Sleep deprivation studies


These are interesting in their own right, but from a practical point of view can be used:

·         As evidence for the restoration theory of sleep

·         In an essay on the methods used in the study of sleep

·         As an example of disruption of biological rhythms

 Total sleep deprivation


These studies tend to be carried out on student participants at various universities, for example Loughborough and Edinburgh in the UK.  There are also the two infamous cases of sleep deprivation for the purposes of charity and notoriety in the Guinness book of records.

Case studies

Peter Tripp spent 201 hours and 10 minutes awake, much of it sitting in a glass booth in Times Square, spinning records and bantering into his microphone three hours a day.

When Mr. Tripp began to fall asleep, nurses shook him; doctors joked with him, played games with him and gave him tests to take. After a few days, he began to hallucinate, seeing cobwebs, mice, kittens; looking through drawers for money that wasn't there; insisting that a technician had dropped a hot electrode into his shoe.

His last 66 hours awake were spent under the influence of drugs administered by the doctors and scientists observing him. Asked at the end of his stunt what he wanted the most, Mr. Tripp said, not surprisingly, that he wanted to sleep, which he then did for 13 hours and 13 minutes.

Mr. Tripp's career was indelibly tarnished by the 1960 payola scandal, in which he and several other disc jockeys and radio station employees were indicted on charges of accepting money from record companies in exchange for playing their records.  Tripp later blamed his involvement, at least in part, to his sleep deprivation.

Randy Gardner (1965) stayed awake for a record breaking 11 nights as part of a school science project!!!.  He reported blurred vision, slurred speech, mild paranoia in which he began to believe that the researchers watching him thought he was stupid.  When Randy was allowed to sleep he did so for 14 hours and 40 minutes on the first night and two hours longer than usual on the next two nights.  So, despite losing about 90 hours sleep he only made up about 11.  However, he did catch up on a disproportionate amount of his lost stage 4 (68%) and REM sleep (53%) suggesting that these are the vital stages.  There were estimated to be 67 hours of sleep that he did not make up. Despite his exploits he suffered no long term consequences.


It is difficult to generalise to the general population with case studies like this that by definition have a very small sample size, particularly with such different findings between studies.   Most research since has backed this up.  Greatest impairment appears to be in boring tasks and those requiring close attention.  Sleep deprived radar operators in the war would miss enemy planes appearing on the screen.  Tired car and lorry drivers may have accidents following a few seconds of micro sleep in


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