How Long We Can Go Without Sleep

Mina Amer

Sleep is a state where we become disengaged from our surrounding. Many scientific studies proved that sleep is essential for memory, learning, decision-making, and overall health.

In 1959, a radio personality named Peter Tripp stayed awake for 201 hours. Many scientists were monitoring Tripp to make sure that he does not fall asleep, and although he did not die because of that, other things happened to him.

He first experienced fatigue and tiredness but later displayed emotional and behavioral problems. He started to act differently and was unable to concentrate, but that was not all of it, because he started to hallucinate. The hallucinations were visual; seeing mice and kittens all over his studio, and he was certain that his shoes were full of spiders. He later started to think that he was an imposter of himself, which reflects an identity distortion. When the ‘challenge’ was over, Tripp slept for 13 hours and woke up without significant problems. Tripp’s 201 hours were record-breaking at the time, until Randy Gardner stepped in the game.

Randy Gardner, who was still in high school, stayed awake for 264 hours. He also experienced fatigue and paranoia. He could not concentrate or perform simple tasks, but he seemed to cope better than Peter Tripp. After finishing his challenge, he slept for 14 hours and had no long-term problems. Some sources claim that this record has been beaten.

The above two cases indicate that sleep is indeed critical for normal life functioning. The reason why Tripp and Gardner overslept after finishing their challenges is because of a physiological process known as REM rebound, where the duration of deep sleep increases following sleep deprivation. It is like our bodies are reclaiming something that was taken from them!

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