The Longest Time Spent Without Sleep

Sleep deprived woman

Sleep deprivation or the lack of an adequate amount of sleep can be problematic if a continued on a regular basis. Sleep is a required action that humans must make time for in order to retain normal cognitive functioning. Without sleep, even simple tasks such subtraction would become difficult. So how long has someone stayed awake for in one sitting?

The record was set by Randy Gardner in 1964. Randy Gardner a High School student of Point Loma High School in San Diego, California stayed awake for 264.4 hours (11 days 25 minutes). The event was attended by Dr. William C. Dement, a sleep researcher from Stanford. Dr.Dement helped to monitor Randy throughout the process to continually asses his health.

Negative Health Effects

Overall there were no lasting proven health side effects as a result of Randy’s record-setting sleep deprivation. Although this assessment should be taken with a grain of salt since the sample size for Dr. Dement’s conclusion were only Randy. A sample size of one.

In fact, long term studies have shown that sleeping for less than 5 ½ hours a night regularly have causes increased rates of cardiovascular disease.

The short term side effects only occurred during the course of the study. Among them were trouble with concentration, hallucinations, paranoia, and impaired long-term memory. After the first two days, Randy was unable to pronounce simple tongue twisters. And when asked to determine objects by the sense of touch he couldn’t identify them. Furthermore, his sense of smell seemed to become more sensitive, as he regularly complained of strong smells that were almost unbearable to him. It was recorded that on day five the first hallucinations occurred.

Physical activity was a means of keeping Randy awake, playing basketball and participating in other sports during the week and a half wasn’t an unusual occurrence. Surprisingly, his basketball skills seemed to improve during the course of the study.

On the eleventh day of the study, Randy was unable to subtract 7 from 100 continually. Stopping at 65, and when asked to continue Randy had forgotten about the task completely. However on the very same day, while remaining awake for eleven days prior Randy was able to deliver a press conference without much error.

Recovering From The Study

Upon completion of the study, Randy slept until the following day, a total of 14 hours and 40 minutes. Staying awake for approximately 10 hours, and then sleeping for another 10 ½ hours. Randy passed several physical and psychological examinations with flying colors, showing that the sleep deprivation had not had any long term side-effects. In the weeks following the experiment, Randy continued to pass health screenings.

Sixty Years Later

When interviewed sixty years after the recording-setting sleep deprivation study Randy paints a different story of the long-term side-effects he’s experienced. He reported having insomnia occurring on a nightly basis in the late 2000s. This lasted him for several years until he started a more rigid sleep routine. He’s convinced that his participation in the study has caused his insomnia. And even after recovering from the fits of insomnia Randy has reported that he’s only able to sleep a maximum of 6 hours per night. However, his account is considered anecdotal evidence as there is no hard data linking his teenage stunt and being able to sleep in old age.

The Record That Will Never Be “Officially” Broken

The record that will never be broken, not because it’s impossible, but because the Guinness World Records refuses to update it. They have officially stopped recording records for sleep deprivation because they believe it to be too dangerous to challenge people to potentially cause long-term lasting effects, or even die during the attempt. Coupled with the fact that subsequent participants would have to undergo observations in order to check for microsleep. Microsleep is a phenomenon occurring tired individuals lasting from fractions of a second up to a full 30 seconds. Microsleep, even though it occurs for an almost insignificant amount of time would technically count as sleep, voiding the attempt.

This isn’t the first time Guinness has retired a world record. Some other retired records included gluttony, in which a man named the “world’s greatest trencherman” continually ingested upwards of 25,000 calories of food per day. Which roughly equates to eating 10x the recommended daily caloric intake of an adult male. Guinness has also taken a hard stance on animal abuse, which is why records involving the heaviest pet, and controversial animal sports have been blacklisted. Another dangerous record that has been removed involves dangerous activities including the fastest time to circumnavigate the globe (Fastest Time Around the World). They even go as far as to ban records that could have a negative effect on the environment, such as releasing 15,185 sky lanterns, which causes pollution.

Unofficial Records

Since Guinness no longer recognizes attempts for the sleep deprivation record, Randy has been the standing record holder since 1964, but that doesn’t mean no one has actually broken his record. In fact, Randy record only survived for a month before it was broken by Toimi Soini, in Hamina, Finland who stayed awake for 11 ½ days (approximately 276 hours). And then in 1977, Maureen Weston (U.K.) stayed up for a grand total for 18 days, shattering the two previous records by almost a week. Even though Maureen was featured in the 1977 edition Guinness Book of World Records it is still believed that Randy is the official record holder due to the relaxed monitoring of microsleeps. In more recent attempts, Tony Wright setup up a 24-hour video camera recording himself stay awake for 266 hours but Guinness refused to record the record based on their stance that the record proved to be too dangerous for the participants. Furthermore,  the Australian National Sleep Research Project claims that the longest time a participant has stayed awake is 18 days and 21 hours. But this claim is unsubstantiated, and the record was never officially recorded as a result.

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