A Boy Stayed Awake for 11 Days For A School Project… And Then The Hallucinations Started
by Ashley Dreiling
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you stopped sleeping?
What happens to the mind and body if you stay awake for as long as possible?
Would you die?
Two teen boys decided to find out in a 1963 science project, setting a Guinness World Record and unwittingly making a significant contribution to sleep research.
Randy Gardner and Bruce McAllister decided they would study the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive and physical abilities for a school science project. Then 16-year-old Randy became the experiment’s subject and the boys began preparations.
As luck would have it, a local newspaper did a story on the boys’ study, catching the attention of Stanford sleep researcher Dr. William C. Dement, who agreed to supervise the experiment at the request of Randy’s parents.
The rules were simple. The team would keep Randy awake by having him play pinball and basketball. He was required to talk to the team while he used the restroom for fear he would try to take a toilet nap.
At first, Randy didn’t exhibit any significant cognitive or physical issues, but things changed quickly.
On day four he was experiencing memory lapses and delusions.
“I hallucinated that I was this famous black football player, Paul Lowe, from the San Diego Chargers,” Randy reported later in Esquire. “My friends thought that was hilarious, cause I weighed like 130 pounds.”
Things deteriorated rapidly over the next few days. Randy’s memory lapsed and his speech slowed and began to slur. Somehow, in his sleep-deprived state, the boy was still able to play ping pong.
By the final day, Randy was expressionless and required constant prompting to answer questions, which he finally did in a slurred monotone. Cognitive tests were useless, and Randy was allowed to sleep, waking healthy as a Guinness World Record holder.
The study found that the brain will take “catnaps,” parts of the cortex neurons will switch off, in response to sleep deprivation, which was confirmed during laboratory experiments with rats.
Luckily Randy didn’t die or report any lasting long-term health issues due to staying awake. However, the Guinness Book of Records has since stopped publishing sleep deprivation attempts. After all, just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.