Can You Live Longer Without Sleeping Or Without Eating?

For all of our technological advances in the fields of health and medicine, the fact remains that humans need a few key things to survive, and indeed, they are the most basic of things. The scientific community may someday produce a cell-sized nanobot that can be injected into your body to fight off cancer cells one at a time, but none of that will make a lick of difference to a person who has been deprived of oxygen for more than a few minutes. We can place stints into a person's arteries to reverse the effects of cardiovascular damage, but a person with a stint will still die within a few days without adequate water.

Two other basic things that humans need to survive are food and sleep. And although our bodies can do without either of these things for brief periods of time, going without one or the other (or both) for an extended period is a death sentence. But which is worse? Which will kill you faster?

Starvation will probably kill you faster than sleep deprivation

Before proceeding any further, it bears noting that none of what is about to be discussed here has been tested scientifically. Depriving a person of food, sleep, or any other essential part of life to see how long they live is, of course, cruel and unethical. So in the absence of controlled scientific studies, we must instead turn to anecdotes.

In terms of doing without food, how long a person lasts will vary depending on their general health before they start starving, as well as other factors. Nevertheless, as Business Insider notes, Mahatma Gandhi once fasted for 21 days and lived to tell about it. But a considerably more gruesome case is that of Irish political prisoner Terence MacSwiney. While imprisoned, MacSwiney went on a hunger strike that lasted for 74 days until his death from starvation.

By comparison, people have been known to go months without sleep. According to BBC News, there's a condition called fatal insomnia, and it's exactly what it sounds like. People with the disease gradually have more and more sleepless nights until their periods of insomnia stretch into weeks and months. Eventually, sleep deprivation catches up to them, and they die from brain deterioration.