How to Stay Awake 72 Hours Straight

by Lee Grayson; Updated September 26, 2017
Medical school training requires working long periods without sleep.

People need sleep to survive. Studies done by the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) report that rats deprived of sleep lived only three to five weeks, compared to the normal rodent life expectancy of two to three years. A group of occupations require employees to stay awake for long periods -- some up to 72 hours. Accomplishing sleeplessness for this long requires determination and a few carefully planned activities.

Items you will need

  • Uncomfortable chair
  • Bright lighting
  • Visitors
  • Food and drink with caffeine
  • Loud music selections and player
Step 1

Select an uncomfortable chair for seating and stay standing most of the time, if possible. Selecting a comfortable, cushioned chair with a soft headrest allows the seated person to lean back and snooze. If required to sit down during the 72 hours, use a chair with a hard seat and add a cushion with bumps or protruding buttons occasionally to distract your attention and provide additional discomfort. Avoid a seat with any type of headrest.

Step 2

Stay in the bright light as much as possible during the 72 hours. Human sleep cycles rise and fall with the cycle of light and darkness. If the period of sleeplessness requires an occasional long period of alertness during normal sleep hours, use light to trick the body into delaying sleep.

Step 3

Drink small amounts of fluids containing caffeine throughout the 72 hours. Avoid loading up with large volumes at any one sitting. Studies done on behalf of the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research at Harvard Medical School, Rush University Medical Center and Brigham and Women's Hospital show that low doses of caffeine spread throughout the sleepless period allow the body to stay more alert. The research provided information for policies dealing with pilots who require extended periods of sleeplessness during military operations.

Step 4

Keep the air temperature cool and stay hydrated throughout the 72 hours. Cold temperatures make it difficult to doze or sleep, according to Professional Healthcare, Inc. Drinking large amounts of water before the marathon period of sleeplessness also allows the body to stay alert. The Mayo Clinic notes that even mildly dehydrated people feel fatigue and fall asleep easily.

Step 5

Do walkabouts every 20 minutes, if possible, even if only to stand and stretch or walk over to the drinking fountain or file cabinet, and plan active distractions at set intervals throughout the period. Distractions -- including a period of a dozen jumping jacks or a five-minute dance session with up-tempo music -- increase blood flow and alertness. Invite visitors to provide other distractions. Guests provide a new element to the environment. Keep visits short and focused on interesting subjects. Invite guests to walk and talk for more stimulation to help you stay awake.

Warnings

  • The U.S. National Institutes of Health warns against using drugs to stay awake. This sleep avoidance technique creates conditions leading to addiction and substance abuse when used over a long period.

About the Author

Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
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