How long can you live without water? About a week. How long can you live without food? About 40–70 days. How long can you live without sleep? About 11 days—and even then, researchers say during that long a period, you would probably nod off without even knowing it, getting a moment here and there of microsleep.
How do we know 11 days is the maximum humans can be sleep deprived and survive? In 1965, Randy Gardner was a high school student in San Diego figuring out what to do for a science fair. He decided to set a world record for going without sleep. He did – and lived to tell the tale.
Water. Food. Sleep. This is the triad of what is needed for physical survival. The Better Sleep Council, the group that established Better Sleep Month in 1985, recommends five ways to focus on sleep this month and get a better night’s rest:
- Avoid eating too much or drinking alcohol before bed. If you eat too much, an active digestion system sabotages sleep. And while wine or a cocktail can seemingly help you fall asleep, sleep experts say it may rob you of the deep quality sleep you need for optimum rest.
- Keep to the same bedtime routine each night to signal to your body that bedtime is near. Try to avoid working in bed as part of your nightly ritual. In fact, bedrooms are best as sanctuaries for sleep and love.
- Have a consistent bedtime. This may be the hardest to do. We tend to alter sleep patterns on weekends, which often leads to a condition called “Sunday night insomnia.”
- Maintain a cool temperature in your bedroom—between 60 and 68 degrees is recommended.
- Pay attention to what you are sleeping on. A mattress that’s more than seven years old is probably ready for retirement. Many people who purchase a new bed are incredulous at the difference and often wished they’d replaced their mattress sooner. And, of course look for mattresses made with CertiPUR-US certified foam!
Can you imagine the mental and physical stress of 11 days of sleep deprivation? Gardner blames some of his adult sleep problems on his teenage experiment and shares his appreciation for a good night’s sleep in this engaging interview on NPR last December when he was 71 (different sources vary on Gardner’s date of birth).