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#120243 - 01/15/08 05:06 PM [b]Can Sleep Deprivation be Fatal?[/b]
SwampDonkey Offline
Veteran

Registered: 07/08/07
Posts: 1268
Loc: Northeastern Ontario, Canada
Hi,

Last night I taught a very basic Wilderness Survival class to the new members of our local youth group (ages 12 to 14).

The class involved a discussion on what is a survival situation, what to do when you find yourself in one (e.g. S.T.O.P.), what are the priorities of survival, what equipment assists survival and it ended with the teens assembling there own small personal survival kit. (See this previous post for the kit contents http://forums.equipped.org/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Main=9218&Number=100560#Post100560 )

When discussing Survival Priorities I use the "Rule of 3's" to help the kids understand what is the most important element at anytime in a survival situation. I list; 3 seconds, 3 minutes, 3 hours, 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months and 3 years on the blackboard and have the students suggest (on average) what aspect of life a person requires within that timeframe (e.g. 3 minutes without air, 3 weeks without food).

I find this discussion really helps the kids focus on what is important for survival (although I often get answers like "my MP3 player" or "a shower"). One bright student last evening suggested that sleep was required by the body within 3 days; I had to both agree and disagree with him. I know people have gone much longer that 3 days without sleep but that the frequency of accidents is greatly increased.

So wanting to improve my future presentations I Googled "Sleep Deprivation" today to find out if a person can actually die from not sleeping. I found that sleep deprivation has been linked to many health concerns; obesity, diabeties, infection, depression, accidents, memory loss, poor learning,..., but only found one brief reference where mammals (lab mice after 3 weeks) actually died.

I know many members of this forum are/have been in the military or worked in professions where sleep deprivation is common (e.g. emergency services, shift work) and I would appreciate hearing about your sleepless experiences so hopefully I can include the "need for sleep in a survival situation" into my presentations.

Thanks,

Mike

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#120245 - 01/15/08 05:15 PM Re: [b]Can Sleep Deprivation be Fatal?[/b] [Re: SwampDonkey]
Arney Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 09/15/05
Posts: 2485
Loc: California
I have never heard of any instance where a person died simply from being kept from sleeping, e.g. in a POW or interrogation situation. However, sleep is definitely required to maintain mental alertness, so in a survival situation, as you mentioned, there's a much higher chance of an accident or making a dumb decision if you're severely sleep deprived.

I remember watching a TV show about a sleep deprivation experiment. The test subjects were able to function physically just fine for a long time. It was the mental functioning that rapidly deteriorated, and which seemed to require sleep. However, note that there are people who do not sleep at all. I'm not sure how their brains cope with the lack of sleep, though.

I'm not sure that sleep really fits into the rule of 3's analogy. Strictly speaking, it's absence is not deadly the same way that lack of oxygen or water is deadly.

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#120253 - 01/15/08 06:03 PM Re: [b]Can Sleep Deprivation be Fatal?[/b] [Re: SwampDonkey]
BrianTexas Offline
Ordinary Average Guy
Enthusiast

Registered: 04/26/06
Posts: 304
Loc: North Central Texas, USA
My understanding is that sleep deprivation significantly impacts mental alertness. It could be considered fatal in that one is more likely to die in an accident related to their mind failing to function properly.

IIRC, some law enforcement groups theorized that many accidents were caused not just by drugs/alcohol but rather by the decline in attention, alertness and functioning of the brain due to lack of sleep.

Speaking of which, my productivity in the classroom seems to be heavily influenced by sleep or lack thereof. sleep
_________________________
Also known as BrianEagle. I just remembered my old password!

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#120265 - 01/15/08 06:40 PM Re: [b]Can Sleep Deprivation be Fatal?[/b] [Re: BrianTexas]
LumpyJaw Offline
Journeyman

Registered: 08/04/07
Posts: 87
Loc: Virginia, USA
I remember reading about this recently. He even took quick naps, but exhaustion got the best of him.

http://www.cbc.ca/story/world/national/2005/08/09/video-games050809.html

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#120283 - 01/15/08 09:07 PM Re: [b]Can Sleep Deprivation be Fatal?[/b] [Re: SwampDonkey]
justin2006 Offline
Newbie

Registered: 12/05/06
Posts: 27
Loc: New Mexico
Hmm.. do a search on "fatal familial insomnia".

Here is one:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatal_familial_insomnia

"The disease's genesis and the patient's progression into complete sleeplessness is untreatable, and ultimately fatal."

Of course this is a medical condition and not exactly related to your question... crazy


Edited by justin2006 (01/15/08 09:09 PM)

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#120293 - 01/15/08 10:22 PM Re: [b]Can Sleep Deprivation be Fatal?[/b] [Re: BrianTexas]
OldBaldGuy Offline
Geezer

Registered: 09/30/01
Posts: 5695
Loc: Former AFB in CA, recouping fr...
"... some law enforcement groups theorized that many accidents were caused not just by drugs/alcohol but rather by the decline in attention, alertness and functioning of the brain due to lack of sleep..."

Yup. I have worked more solo rolo fall asleep at the wheel crashes on I-5 in Central CA (very boring road anyway) than I care to remember...
_________________________
OBG

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#120294 - 01/15/08 10:25 PM Re: [b]Can Sleep Deprivation be Fatal?[/b] [Re: SwampDonkey]
OldBaldGuy Offline
Geezer

Registered: 09/30/01
Posts: 5695
Loc: Former AFB in CA, recouping fr...
Do some research about "Hell Week" in Navy SEAL training, it will give you a pretty good idea about what happens when people get really tired. They don't die, but by the end of the week, the instructors mainly keep them awake, and make sure that they don't hurt themselves or others. They are pretty much out of it...
_________________________
OBG

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#120304 - 01/15/08 10:55 PM Re: [b]Can Sleep Deprivation be Fatal?[/b] [Re: Arney]
Arney Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 09/15/05
Posts: 2485
Loc: California
I think Morvan's syndrome is what I had read about a long time ago. Extremely rare. One case went without sleep without 4 months. But still, you're pretty screwed up in various ways from this condition, so I'd rather not have Morvan's syndrome. eek


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#120420 - 01/16/08 06:44 PM Re: [b]Can Sleep Deprivation be Fatal?[/b] [Re: SwampDonkey]
MtnRescue Offline
Newbie

Registered: 12/12/07
Posts: 30
Loc: NoVA
Sleep deprivation in itself might not be fatal, but its consequence is too often fatal. We lost a SAR team member a number of years ago for this very reason due to lack of sleep at a search. As she drove home, without the benefit of a nap, fell asleep at the wheel and struck a tree. Following that the team instituted new dispatch policies to prevent this in the future.

We always stress following a long field exercise or mission, to rest and/or sleep before driving home. The drive home can be the most dangerous phase of a mission. Once the adrenaline wears off during the return trip, it's quite easy to fall asleep.
_________________________
Wilderness Search and Rescue . . . . smrg.org.

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#120670 - 01/18/08 02:34 PM Re: [b]Can Sleep Deprivation be Fatal?[/b] [Re: MtnRescue]
SwampDonkey Offline
Veteran

Registered: 07/08/07
Posts: 1268
Loc: Northeastern Ontario, Canada
Thank you for the replies concerning death from sleep deprivation.

Other than persons with specific sleep diseases or conditions, I do not think a lack of sleep alone would be fatal in a survival situation. Eventually the survivor will become so tired that they will sleep, thereby reducing mental/physical fatigue but perhaps succumbing to death from outside forces which require alertness (e.g. accident, attack, enviromental exposure, etc).

Take care,

Mike

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