Sleep is crucial for daytime functioning, cognitive performance and general well-being. These aspects of daily life are known to be impaired after extended wake, yet, the underlying neuronal correlates have been difficult to identify. Accumulating evidence suggests that normal functioning of the brain is characterized by long-range temporal correlations (LRTCs) in cortex, which are supportive for decision-making and working memory tasks. Here we assess LRTCs in resting state human EEG data during a 40-hour sleep deprivation experiment by evaluating the decay in autocorrelation and the scaling exponent of the detrended fluctuation analysis from EEG amplitude fluctuations. We find with both measures that LRTCs decline as sleep deprivation progresses. This decline becomes evident when taking changes in signal power into appropriate consideration. In contrast, the presence of strong signal power increases in some frequency bands over the course of sleep deprivation may falsely indicate LRTC changes that do not reflect the underlying long-range temporal correlation structure. Our results demonstrate the importance of sleep to maintain LRTCs in the human brain. In complex networks, LRTCs naturally emerge in the vicinity of a critical state. The observation of declining LRTCs during wake thus provides additional support for our hypothesis that sleep reorganizes cortical networks towards critical dynamics for optimal functioning.