your Brain After 36 Hours Without Sleep?

Your brain does weird things when it goes too long without sleep. I remember friends regaling me with military tales of hallucinations from sleep deprivation training. Stories of talking to people who aren't there, dreams merging into reality, and pink elephants.


If you've never been witness to sleep deprivation, here's your chance. The National Geographic Channel's Brain Games wanted to explore how three volunteers would fair after going 36 hours without sleep. The channel had experts alongside the three participants every step of the way, examining memory, motor skills, and reaction times to document as they tried to resist the sandman's spell.

A lot of things can happen when your brain goes without sleep. The chemistry gets mixed up, and some could argue that you become a different person without it. Jason Silva, the host of Brain Games, explained:

"One of the things that happens when you're sleep-deprived is that your ability to regulate emotions goes haywire. Your brain becomes disorganized in its capacity to process information and your sensitivity to information also get scrambled.”

Even when we aren't going to extremes, researchers have found lack of sleep plays on our eating habits, causing us to eat more. Also, poor sleep has been linked to the production of a chemical associated with Alzheimer's. Sleep is a major building block of not just our day, but our life that helps us function properly. But when we deprive ourselves from sleep, the brain begins to do something interesting: Your brain starts shutting down parts not vital to survival.

While most of us aren't going for 36-hour stretches without sleep, many Americans aren't getting enough, which could have detrimental effects in day-to-day life.

Watch more on National Geographic.

Photo Credit: ED JONES / Staff

Malcolm Gladwell live | How to re-examine everything you know

Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

Humans evolved for punching, study confirms

University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.

Image source: durantelallera/Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
  • The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
  • If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Keep reading Show less

To be a great innovator, learn to embrace and thrive in uncertainty

Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.

David McNew/Getty Images
Personal Growth
Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was America's first female self-made millionaire.
Keep reading Show less

Study: Private prisons result in more inmates, longer sentences

The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • After adopting strict sentencing laws in the '80s and '90s, many states have turned to for-profit prisons to handle growing prison populations.
  • A new study in Labour Economics found that privately-run prisons correlate with a rise in incarceration rates and sentence lengths.
  • While evidence is mixed, private prisons do not appear to improve recidivism or cost less than state-run facilities.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Videos

    The art of asking the right questions

    What exactly does "questions are the new answers" mean?

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast