Alteredstate explores the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation. As college students, you may find that your intense schedule, personal obligations and social life restrict the amount of sleep you get – in fact, it is estimated that roughly 80% of college students suffer from sleep deprivation. But why is this an issue? What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

Peter Tripp

One of the most extreme demonstrations of sleep deprivation were made by radio host, Peter Tripp, in 1959, who managed to keep himself awake for 201 hours — that's eight days.


After 3 days of wakefulness, Tripp became confused by simple ideas due to slow activity in the parietal lobe. During sleep deprivation, this region of the brain – responsible for math and logic – suffers from crippled thought processes and a difficulty forming logical solutions.


By the 4th day, he experienced hallucinations and feelings of paranoia. Initially, these hallucinations included simple shapes and patterns – such as cobwebs and insects. Later, he began seeing more complex objects, like mice, kittens, and fire. Hallucinations and blurred vision occur when the prefrontal cortex becomes crippled. This region controls our judgement and sight.


During the last few days, Tripp’s hallucinations and paranoia worsened, he had become depressed and delusional, and his speech began to slur – these symptoms occur when the temporal lobe, responsible for language and communication, is crippled. Additionally, he could no longer perform the simple task of reciting the alphabet – this is because of reduced activity in the neocortex and frontal lobe.

how is daily performance affected

For starters, it’s very likely that you’ve experienced excessive daytime sleepiness; a phenomenon characterized by an overall lack of energy. In this instance, your lack of focus and attention may result in a micro-sleep, or a temporary episode of involuntary sleep. This is most likely to occur while performing in a quiet and repetitive environment – such as school, work – and in severe cases – on the road.

Drowsy Driving

24 hours without sleep is equivalent to a blood-alcohol-content level of 0.10%. Response times are slower, accuracy is worsened, and our ability to remain focused and alert is greatly reduced. In fact, drowsy driving is responsible for an alarming 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 deaths each year.


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