There have been reports about people who didn't sleep at all for many years, see e.g. this newspaper article. The case of Paul Kern is the subject of this Wikipedia article, and this newspaper article. So, it seems that there have been a few people in recent history who seemed to have managed for years without getting any sleep at all. Now, there are good reasons to be skeptical on physiological grounds and the lack of rigorous proof that demonstrates this in the lab.

The question is then if the counterarguments are strong enough to cast doubt on these case. After all, out of the many billions of people that have lived since the mass media would be able to pick up such stories, only a few cases have been reported on. So, the arguments against this being possible must be very strong. On the other hand, there is a lack of such cases in recent decades, which suggests that with modern diagnostic tools one can actually detect that people with severe insomnia actually do sleep.

  • 4
    I've tried and failed to find a documentary from the early 1980s (? earlier?) that showed a sleep-deprivation experiment with several college students and an older man who claimed he no longer slept (just rested) since a car accident. They found he did sleep, but he dropped rapidly into deep sleep, and back again without noticing. It could shed light on these claims, but I can't find it :-(
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 16:33
  • @Oddthinking that's pretty fascinating and it sounds similar to polyphasic sleep. Humans can train themselves to fall into deep REM state sleep quickly, and then establish a sleep pattern of 20 mins every 4 hour period. In total that works out to 2 hours per day. If the guy in the doco had a condition that keeps waking him up, his brain may have adapted similarly, but in very short timeslices.
    – Memetican
    Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 20:49
  • @Memetican: If you have good evidence to support those claims, you should submit an answer to our question about polyphasic sleep. The current answers suggest that people can't manage that for very long.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 0:23

1 Answer 1


Even though sleep science has only existed for a few decades it doesn't seem likely to be possible

Almost every experiment conducted in humans, resulted in psychotic symptoms like paranoia, hallucinations, etc after several days.

The known record of time without sleep is 11 days, 24 minutes.

There might be some who claim that they don't sleep, but it was never proven or documented any official form.

This post relates to cases like Thái Ngọc's, who claims being awake for 41 years.

It's impossible to distinguish from a lie, an exaggeration, a misperception, a delusion, or a completely unknown phenomenon. If the person actually came into a lab, their sleep state could be measured with an EEG and other tools. Few do, and those who do are always found to get some sleep, even if they don't notice it

Fatal familial insomnia disease is a strong evidence a person cannot live without sleeping (from this article by Dr Simon Kyle):

Fatal familial insomnia (FFI) is a rare, and ultimately terminal, genetically inherited prion disease. Once an individual begins to show the symptoms of FFI, starting with insomnia, the illness progresses quickly and further symptoms emerge. These symptoms include hallucinations, weight loss and finally dementia before their death.

Experiments depriving animals of sleep resulted in death, or near-dying state, within 11-32 days (Everson et al. 1989).

  • Great answer, but just to point out that sleep science (however you define it) is certainly older than just "a few decades". It's been around since at least the 1950s. But point taken - sleep science is relatively new compared to other aspects of medical science.
    – user17967
    Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 7:56
  • Removed the unreferenced assertion that "There aren't any known people who don't sleep."
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 11:46
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    I can assert the first "getting some sleep even if you don't notice" from personal experience. Suffering from a form of narcolepsy, without proper medication I often don't notice sleeping, shifting into and out of REM sleep into wakefulness seamlessly. Suffice to say, the brain gets no rest that way and my mental state after a few weeks is horrible (depression, mood swings, and worse).
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 12:55
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    How they empirically measure "sleep" by brainwave activity is a bit suspect, anecdotally. I went in for a sleep study, and remember several times when I woke up, including when the nurse was in checking on the instruments and sensors and I watched her do so. The next day they told me I didn't wake, at all. And, no, these were not dreams, as I had not met the night shift nurse until she was in one more time in the morning. Apparently my brain activity, when awake, leaves something to be desired. Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 21:39

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