Bruce McAllister (left) and Joe Marciano Jr. (right) help Randy Gardner
stay awake as he gets a checkup at the naval hospital.
What happens if you force your self to stay awake. Can you control your sleep? How long can you stay awake? Most of us have no idea what our own body/minds would do. Every now and then someone decides to find out. It is not hard to.
Gardner, a San Diego high school student, was the subject of a self-imposed sleep-deprivation experiment. He had resolved to find out what would happen to his mind and body if he stayed awake from December 28, 1963 to January 8, 1964, a total of 264 hours – eleven days. Assisting him were two classmates, Bruce McAllister and Joe Marciano Jr. They kept him awake and tracked his condition by administering a series of tests. They planned to enter the results in the Greater San Diego High School Science Fair. But transforming the ordeal from a science fair stunt into one of the most widely cited sleep-deprivation experiments ever conducted was the arrival of Stanford researcher William C. Dement, who flew down from Palo Alto to be with Randy as soon as he heard what was going on. Nights were the hardest. If he lay down for a second, he was out like a light. So his high school friends and Dr. Dement kept him active by cruising in the car, taking trips down to the donut shop, blasting music, and playing marathon games of basketball and pinball. Whenever Gardner went to the bathroom, they made him talk through the door to confirm he wasn’t dozing off. The one thing they didn’t do was give him any drugs. Not even caffeine. As more days passed, Gardner’s speech began to slur, he had trouble focusing his eyes, he frequently grew dizzy, he had trouble remembering what he said from one minute to the next, and he was plagued by more hallucinations. One time he saw a wall dissolve in front of him and become a vision of a forest path.
Gardner broke the previous world record for wakefulness at 264 hours. Alex Boese says, “The Guinness Book of World Records subsequently recorded that in April 1977 Maureen Weston, of Petersborough, Cambridgeshire, went 449 hours without sleep while participating in a rocking chair marathon.”
Thanks to Neatorama.
There’s a story from the BBC in England about a guy there who recently went without sleep for 11 days in a pub (and in view of a web cam). He claimed he did it by letting one half of his brain sleep at a time, but there’s no evidence for that since he was not monitored in any fashion.