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What happens when you stay awake for eleven days?

By Chris V. Thangham     Oct 24, 2007 in Health
If one stays awake for many days straight, what happens to the human body? Does it suffer a brain damage or do they die? This is a story of high school student stunt that turned into a scientific research on sleep deprivation.
This is the story of about sleep deprivation from Alex Boese’s book, Elephants on Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments.
This experiment (courtesy occurred on 1963, when Randy Gardner, a San Diego high school student wanted to find out what would happen to his mind and body if he stayed awake for 11 days between December 28, 1963 and January 8, 1964, a sum total of 264 hours. Two of his classmates Bruce McAllister and Joe Marciano Jr., assisted him during this experiment but didn’t stay awake like Gardner. They kept him awake and administered a series of tests. They did this experiment to submit the results for the Greater San Diego High School Science Fair.
William C. Dement, a Stanford University researcher, heard about this experiment and quickly went to monitor. The results of which became the widely cited sleep deprivation experiment in the journals.
During the first day, he awoke at 6 am and started the experiment, by the second day he started experiencing focus problems. He was handed a number of objects, but he struggled to recognize them. The third day he became moody and angry with his friends. He also had trouble repeating statements like “Peter Piper picked a peck of picked peppers”. On the fourth day he began to have hallucinations and imagined himself to be a famous football player for the San Diego Chargers.
Till then only a few sleep deprivation experiments had been done, so they were worried what will happen to Gardner’s health. One experiment was done on animals in 1894, when the Russian physician Marie de Manaceine kept her four puppies awake for four days, which couldn’t sustain any longer they died. In 1896, Drs J. Allen Gilbert and George Patrick kept an assistant professor and two instructors awake at the University of Iowa lab for ninety hours. After the second night, the professor started hallucinating, but no long term effects were observed on them.
Then, in 1959, two disc jockeys separately staged wake-a-thons to raise money for medical research. Peter Tripp of New York stayed awake for 201 hours, while Tom Rounds of Honolulu stayed awake for 260 hours. Both of them suffered hallucinations and some episodes of paranoia, but didn’t have any long term effects. Gardner wanted to beat Rounds’ record, so he set his goal for 264 hours (11 days).
Gardener after the fourth night had help from his friends who entertained him, played music, taking him and driving around in a car, played some pinball and basketball games. Also, they kept an eye on him so he won’t sleep at any time. They also didn’t use any drugs or caffeine to keep him awake.
His speech began to falter after the fifth day, he had trouble focusing his eyes, felt dizzy and plagued more by hallucinations. His parents insisted the group to take Gardner for regular checkups from the nearest hospital, a naval hospital in Balboa Park. The doctor didn’t find anything physically wrong with his body.
At 2am on January 8th, Gardner broke Rounds’ word record. After celebrating with his friends and talking to the media, he was taken away to the naval hospital for a neurological checkup and fell into a deep sleep. He slept for almost 15 hours and looked refreshed without any side effects.
But his record was broken soon after two weeks later by another student, Jim Thomas, Fresno State College, who stayed awake for 266.5 hours. The current Guinness Book of World Records stands at 449 hours held by Maureen Weston, of Petersborough, Cambridgeshire in April, 1977. No one knows how long a human body can endure without going to sleep.
Gardner’s name is etched in the records however which started the famous “sleep deprivation” study. Gardner is still alive, seems to be doing fine without any long term health effects from his experiments. He said he did that experiment only that time and didn’t try to repeat it after even for a single night.
Don’t try this at home, sleep is vital for the human body, the body cells are nourished and replenished at that time.
Have you tried remaining awake for more than a day?
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