Man Who Didn’t Sleep for a Record 264 Hours Suffered From Crippling Effects for Years After

by Neha Bansal12 months ago
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Picture Man Who Didn’t Sleep for a Record 264 Hours Suffered From Crippling Effects for Years After

Some men have a crazy penchant for performing record-breaking feats that earn them a name in the Guinness Book of Records. To do so, they go to extremes that may even endanger their lives. One such incident happened with a man who experimented with not sleeping for a record 264 hours. Although the experiment was successful, he faces severe crippling effects today, even after 50 years. Read on further to learn what this extreme stunt was all about.

A Man and his Friend had a Crazy Idea for Their Science Project

Randy Gardner
Randy Gardner. Image Credit: Professor Ross/ Youtube

Towards the end of 1963, when Americans had just started growing fond of the Beach Boys band playing on the radio and the nation had started showing interest in the Vietnam War, the high school shenanigans of two teenage boys caught the entire nation’s attention.

Randy Gardner and Bruce McAllister were on a Christmas break and seeking a brilliant idea for their science fair project. Their original idea was to see if sleeplessness could enhance paranormal abilities, but they quickly realized that such a notion lacked credibility. Instead, they settled on testing the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive abilities and basketball performance.

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They Managed the Experiment Successfully

The boys decided that one of them would stay awake and the other would monitor. After flipping a coin, it was decided that Randy would stay awake, and Bruce would monitor him.

Little did they realize that in order to monitor one, the other would have to stay awake as well. Things got out of hand when, after three nights of sleeplessness, Bruce woke up to find himself leaning against the wall and scribbling notes on the wall itself.

They decided to get another friend, Joe Marciano, on board to help them with their project. The news of their experiment reached William Dement, a sleep researcher at Stanford University. Intrigued by their idea, Dement joined the team as well. Dement was, at that time, the only person who had actually done sleep research. Randy’s parents were quite relieved to have him on board.  

The experimenters were concerned that Randy might actually die from sleep deprivation, but previous animal experiments had yielded mixed results. One study had kept cats awake for 15 days successfully, but some argued that chemicals, not a lack of sleep, were to blame.

Luckily, the teenagers didn’t use any of the trendy stimulants of the day, like Dexedrine or Benzedrine, which could have further muddied the results. Instead, they stuck to the occasional Coke-a-Cola to keep them going.

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Fast forward to January 8, 1964, and Randy Gardner, the 17-year-old, had gone 11 days and 25 minutes without a wink of sleep. The previous record holder was a radio DJ in Honolulu who managed 260 hours without dozing off. Randy had beaten that record by a good margin.

Immediate Effects on Waking Up

After staying up for a mind-boggling 264 hours, Randy finally hit the sack and slept for a whopping 14 hours straight. When he woke up, his dream state was quite high, but then it dropped back to normal quickly. And interestingly, as if everything were normal with him, he just got up and went to high school like it was just another day at school. 

But He Suffered Crippling Effects Later

After Randy broke the record for staying awake for 11 days, the results from his hospital stay were sent off to Arizona for further study. They found that his brain had been “catnapping” the whole time, with parts of it being asleep while other parts were awake. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, as humans and pre-humans have likely had to stay awake for extended periods in the past.

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Although many tried to break Randy’s record in the following years, the Guinness Book of Records stopped certifying attempts, deeming it too dangerous to people’s health. Randy himself seemed to suffer no ill effects from his feat but later reported struggling with years of insomnia.

He Regrets His Idea

Randy Gardner in his 60s
Randy Gardner in his 60s. Image Credit: guinnessworldrecords.com

Today, a little over 70, Randy regrets being part of this experiment. He is suffering from severe insomnia. Even the smallest things disturb him, and he realizes that he is awful to be around. He advises everyone not to stay up past their bedtime. The haunting effects of going 11 days without sleep are having extreme repercussions on him, even after 50 years.

According to news reports, Gardner’s record has been surpassed several times. Nonetheless, his case remains notable due to its extensive documentation. Reports suggest that accurately determining the duration of sleep deprivation is challenging without careful participant observation.

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Picture Man Who Didn’t Sleep for a Record 264 Hours Suffered From Crippling Effects for Years After
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