I can’t think of any good reason why anyone would voluntarily not go to sleep and be deprived of the joy that comes from taking naps. But then again, people have done some extreme things to set a world record and Randy Gardner is one of them.
In 1963, the American teenager set the world record for being the first human to go without sleep for 11 days and 25 minutes (talk about all the missed opportunities of sleep) Since then, there have been a number of claims by different people of beating the record which include Finland’s Toimi Soini and UK’s Maureen Weston and Tony Wright but none of those cases were observed properly to justify the authenticity of the claims. Gardner’s record was observed by the infamous “father of sleep science” William Dement himself so there wasn’t any room for ambiguities.
Lack of sleep can have adverse effects on human beings from irritability, cognitive rigidity to high blood pressure, memory losses, and even hallucinations. In adverse cases, people who have the rare hereditary disease called fatal familial insomnia and are unable to sleep, can die within three months. We all know how drained out we feel after pulling an all-nighter for studying and that’s just going without sleep for 8 or 12 hours. Imagine staying awake for consecutive 264 hours without taking any stimulant drug to shake off the sleep and having people around you distracting and yelling at you from falling asleep. Yeah, that doesn’t sound very soothing at all…But that’s exactly what Gardner had to go through to set the record and as Dement noted that Gardner experienced many of the side-effects that came from lack of sleep including impairment of his cognitive and sensory abilities and of course lots and lots of irritability (we don’t blame him). After the experiment, Gardner slept for 14 hours straight before waking up to use the bathroom. Hopefully, he was able to sleep some more after that because he deserved it.
While Gardner’s record is the longest anyone has attempted to go without sleep, scientists still don’t know the exact number of hours a human can survive without getting any sleep as our brain goes into ‘microsleep mode’, sleeping for mere seconds even with your eyes open and if it’s possible to die trying.