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The Russian Sleep Experiment of the 1940s

Watch this video first. It’s just fascinating. For people with an imagination and who tend to be gullible, you might find this experiment to be feasible. Of course, it was not.  For one thing, a gas that fully occupied an enclosed chamber would have suffocated the prisoners by significantly decreasing oxygen levels. For another, since the prisoners were supposedly so psychotic after several days of incarceration, no one would have been able to utter the words “we no longer wish to be freed,” on the 15th day of the experiment.  In reality, by the 9th day of sleep deprivation, people can only speak maxresdefaultin fragments; they can begin but not end sentences. The experiment was a hoax and for some reason was released to the world as if it was real. It reminds me of the radio broadcast an adaptation of H.G. Welles’ epic novel War of the Worlds in the 1950s by Orson Welles (no relation). The radio station, CBS, deliberately aired the story as if a Martian invasion was truly taking place. It was rumoured that the reading caused mass panic, although this has been disputed, with critics arguing that relatively few people listened to the show.

The fake photograph of the prisoner in the Russian Sleep Experiment has obviously been altered. No one has a mandible and teeth the size of this ghoul. And it’s unlikely anyone could have become so emaciated from a lack of food within only 2 weeks. In reality, sleep deprivation experiments haven’t been conducted past 11 days due to extreme side effects. It is assumed that death occurs after the 11th day, suggesting that if the experiment had been legitimate, most of the prisoners wouldn’t have survived to day 15.

gardner-record-340x345The longest recorded self-imposed sleep deprivation was a science experiment by seventeen-year-old Randy Gardner in 1965. He managed to stay awake for 11 days (264 hours) without the use of stimulant drugs. By the 11th day, he had  hallucinated and experienced stupor, but somehow, he was able to suppress these symptoms while presiding over a press conference on the final day. He certainly didn’t rip out his own flesh or try to eat himself. He wasn’t violent towards the people who helped keep him awake. On the last day of the experiment when Gardner finally slept, he awoke after sleeping for about 14 hours, and said that he felt fine.

If you wish to make an argument in favour of the sleep experiment, you could state that the bizarre behaviours the prisoners exhibited were plausible because they were affected by the noxious gas in the chamber. However the experiment claimed the prisoners became raving lunatics due to a lack of sleep, not the effect of the mysterious gas. The Russian Sleep Experiment is an urban legend that has survived for so many decades because it seems to fall within the sphere of human possibility. Many people suffer from extreme, unrelenting insomnia; others from the sleep disorder narcolepsy. It is from these two disorders that we allow for the unlikely validity of the sleep experiment.

2 thoughts on “The Russian Sleep Experiment of the 1940s

  1. I found your corner of the interwebs googling Larry Swartz/Bitzel/Usilton after having read an article by his ‘sister’, now I’m reading back through your recent stuff (I’m liking it!)
    Had to comment on this one – have you heard of Fatal Familial Insomnia? Truth is creepier than creepypasta! (Though I have to admit… I *may* have been enjoying myself a bit of scare-immersion with TRSE. Chills. Then – they fuckered it at the end in that ‘I’m bored with writing this now gotta finish blahblahblah THE END’ way.)

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