Saturday 5 April 2014

Sleep Deprivation

A while ago I came across a short but extremely disturbing video discussing an experiment supposedly carried out in Russia in the late 1940’s. A group of five political prisoners were promised freedom in exchange for taking part. They were placed inside a hermetically sealed chamber in which the air they breathed was controlled to include a stimulant gas that prevented them from sleeping. The chamber was well stocked with food, drink and equipped with toilet facilities as well as books to read to pass the time, which was planned for thirty days. For the first few days the test subjects behaved normally, prevented from feeling drowsy by the gas. Then the psychological symptoms of sleep deprivation began to take effect and they started to become paranoid and delusional; they stopped speaking to each other and acted strangely when conversing with the scientists outside the chamber through the intercom. On the ninth day one of the men started running up and down the chamber screaming at the top of his voice until he became hoarse. Then the others did the same. Normal toiletry practice broke down and they began urinating and voiding their bowels everywhere. They ripped pages out of their books and plastered them over the observation window on the chamber; this also meant that the experimenters could no longer see their charges because there was no CCTV in those days. After that all five men went completely silent, however measurements of the air coming out of the chamber showed that they were all still alive and breathing normally, deeply even as if they were undergoing intense exertion. On the fifteenth day the scientists decided to terminate the experiment prematurely and used the intercom to announce to the prisoners that they would shortly be opening the chamber. To their surprise a calm voice replied: “We no longer wish to be freed.” At midnight at the end of the day the air supply to the chamber was flushed of the stimulant gas in preparation for breaking the seal on the chamber. Immediately the voices inside began pleading for the gas to be switched back on. When the chamber was opened a horrific sight met the eyes of the researchers. One of the subjects was dead and the other four had been cannibalizing his body; their food rations had not been touched for over five days. The floor was covered in water and blood because the drain had been blocked by some of the dead man’s flesh. The surviving prisoners had also been eating parts of their own body. They’d even removed some of their own internal organs, which somehow continued to work outside the body. The subjects all displayed superhuman strength and fought desperately to prevent themselves being removed from the chamber; they begged to be left inside and the supply of stimulant gas to be restored. They were simply terrified of falling asleep. In the process of being restrained and removed another of the prisoners died and the three remaining ones were taken to the hospital where surgeons attempted to replace their organs in their bodies. They were all immune to the sedatives given to them and it took far more anaesthetic than usual to put one of them under; he died. The last three men told the doctors that they’d prefer them to operate without anaesthetic; anything was better than going back to sleep again. The doctor in charge of the surgery stated that is was medically impossible for any of these men still to be alive. At the end of the operation the scientists agreed to give the prisoners the stimulant gas again; at this point they stopped struggling and appeared relived; “We must stay awake!” they said. One of the researchers asked one of the men why they wanted so badly to remain in forced wakefulness and feared sleep, a natural process that everybody does, so dreadfully. “What are you!?” he demanded. The man answered: “Have you forgotten so easily? We are you. We are the madness that lurks within you all, begging to be free at every moment in your deepest animal mind. We are what you hide from in your beds every night. We are what you sedate into silence and paralysis when you go to the nocturnal haven where we cannot tread.” The researcher then shot the subjects dead. Source:
The HPANWO-reader will doubtless be relieved to know that this story is probably untrue. The source document for the video just ends with “author unknown”. Sure, in the Soviet Union under Stalin some despicable acts were carried out in the name of scientific progress, but there’s no evidence that this experiment was one of them. However, this concocted fable does bring up the subject of sleep and sleep deprivation. What happens to us if we don’t sleep when we should? Most people know what it’s like to lose a small amount of their sleep quota, staying up all night at a party or when they’re ill etc. In the morning you’ll no doubt feel very drowsy and keep yawning. You’ll probably find yourself dozing if you sit down etc. Some of you may have lost more than a single night’s sleep in a row, perhaps from work duties in the military or as a doctor. I myself did occasionally due to my shift schedule at the hospital. I found it caused very strange symptoms. I became more than just sleepy, I felt I was entering an altered state of consciousness. I found myself hearing voices calling my name and I saw faces jumping out at me from patterns on the walls and floor, or in running water. These hallucinations resemble the psychoactive states that can be induced through some drugs and some shamanic practices involve ordeals of continuous wakefulness or physical exhaustion. Is there really a subconscious or superconscious part of our minds which can be accessed from changes in our brains when we withhold sleep from it? If so then I hope sincerely it is not some demonic monster lurking inside us that the dubious Russian story above describes. Unlikely, but still I think any sleep deprivation experiment should be conducted responsibly and with caution. There are health risks associated with lack of sleep such as confusion, mania, malaise, irritability and paranoia. Never try to drive when you’ve not had enough sleep. Some people voluntarily stay awake competitively to break endurance records. The Guinness Book of Records no longer lists these endeavours because of the health hazards involved, but people still engage in them privately. It requires a massive amount of willpower to stay awake for extended periods. As Menachem Begin said, a former Israeli prime minister who was once tortured through sleep deprivation by Soviet intelligence: “I had one sole desire: to sleep. Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.” The all-time record was recently broken by a Cornishman Tony Wright, one that has stood unchallenged since 1964. In 2007 he remained awake non-stop in observed conditions for 266 hours, eleven and a half days, beating the previous official record by two hours, see: What’s interesting is that Tony’s method involved a special diet that he says allowed each hemisphere of his brain to sleep separately, taking it in turns. This is something whales and dolphins do naturally, but Tony had trained his human brain to do it too. See here for background on the way the left and right brain work, see: Tony is a researcher into this subject and has written a book; here’s his official site: 

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