A Man Stayed Awake for 264 Hours, Setting a Sleep Deprivation Record

In December 1963, a pair of high school students named Randy Gardner and Bruce McAllister had an idea for their science fair project; see how long one of them could stay awake, and record any side-effects that might occur. As the above video from the Be Amazed YouTube channel details, this experiment ended up making history.

After losing a coin toss, it was determined that Gardner would be the one to go without sleep, and after two days of no sleeping, some very noticeable effects began to kick in. He would stumble over words when asked to repeat a tongue-twister, and had trouble focusing his eyes. McAllister also started falling asleep during this time, so they recruited a third team member, Joe Marciano. The study was also observed by Stanford sleep researcher Dr William Dement, and U.S. Navy medic Lieutenant Commander John J. Ross.

By day three, Ross noticed that Gardner had become uncoordinated and quite emotional, with strong mood swings beginning at around the 72-hour mark, and hallucinations occurring after five days. During the day, Gardner would stay occupied by playing basketball and pinball with his fellow students, and staying awake while the sun was up was reportedly much easier, while the nighttimes grew progressively more challenging.

Garder ultimately stayed awake for 264.4 hours, or 11 whole days. However, once beating the existing world record for longest time spent without sleep, Gardner wasn’t able to go straight to bed. First, he had to give a press conference about his experience, and then he was taken to a Naval hospital so that doctors could conduct an electroencephalogram, or EEG, and study his brainwaves. Only then was he permitted to go to bed, and he slept for a solid 14 hours.

The next morning, Gardner went to high school as per usual, and experienced no ill effects from the prolonged lack of sleep. “I went right back to the regular mode,” he said at the time. “Everything was fine. Strange, isn’t it?”

While a number of other individuals have reportedly surpassed Gardner’s time in the years since, they don’t count as “official” record-breaking feats; Guinness World Records stopped documenting these attempts, for fear that individuals would damage their own health while trying to set a new record.

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