The official world record for the longest time a person has been awake as part of a controlled experiment is held by the Californian Randy Gardner. The then 17-year-old student managed to stay awake from December 28, 1963 to January 8, 1964. To be precise, 264.4 hours – or eleven full days and 24 minutes. During this time he not only suffered from physical impairments, but also from massive disorders of his cognitive abilities. At the end of the experiment, Randy was barely able to act.
The body switches off at some point
After how many hours of sleep deprivation which symptoms set in cannot be answered across the board. Especially when it comes to sleep deprivation of more than 48 hours, the fluctuations are very individual. Paranoid tendencies, impaired perception, attention and memory disorders do occur, but occur to different degrees from person to person. In addition, there are physical symptoms such as an increase in inflammation, the weakening of the immune system and loss of temperature control.
That is why extreme sleep deprivation is not seen as a direct cause of death. Danger to life comes from the consequences. “We actually die due to the breakdown of the immune system,” says Dr. Weeß, “Bacterial infections occur which can subsequently be fatal.” At some point the body is so weakened that it can no longer fight infections and gives up.
The Guinness Book of Records has also recognized that such experiments are not necessarily ethically justifiable. For several years now, it has refrained from setting sleep deprivation records due to the potential health risks. Randy Garner will therefore forever remain the official record holder. Even if someone else has been awake for a long time.