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What Is the Absolute Longest a Person Can Sleep at Once?

Strictly hypothetical, of course

What if, uh, hypothetically speaking, I wanted to be fully unconscious for the remainder of 2020? In Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, the protagonist gets a ton of prescriptions to ensure she can essentially stay zonked out for an entire year. I’d even settle for a Green Day nap, where I fall asleep at 11:59 p.m. on August 31st and reemerge on October 1st at 12:01 a.m. But from a practical, health standpoint, what’s the longest I could stay asleep

Unfortunately, sleeping for any extended period of time would normally require some medical support with sleep-inducing drugs, at which point it basically just becomes a coma. In 2017, though, a 7-year-old boy mysteriously slept for 11 days straight, ten of which were spent in a hospital under medical supervision. The exact cause of this episode was never discovered, though it’s possible he experienced a form of Kleine-Levin Syndrome, a rare neurological condition that can cause adolescents to sleep for weeks and months at a time, only waking up occasionally to eat and use the bathroom. 

Those latter two stipulations of Kleine-Levin Syndrome are essential — if you didn’t have to manage those bodily functions, you’d likely be able to sleep much longer. Again, with some medical support, you could probably have machines handle that for you. Outside of that, though, you will likely remain limited by the confines of consuming and expelling. Drugs (prescription or otherwise) and alcohol could suppress these needs, but they won’t go away entirely. 

Case in point, earlier this year, a 40-year-old man in China was hospitalized after drinking 10 beers, passing out for 18 hours and waking up with a burst bladder. It’s possible, though, that not consuming any liquids in the hours before falling asleep could allow you to more safely extend that 18 hours. 

The thing is, we actually have no freaking idea exactly how long someone could go. It just hasn’t been properly studied. There are plenty of anecdotes on the internet of people sleeping for 24 to 36 hours at a time, often aided by a bad case of the flu or a prior binge on intoxicants. The precise length of time you could go will depend on a number of factors, including whether or not getting up to go pee counts. The WikiHow article for “How to Sleep All Day” recommends skimping on sleep in the days prior to your binge, getting in some exercise and eating a big meal beforehand. Then, make sure your bedroom is dark, cold and comfy, clear your calendar and spend the entire weekend in bed, getting up only to pee or doing things you might ordinarily do before bed, like brushing your teeth. Each time you find yourself awake again, just pretend it’s a normal night and that you have to go back to sleep

Whether any of that’s an excellent idea, I don’t know. But so long as you aren’t relying on drugs or alcohol to stay asleep or neglecting any major problems in sleeping all day, it seems of little consequence to at least attempt to sleep for 24 hours straight. Going full “Wake Me Up When September Ends” isn’t recommended, but a girl can dream.

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