Sleep is a massive part of our lives but is more important and fascinating than people give it credit for. Throughout this post, I will be explaining the weird and wonderful aspects of sleep, including why it’s so important and also what starts to happen if we go without it.

Key facts

  • We spend almost one third of our lives asleep
  • There are 5 stages of sleep; 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM sleep. REM sleep is the lightest stage where dreams take place and stage 4 is the deepest stage.
  • REM sleep in known as “paradoxical sleep” because although the body is paralysed, brain activity is almost identical to the waking brain.

Sleep paralysis

Sleep paralysis is where a person is conscious and “awake” but the mechanisms that keep their body paralysed during sleep have not turned off. This means the individual can’t move or speak, but are fully conscious and aware of their surroundings. This can last a few seconds up to several minutes.

I have experienced this and it’s a very scary phenomenon. Experts say that recurring sleep paralysis could be the first signs of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder where a person can’t stay awake for more than four or five hours at a time. This is one example of how sleep can turn into something terrifying due to the failure of the brain.

Why we need to sleep?

The brain is absent of any lymphatic vessels which are used all over the body to dispose of waste. This seems very counter intuitive due to the fact that the brain uses 25% of the bodies total energy intake, meaning it produces a lot of waste. However researchers have found that sleep helps the brain overcome this problem.

Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) which surrounds the brain is pumped inside of it, around the blood vessels during sleep in order to get rid of waste. The brain cells actually shrink allowing the CSF to enter. However this process only occurs during sleep. The brain puts off its own cleaning until late at night when brain activity is lower, much like we put off cleaning our house until we are less busy. Without sleep, it seems that the brain literally wouldn’t have time to clean itself.

Other benefits of sleep include:

  • Sorting and processing memories of the day by strengthening synapses
  • Muscle and bone growth
  • Muscle and bone repair

What happens when we don’t sleep?

So if sleep is important, what happens if we go without it? As scary as it sounds, without sleep you would ultimately die. In fact you can die quicker from sleep deprivation than from food deprivation.

After one night without sleep, the Amygdala goes into overdrive, causing increased anxiety and stress. The prefrontal cortex shuts down, decreasing logical thought and reasoning. After a few more days, paranoia and hallucinations set in, in an attempt at putting the body into a “waking” sleep. The immune system starts to weaken as the days go on, eventually leading to death if continued. In animal studies, rats have died after up to 2 weeks of sleep deprivation.


I hope after reading this post, you understand what happens when you don’t sleep, and also how important it is that you get the hours you need. So take a nap, press that snooze button and don’t feel bad about it!

Many thanks for taking the time to read my post. I hope you learned something,



Green, H. (SciShow) 2013, October 14. Sleep: Why We Need It and What Happens Without It. Retrieved from

NHS. (2014, November 19). Sleep paralysis. Retrieved from


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