Randy Gardner sleep deprivation experiment

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Randy Gardner
OccupationRecord holder
Known forLongest time without sleep

Randy Gardner (born c. 1946) is an American man from San Diego, California, who once held the record for the longest amount of time a human has gone without sleep. In December 1963/January 1964, 17-year-old Gardner stayed awake for 11 days and 24 minutes (264.4 hours), breaking the previous record of 260 hours held by Tom Rounds.[1][2] Gardner’s record was then broken multiple times until 1997, when Guinness World Records ceased accepting new attempts for safety reasons.[3] At that point, the record was held by Robert McDonald at 18 days and 21 hours (453 hours and 40 minutes).

Gardner's record attempt was attended by Stanford sleep researcher Dr. William C. Dement, while his health was monitored by Lt. Cmdr. John J. Ross.[1] A log was kept by two of Gardner's classmates from Point Loma High School, Bruce McAllister and Joe Marciano Jr.[4] Accounts of Gardner's sleep-deprivation experience and medical response became widely known among the sleep research community.[5][6][7]

Health effects[edit]

It has been claimed that Gardner's experiment demonstrated that extreme sleep deprivation has little effect, other than the mood changes associated with tiredness,[8] 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 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. After that they conducted another experiment asking questions about himself and he proceeded to get his age and race wrong, claiming he was African American.[1]

On his final day, Gardner presided over a press conference where he 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 record and I don't think it would be a negative experience.'"[8][9]


Gardner's sleep recovery was observed by sleep researchers who noted changes in sleep structure during post-deprivation recovery.[10][11] After completing his record, Gardner slept for 14 hours and 46 minutes, awoke naturally around 8:40 p.m., and stayed awake until about 7:30 p.m. the next day, when he slept an additional ten and a half hours. Gardner appeared to have fully recovered from his loss of sleep, with follow up sleep recordings taken one, six, and ten weeks after the fact showing no significant differences. However, Gardner later reported experiencing serious insomnia decades after his sleep experiment.[12]

Subsequent record information[edit]

According to news reports, Gardner's record has been broken as described below for comparison. Gardner's case still stands out, however, because it has been 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.[13]

Some sources report that Gardner's record was broken a month later by Toimi Soini, in Hamina, Finland, who stayed awake for 11+12 days, or 276 hours from February 5–15, 1964.[14] The Guinness World Records record was set by Maureen Weston, of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, UK, on May 2, 1977, after presumably staying awake for 449 hours during a rocking-chair marathon.[15] Because of the policy against maintaining this record, recent editions of Guinness do not provide any information about sleep deprivation.[16]

More recently, Tony Wright on May 25, 2007, was reported to have exceeded Randy Gardner's feat[13] in the apparent belief that Gardner's record had not been beaten. He used 24-hour video for documentation.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Coren, Stanley (1 March 2000). "Sleep Deprivation, Psychosis and Mental Efficiency". Psychiatric Times. 15 (3). Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  2. ^ Keating, Sarah. "The boy who stayed awake for 11 days". www.bbc.com.
  3. ^ https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2023/1/whats-the-limit-to-how-long-a-human-can-stay-awake-733188
  4. ^ Phil McHahan (1964). George P. Hunt (ed.). "No Sleep for 11 Days". LIFE. Vol. 56, no. 7. pp. 71–72.
  5. ^ Eleven days awake, Extract from "Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments," by Alex Boese. Archived November 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments, Alex Boese, ISBN 0-15-603135-3, Harvest Books, 5 Nov 2007
  7. ^ Neurological Findings After Prolonged Sleep Deprivation, Ross J. (1965), Archives of Neurology 12:399-403.
  8. ^ a b The Nature of Sleep and its Impact on Health, Ben Best, life-extensionist homepage, undated article
  9. ^ Sleeping In, David Goldenberg, Gelf Magazine, 31 May 2006
  10. ^ Psychiatric and EEG observations on a case of prolonged (264 hours) wakefulness, G. Gulevich et al., Arch Gen Psychiatry, Vol. 15, Issue 1, 29-35, 1 July 1966
  11. ^ Anthony Kales; et al. (March–April 1970). "Sleep Patterns Following 205 Hours of Sleep Deprivation" (PDF). Psychosomatic Medicine. 32 (2).
  12. ^ "Eleven Days Without Sleep: The Haunting Effects Of A Record-Breaking Stunt". www.wbur.org. 6 November 2017.
  13. ^ a b c "Man claims new sleepless record". BBC. 25 May 2007.
  14. ^ "11 days awake - but is it record?". The Guardian. May 26, 2007.
  15. ^ McWhirter, Norris; McWhirter, Alan Ross (1978). Guinness book of world records, 1978. New York: Bantam Books. p. 52. ISBN 9780553112559.
  16. ^ Guinness World Records 2004, Guinness World Records Ltd, 2003; no reference to sleep deprivation or wakefulness is found in the index.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]