A new study suggests that while sleep is necessary for cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and reflexes, its deprivation may not be fatal.
A team of researchers at Imperial College London conducted experiments on fruit flies to study the effects of sleep deprivation. The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, revealed that even though sleep is vital for cognition in human beings, it is not necessary for survival, at least in the case of male fruit flies.
To Sleep Or Not To Sleep
Previous studies have shown that some animals succumbed to sleep deprivation. However, those studies are unclear as to what happened. However, the new study suggests that the animals may have died due to stressful methods used to keep them awake.
The experiments performed on over a thousand fruit flies showed that male flies deprived of sleep died not earlier than those that were allowed to sleep. Female flies, on the other hand, died three days earlier on average in a 50-day lifespan.
"[W]e report two surprising findings . . . challenging the notion that sleep is a vital necessity: the discovery of virtually sleepless flies and the finding that chronic sleep restriction in Drosophila melanogaster has notably less pronounced effects on longevity than previously thought," the authors wrote in their paper.
Food Vs. Sleep
Even though the current study involved flies, the researchers believed that if sleep is not as necessary for life as food, then their results may be applicable across all animals as well as humans.
Dr. Gilestro explained that food is required to stay alive because the calories fuel human cells to perform basic bodily functions.
"It might be that sleep is only 'useful': it would still be difficult for us to function without it, but not necessarily fatal," added Dr. Gilestro.
He further explained that while there are consequences of not sleeping at all, the study questions the assumption that sleep deprivation alone causes death.