Maxed out: How long can you go without sleep?
By Graham Lawton On 28 December 1963, Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old schoolboy in San Diego, California, got up at 6 am feeling wide awake and raring to go. He didn’t go back to sleep again until the morning of 8 January 1964. That’s 11 days without sleep. Gardner’s 264 hours remains the longest scientifically verified period without sleep, breaking the previous record of 260 hours. It was described in a 1965 paper by sleep researcher William Dement of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, who stayed awake with Gardner for the final three days. Gardner experienced mood swings, memory and attention lapses, loss of coordination, slurred speech and hallucinations, but was otherwise fine. His first sleep after those 11 days lasted just 14 hours. According to Dement, Gardner did not consume any stimulants during his “wakeathon”. He did, however, have people around him keeping him awake. Without such help you would be fighting hard to stay awake after 36 hours, and would find the urge to sleep near-irrepressible by 48. But you’d probably be snatching subtle bursts of sleep even before you finally went to bed: sleep-deprived people slip in and out of “microsleeps” – seconds of sleep that occur without you noticing them, often with your eyes open. Microsleeps aside, how long could Gardner have gone on for? Nobody knows for sure, but we do know that sleep deprivation is eventually fatal. Rats that are kept awake die after two weeks, less time than it takes them to starve to death. There are no records of a human having been intentionally kept awake long enough to kill them,