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What is the Connection Between Sleep Deprivation and Hallucinations?

Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen

Sleep deprivation and hallucinations are connected because not getting enough sleep can lead to these figments of imagination. The reason why sleep deprivation and hallucinations are connected isn’t really clear. Some experts think it is simply a symptom of the brain being overtaxed. These hallucinations can be fairly extreme. People may see things that aren’t there or hear sounds that don’t really exist.

Two prominent cases of sleep deprivation and hallucinations being connected can be found in the stories of Randy Gardner and Peter Tripp, who have both held the world record for going without sleep at different times. Both men eventually suffered from severe hallucinations and even lost their ability to reason or think clearly at times. In the case of Peter Tripp, many experts think that his brain was damaged in some way by the experience, causing his personality to change for the worse. Less extreme cases of sleep deprivation can also lead to hallucinations, although usually not as severe ones.

Getting enough sleep is essential to a person's health.
Getting enough sleep is essential to a person's health.

Some people may even experience total psychotic episodes where they lose all grasp of reality. To reach this level of severity usually takes several days without sleep. For less extreme cases, a person may just hear a sound or glimpse something out of the corner of the eye.

Besides the connection between sleep deprivation and hallucinations, there are also several other health risks from not getting enough sleep. It can potentially lead to an increased risk of diabetes, for example, and it can make a person more prone to catching sicknesses. Some people may suffer with anger problems and have their personal relationships threatened. For some individuals, it can even lead to long-term mental issues like depression.

Sleep deprivation is very dangerous, and may lead to hallucinations.
Sleep deprivation is very dangerous, and may lead to hallucinations.

A lack of sleep can also potentially hurt a person’s career prospects. Some people eventually miss a lot of work by not getting enough sleep, and when they go to work, they may not be able to perform at an acceptable level. Over time, a lack of sleep can greatly limit a person’s cognitive abilities in many different areas, and this can be a problem in almost any kind of career.

When someone is suffering with sleep deprivation, doctors have a lot of options available. In many cases, patients may be prescribed some kind of sleeping medication. For other people, it is simpler to just make a few lifestyle changes. It is possible to become dependent on sleeping medications, especially if they are used for a long time, and they can also be dangerous when mixed with other substances like alcohol. Many physicians will avoid prescribing them if possible.

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Discussion Comments


@indigomoth - They say that Peter Tripp suffered from long term changes to his personality, but I'm a bit suspicious about that.

Firstly, he was doing it as a stunt on the radio for a charity cause. So, as a radio DJ I think it would be pretty difficult to say what his personality was like in the first place. Maybe he was just a particular way on the radio and another way at home?

And secondly, he was given drugs to keep him awake for longer. That hardly makes it a fair experiment. It could have been the drugs that damaged him, rather than the lack of sleep, or maybe a combination of the two that is dangerous.

I find it a bit scary that they gave him drugs like that, actually. I mean, if you've got to the point where you need stimulants to keep you awake, maybe you should take that as a reason not to stay awake anymore.


@pleonasm - Actually, the possible brain damage from snoring is more to do with sleep apnea, not with the sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea happens when a person stops breathing for periods during the night and can often come from snoring. It causes sleep deprivation, but it also causes low blood oxygen, which is the more dangerous condition.

I've always been curious about the effects of not sleeping. I know that you can suffer from quite a few bad effects while you are doing it, but most people seem to think that there aren't any bad long term effects. There aren't a lot of studies about it though, so it's difficult to know for sure.

I know that the current record holder, Randy Garner went for 11 days without sleeping and showed no long term effects. He didn't even need to sleep that much to catch up. He did hallucinate quite a lot while it was going on though. It's quite interesting to have a look at his case if you are curious.


You might be sleep deprived and not even know it. Maybe not quite enough to be hallucinating, although I'm not sure about that.

I do know that my mother was very sleep deprived, even though she thought she was getting plenty each night. She would wake up and still feel exhausted and would fall asleep in front of the TV in the early evening all the time.

She just looked really tired, and couldn't concentrate and in the end she went to the doctor, thinking she might have a chronic illness.

It turned out that she went to sleep and began snoring each night, hard enough that she wasn't getting enough air and wasn't sleeping deeply enough to satisfy her brain.

She's being treated for it at the moment and has told me she feels better, although if it had gone on too long she might have suffered from permanent brain damage, as it says in the article.

So, if you have the same symptoms, don't wait to hallucinate, go and see a doctor.

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    • Getting enough sleep is essential to a person's health.
      By: Igor Mojzes
      Getting enough sleep is essential to a person's health.
    • Sleep deprivation is very dangerous, and may lead to hallucinations.
      By: vlorzor
      Sleep deprivation is very dangerous, and may lead to hallucinations.