Infamous ‘Russian Sleep Experiment’ Looks Like a Horror Movie Plot

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Especially if you haven’t slept much lately, you might be wondering how long you can go on like this. How long exactly could you stay awake without cracking up from sleep deprivation? Some people say there has been an exaggerated experience for this. Experts are quick to demystify it.

The Russian Sleep Experiment is a popular urban myth that began circulating online in “creepypasta” forums (so named for the ease with which you can copy and paste creepy content) in the early 2010s. But this legend deeply disturbing could it have had roots in the facts?

The story goes that Soviet-era scientists created a stimulant they believed would keep soldiers from needing sleep for up to 30 days. They decided to test their new gas on five prisoners, promising them their freedom at the end of the experiment. They locked the five men in a hermetically sealed room and started pumping the gas. Within days, the men were showing the kind of paranoia and psychosis that is a typical symptom of sleep deprivation. But over time, they started acting even weirder.

15 days after the start of the experiment, when the scientists could no longer see the men through the thick glass of the chamber, nor hear them through the microphones, they filled the room with fresh air and unlocked it. . There they discovered that one of the men was dead and that the four surviving test subjects all bore horrifically violent injuries, some of which appeared to be self-inflicted.

Attempts to put the men to sleep either failed or resulted in their death the moment they lost consciousness. Finally, when one of the researchers asked what exactly became of these men, the last surviving test subject told him that they represented the potential for evil that exists in all human beings, which is usually contained by sleep, but who had been freed by their constant vigilance. Scary stuff.

Are any of the Russian sleep experiments actually true?

Based on a video byThe Infographic Channel on YouTube, which provides animated summaries of events from history, current affairs and literature, the Russian sleep experiment almost certainly has its basis in fiction. For one, there’s the fact that the only original source for the story appears to be a website dedicated to telling (made-up) scary stories. But even the science does not stand up.

Experts are also quick to refute this myth. There is no scientific basis proving that gas (or any other substance, for that matter) can keep a person awake for 30 days, says Po-Chang Hsu, MD, internal medicine physician and medical content expert at SleepingOcean. . “Some medications and high doses of caffeine can get you a few days without turning a blind eye, but 30 is impossible,” he says.

Additionally, this experience is unlikely due to the effect of sleep deprivation on the brain, says Dr. Hsu.

“Even after a few days, a person may start having hallucinations, which would make it extremely difficult for them to perform simple daily actions, let alone military missions that require extreme concentration,” he says.

So how long can someone really stay awake?

The current documented world record for staying awake is just over 11 days, which was achieved by Randy Gardner in 1963. Gardner experienced severe behavioral and cognitive changes during those 11 days (even though he wanted prove that nothing bad would happen when a person is not sleeping), says Dr. Hsu. He also experienced mood swings, memory problems, severe difficulty concentrating, paranoia and hallucinations.

Although there is some truth to claims that amphetamines have been used to keep soldiers alert in times of historical warfare, there is no scientific evidence for the existence of a gas that could keep anyone awake for 15 days. And studies have shown that after just 48 hours without sleep, people tend to become slower, disoriented, prone to making mistakes, and ultimately less effective as a soldier.

“Since the brain can’t function properly after being sleep deprived for 11 days, it’s safe to assume that things would get worse if one tried to stay awake longer,” he says. “Therefore, these soldiers would have been useless even if they had miraculously managed not to sleep for 30 days.”

Still, whoever came up with the story of the Russian sleep experiment in the first place deserves points for creative writing…if not for medical accuracy.

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Andrea G. Henderson