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Randy Gardner holds the scientifically documented record for the longest period of time a human being has intentionally gone without sleep not using stimulants of any kind. In 1964—as a 17-year-old high school student in San Diego, California—Gardner stayed awake for 264 hours (eleven days), breaking the previous record of 260 hours held by Tom Rounds of Honolulu.

Gardner's record attempt was attended by Stanford sleep researcher Dr. William C. Dement. The boy's health was monitored by Lt. Cmdr. John J. Ross. Accounts of Gardner's sleep-deprivation experience and medical response became widely known among the sleep research community.

Health effects

It is often claimed that Gardner's experiment demonstrated that extreme sleep deprivation has little effect, other than the mood changes associated with tiredness (mood swings, short temper, loss of concentration). This is primarily due to a report by researcher William Dement, who stated that on the tenth day of the experiment, Gardner had been, among other things, able to beat Dement at pinball.

However, Lt. Cmdr. John J. Ross, who monitored his health, reported serious cognitive and behavioral changes. These included moodiness, problems with concentration and short term memory, paranoia, and hallucinations. On the fourth day he had a delusion that he was Paul Lowe winning the Rose Bowl, and that a street sign was a person. On the eleventh day, when he was asked to subtract seven repeatedly, starting with 100, he stopped at 65. When asked why he had stopped, he replied that he had forgotten what he was doing.

On his final day, Gardner presided over a press conference where he spoke without slurring or stumbling his words and in general appeared to be in excellent health. "I wanted to prove that bad things didn't happen if you went without sleep," said Gardner. "I thought, 'I can break that (Peter Tripp's 1959) record and I don't think it would be a negative experience.'"


Gardner's sleep recovery was instrumented by sleep researchers who noted changes in sleep structure during postdeprivation recovery. After completing his record, Gardner slept 14 hours and 40 minutes, awoke naturally around 10:00 p.m., stayed awake 24 hours, then slept a normal eight hours.

Subsequent record information

According to news reports, Gardner's record has been broken a number of times. Some of these cases are described below for comparison. Gardner's case still stands out, however, because it is so extensively documented. It is difficult to determine the accuracy of a sleep deprivation period unless the participant is carefully observed to detect short microsleeps, which the participant might not even notice. Also, records for voluntary sleep deprivation are no longer kept by Guinness World Records for fear that participants will suffer ill effects.

Some sources report that Gardner's record was broken two weeks later by another student, Jim Thomas of Fresno State Collegemarker, who stayed awake for 266.5 hours; and state that the Guinness World Records record is 449 hours (18 days, 17 hours) by Maureen Weston, of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire in April, 1977, in a rocking-chair marathon. Presumably because of their policy against maintaining this record, recent editions of Guinness do not provide confirmation of this.

More recently, Tony Wright on May 25, 2007 was reported to have exceeded Randy Gardner's feat in the apparent belief that Gardner's record had not been beaten. He used 24-hour video for documentation.

According to the Australian National Sleep Research Project, the record for sleep deprivation is 18 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes. However, few details are available for this claim.

See also


  1. Sleep Deprivation, Psychosis and Mental Efficiency, Stanley Coren Ph.D., March 1998, Vol. XV, Issue 3
  2. Eleven days awake, Extract from "Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments," by Alex Boese.
  3. Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments, Alex Boese, ISBN 0156031353, Harvest Books, 5 Nov 2007
  4. Neurological Findings After Prolonged Sleep Deprivation, Ross J. (1965), Archives of Neurology 12:399-403.
  5. The Nature of Sleep and its Impact on Health, Ben Best, life-extensionist homepage, undated article
  6. Sleeping In, David Goldenberg, Gelf Magazine, 31 May 2006
  7. Psychiatric and EEG observations on a case of prolonged (26477 hours) wakefulness, G. Gulevich et al., Arch Gen Psychiatry, Vol. 15, Issue 1, 29-35, 1 July 1966
  8. Sleep Patterns Following 205 Hours of Sleep Deprivation, Anthony Kales et al., Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol 32, No. 2, March-April 1970
  9., no author, undated, unsourced
  10. Man claims new sleepless record, BBC, unattributed author, 25 May 2007
  11. What happens when you stay awake for eleven days?, pseudonymous contributor, Digital Journal, October 2007
  12. Guinness World Records 2004, Guinness World Records Ltd, 2003; no reference to sleep deprivation or wakefulness is found in the index.
  13. 40 Facts About Sleep You Probably Didn't Know, The National Sleep Research Project, undated, site © Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2000

Further reading

  • The Sleepwatchers, William C. Dement, Nychthemeron Press, 1996, ISBN 978-0964933804
  • "How long can humans stay awake?", Scientific American, 25 Mar 2002

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