The Guinness World Record for the longest time stayed awake was (and still is) 11 days.

We guess you’re probably a nerd. Smart! You’re that stereotypical intelligent guy who knows a bunch of cool stuff, loves to read, and with that occasional insomnia attacks at night. Sorry! But if you plan on staying awake to win a Guinness World Record. Spoiler alert: the Guinness World Records does not accept entries for longest period kept awake. That’s because its really dangerous to stay awake for so long. They tried it once, and what happened to the current record holder is the very reason they stopped taking submissions. Dear friends, meet Randy Gardner.

You Snooze, You Lose

In December 1963, Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old boy with the assistance of two of his friends, Bruce McAllister and Joe Marciano, wanted to pull off a project that was sure to win the science fair — he wanted to beat the world record for most days without sleep. Feeling dizzy? There was this debate back then: how long could a person go without sleeping. That sounds like a really silly deal, but yes, that was what’s at stake. Many people even thought that a lack of sleep could immediately result into a fatality. That’s right if you think so, but they had to give it a try.

Image: Guinness World Records | Randy Gardner keeping track of the numbers of hours he’s stayed awake

There was this high-profile experiment Gardner and his friends performed on cats to keep them awake for 15 days straight, and let’s just say that it didn’t end well for any of the cats. Many years later, McAllister confessed to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that that particularly cruel study failed to take into account the fact that the cats weren’t just kept awake — they were kept awake with stimulants that could have been wreaking havoc on their internal systems. How weird!

The Experts Vigilantism

Image: Guinness World Records | from left to right Bruce McAllister, Randy Gardner, Dr. William Dement, and Joe Marciano

The three friends, Gardner, McAllister, and Marciano, were ever determined to win that science fair at all cost, and were willing to risk their lives to do so. The experiment became something of a national sensation in the United States; and as a matter of fact, for a brief moment in American history, it was the third most written about story in the American press, after the assassination of President Kennedy and the Beatles’ historic trip to the United States.

Unsurprisingly, the three friends gained much attention from the general public so much that a bonafide sleep researcher, Dr William Dement, heard about their experiment, so he came along to lend the boys his expertise. At long last, Gardner managed to stay awake for 264.4 hours — that’s nearly 11 days and 25 minutes. All that while, Dement and his co-conspirators kept close watch on Gardner, tracking exactly how his mind was doing with a series of cognitive and sensory tests.

And after two days of vigilance, Gardner began having problems with his speech, he was not able to repeat simple tongue-twisters, and also had problems with his sensory ability of identifying objects around him. His senses seemed to have heighten, and he became sensitive to strong smells at some point.

Image: Guinness World Record | McAllister making Gardner smell something as Marciano watches

“Don’t make me smell that, I can’t stand the smell,” he told McAllister.

Finally, he started hallucinating (if you thought so) around the fifth day, soon enough, he started having problems remembering any short-term memories. But for all that he suffered during his ordeal, not everything went into decline. His friends finally had to engaged him with some physical activities to keep him awake, and his basketball skills actually improved over the course of that sleepless week and a half.

The Sleeplessness Aftermath

Image: Guinness World Records | Gardner’s face after 11 days without sleep as Dr Dement assesses him

So what happened after the experiment? A couple of things really happened. First, the good news: Gardner together with his friends, McAllister and Marciano, won first place in that science fair, and had his achievement immortalized in the Guinness Book of World records, and, of course, he finally got some sleep. As a matter of fact, about 14 hours of sleep. So you see, a couple of weeks without sleep makes you too weak (pun intended).

But here’s the bad news: As the years went by, Gardner began to lament that stupid experiment. By the late 2000s, he began experiencing that occasional insomnia attacks on a nightly basis. Uncertainly, we cannot say, but he’s convinced the reason was due to his teenage stunt. He later suffered a recurring inability to sleep for quite some years until finally settling into a more reliable routine. Today, Gardner only enjoys about 6 hours of sleep per night.

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Written byNana Kwadwo, Fri, Mar 01, 2019.


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