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The Boy Who Stayed Awake for 11 Days

Randy Gardner and Bruce McAllister needed an idea for a science fair project. They had heard about a man who'd just set a world record for staying awake, and decided they would beat it. The idea was to study the effects of sleep deprivation, whatever they were. A coin toss decided that Gardner would be the subject of the experiment, which was done over the Christmas 1963 school break. The story made the newspapers and drew the attention of Stanford University sleep researcher Dr. William Dement, who came to Gardiner's home to observe. That was a relief to the 17-year-old's parents, who were worried about their son's health and safety.

As all this was happening, attention from the media began to gain momentum and for a brief time the boys’ experiment became the third most written-about story in the American national press – after the assassination of John F Kennedy and a visit by The Beatles.

However, it was portrayed as a prank, in the same bracket as “telephone booth stuffing and goldfish swallowing”, according to McAllister. The students were very serious about it and pushed through. Eventually after 264 hours of no sleep, the world record was broken and the experiment was over.

Randy Gardner's world record still stands, mainly because Guinness no longer accepts record attempts due to the possible danger. Gardner's physical and cognitive functioning were tested throughout the experiment, and afterward he was sent to a naval hospital to have his brain scanned and his recovery documented. Read what they found in the boy who stayed awake for 11 days at BBC Future. -via Digg

(Image credit: Flickr user Don Johnson)

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