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The Russian sleep experiment is a creepypasta, an online horror story that went viral in 2010. The gory tale details a sleep experiment run in 1947 by Soviet Union scientists to uncover the effects of forced elongated sleep deprivation in humans.
According to the post, five political prisoners in old Russia were subjected to a 30-day sleeplessness experiment. They were locked in an observation chamber, and an unknown gaseous stimulant was pumped in, which kept the men awake. And even if the subjects wanted to sleep, they could only try sleeping on the floor, which would have been strenuous.
The experiment progressed as planned for the first few days as the subjects didn’t get any sleep. However, things turned eerie on the fifth day, when the inmates became paranoid and stopped chatting. And as the experiment progressed to the ninth day, some of the subjects started screaming at a very high pitch for a while, and then they sorted to absolute silence.
After days of no communication, the worried researchers had to shut off the stimulant gas and open the chamber on Day 15, but to their shock, they found that one of the subjects had died while the others had inflicted self-harm. Yet, the inmates begged profusely to continue with the experiment because they couldn’t afford to fall asleep or they’d die. Ultimately, the researchers had to put the subjects down and shut off the experiments, as the inmates no longer behaved like normal humans.
Did the Russian Sleep Experiment happen?
Fact check! The Russian sleep experiment did not happen. Instead, the story is an urban legend whose source is a user named OrangeSoda on a dark website called Creepypasta Wiki (1).
Also, some of the details in the story never panned out. For example, no gas is known to scientists as a super stimulant that prevents people from falling asleep. Neither has self-annihilation ever been reported as a consequence of sleep deprivation.
Who has attempted sleep deprivation like the Russian sleep experiment?
Unlike the Russian sleep experiment where the subjects were stimulated and made not to sleep, some people have voluntarily attempted going days without any shut-eye. And sometimes, people lose sleep due to mishaps like having to sleep with broken ribs.
Interestingly, until 1964, the Guinness world records tracked people who went days without using any stimulant. The last record was 17-year-old Randy Gardner, who stayed awake for 264.4 hours, about 11 days and 25 minutes (2). Staggering, but Randy didn’t experience any side effects outside the ordinary.
Possible consequences of a real Russian sleep experiment
What happens if someone attempts to deprive themselves of sleep without using stimulants? It would be challenging to lose sleep for 30 days straight. Even people with serious health challenges find a way to get the rest. Like having to sleep with intercostal muscle strain or sleeping with a fractured pelvis, people always find the easiest way to power down.
From scientific findings, a person who denies themselves sleep for an extended period would likely face drained energy, slower cognitive function, high anxiety, hallucinations, increased blood pressure, and mood swings.
This is how the body reacts when it is severely sleep deprived:
- Loss of motivation. A depleted energy level is one of the first side effects of not getting enough sleep. It ultimately shows in the daily activities as a lack of motivation to get things done. This is usually a result of a lack of focus (3) which accompanies disturbed sleeping patterns. Interestingly, a distraught night’s rest from an uncomfortable position like sleeping without a pillow can also result in depleted energy levels.
- Slower reaction/decision making. Slower reaction time and decision-making is an offshoot of lacking focus that comes with completely shutting off sleep time. Some of the records of long wake time also document increased difficulty with memory, to the extent of finding it harder to construct proper sentences (2).
- Increased stress. Stress, anxiety, and irritability are inevitable when the mind isn’t as active as it should be. Eventually, when someone doesn’t have enough zzzs, they struggle to get things done and in time and would become increasingly difficult to work with.
- Paranoia and hallucinations. A commonly reported aftermath of avoiding sleep for too long is that the subjects start hallucinating or daydreaming. When someone starts seeing things that aren’t there, it’s only natural that they start acting paranoid as well.
- Higher blood pressure. Sleep studies have established a correlation between sleeplessness and high blood pressure (4). That shows how pulling off an actual Russian sleep experiment without the alleged stimulant could pose serious health risks.
Ordinarily, getting quality sleep is already tricky with health problems. One should not add hypertension to the broth by starving oneself of sleep. You can learn more about managing sleep and health challenges from our piece on how to sleep after meniscus surgery.
Is the Russian sleep experiment true?
No, the Russian sleep experiment is not true, as the story is based on an urban legend originating from a creepypasta website. However, the morbid tale was intentionally set in a historical time and used believable characters to boost its acceptability.
How many days of sleep deprivation was the Russian sleep experiment?
The Russian sleep experiment was scheduled for 30 days of sleep deprivation powered by an air-borne stimulant, but the events in the story only lasted 15 days before they shut it down.
Did you believe the Russian sleep experiment when you first heard about it? Well, some credit to the author for such a well-written plot. But, for one, there’s been no discovery of a sleep-hindering gas, and the known effects of sleep deprivation are not near as gory as depicted by the urban myth.
That’s not to say that elongated sleeplessness is to be toyed with. Lack of quality sleep has been linked with decreased productivity, increased anxiety, paranoia, and high blood pressure, which pose severe health threats in the long run.
What do you think of the Russian sleep experiment? Do you find it believable or just plain scary? Talk to us in the comments below.
- Millican, Josh. (April 6, 2020). "Video: The Infographics Show Explores THE RUSSIAN SLEEP EXPERIMENT." Dread Central. Retrieved from https://www.dreadcentral.com/news/323397/video-the-infographics-show-explores-the-russian-sleep-experiment/
- Graham Lawton. (April 14, 2010). Randy Gardner, the 17-year-old schoolboy who didn't sleep for 11 days. Health. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627562-100-randy-gardner-the-17-year-old-schoolboy-who-didnt-sleep-for-11-days/
- Miller C., Robertson D., et al. (April 22, 2019). Tired and lack focus? Insomnia increases distractibility. Journal of Health Psychology. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1359105319842927?journalCode=hpqa
- Wang Y., Mei H., et al. (Sept 15, 2015). Relationship between Duration of Sleep and Hypertension in Adults: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4543249/