Canyon Echoes

What Happens If You Don’t Sleep for A Week? (The Story of Randy Gardner)

Oliver Barnfield, Resident Pop Culture Writer

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Have you ever stayed up all night looking at your phone or playing video games and wondered what it would be like if you never slept? Well, one particular teen in 1964 wanted to test this and didn’t sleep for 11 days, all in the name of SCIENCE! This is the strange but entirely true tale of Randy Gardner.

Randy Gardner and his two friends Bruce McAllister and Joe Marciano were high school students in San Diego who were looking for the grand prize at the school science fair. And they determined. They set up an experiment, one that would test the limits of the human body and mind.

It was a dangerous idea, and one that could even end in death. Similar experiments on kittens had ended in death for the test subjects, so who knew what the effect on humans could be? Well, Gardner and his friends were determined to figure it out, being young and naive.

Before the experiment began it caught the attention of sleep scientist William C. Dement. He was interested in the fact that the boys weren’t using stimulants to stay awake for their experiment. Indeed, Randy’s period of sleeplessness would be entirely natural and he would have to stay awake without the aid of any anti-sleeping pills. Dement agreed to aid in the experiment.

When the experiment began, Randy wasn’t doing too bad. He seemed upbeat and amiable, and the experiment was going off without a hitch. They bowled and played basketball to keep him awake. But as the night hours began to seep in his caretakers began to tire as well. Marciano and McAllister took turns on shift to make sure Gardner didn’t fall asleep, but they grew bored as well.

At night there was nothing to do and Gardner’s health began to deteriorate. He began to have delusions and hallucinations. For a time Gardner seemed to believe that he was a professional Rose Bowl football player. He lost his sense of touch and for a time lost the focus on his eyes.

On the final day, the 11th, he was asked to subtract 7 from 100 repeatedly. He stopped at 65 and promptly forgot what he was doing.

At last, the experiment had finished at 264.4 hours (11 days 25 minutes). Randy slept for 15 hours and suffered from chronic insomnia for the months following the experiment, but besides that he had no ill effects.

Gardner’s record was broken many times after this, but Gardner’s case was quite unique in that it was so closely monitored by the press.

So that’s the story of Randy Gardner and his strange case. It might be forgotten today, but I find it fascinating nonetheless.


About the Writer
Oliver Barnfield, Cool Guy/Entertainment Editor

Oliver is a Canyon Echoes veteran who currently works as Entertainment Editor, and he also directs and stars in The Opinionist, Canyon Echoes 1st video...

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