There’s a tale of a purported “Russian Sleep Experiment” that supposedly happened in the 1940s when Russian researchers kept five political prisoners awake for half a month using an experimental gas. The incident never happened. It’s a fictional account from someone’s imagination that gained a lot of notoriety on the Internet after appearing on a short story site called Creepypasta in August, 2010.
The story says that the subjects were kept in a closed environment where their oxygen intake was carefully monitored so the gas didn’t accidentally kill everybody since the gas was highly toxic.
This was before closed circuit cameras, so the only way to monitor the subjects was by using microphones connected with cables that ran through small porthole sized windows of the five-inch thick glass. Inside the chamber were books and cots to sleep on, running water and a toilet. The subjects were given enough dried food to last them through the experiment.
…and then what happened?
According to the story, everything seemed to go fine for the first five days and the prisoners didn’t complain, probably because they were told that once the test was completed, they would be freed. Their activities were monitored as well as their conversations. After about the fourth day, the researchers noted that the prisoners’ conversations seem to take on a darker tone.
By the fifth day, they began complaining about the events and circumstances that lead them to being where they were, and, according to the researchers, they began demonstrating symptoms of severe paranoia. They no longer would talk to each other and started whispering into the microphones and the portholes.
After nine days of confinement, one of the prisoners began screaming. The researchers reported that he ran the full length of the chamber back and forth yelling as loudly as he could for three solid hours. He continued trying to scream but by then his voice had been reduced to an almost imperceptible whisper and the researchers said he had probably torn his vocal cords.
Effect on Others
The other prisoners reacted most surprisingly. They continued to whisper into the microphones until a second prisoner began to scream exactly like the first. The others in the group started tearing the books apart and smeared each page with their own feces and then, calmly, pasted the pages over the glass portholes. At that point all the screaming stopped.
There were no more sounds from the room. After three additional days, the researchers carefully began examining the microphones to make sure they were working since they thought it wasn’t likely that no sounds would be coming from a room with five people inside. The oxygen measurements indicated that the five prisoners must still be alive because measurements showed there was normal oxygen consumption in the chamber. In fact, the oxygen measurements were higher than expected, indicating that the prisoners were consuming oxygen at a very high level, as if they were exercising strenuously.
On the 14th day, the researchers did something they did not plan to do originally; they used the chamber’s intercom to see if they could provoke a response from any of the prisoners. They said that they would be opening the chamber in order to test the microphones and that the prisoners needed to move away from the doors and lay on the floor. If they didn’t comply, they would be shot. However, if everyone complied; they would earn their immediate freedom.
Much to the researchers’ surprise, there was a reply from one of the prisoners saying that they no longer wanted to be set free.
The researchers opened the chamber on the 15 day and found that one of the prisoners had died and the other four were in extremely poor shape with large sections of skin and muscle torn away from their bodies. The bones of their finger tips were exposed and abdominal organs below the ribcages of all four prisoners had been removed. While the men’s heart, lungs and diaphragms were still in place, most of the skin and muscles attached to their ribs had been ripped off, exposing the lungs. The digestive tracts of all four seemed to be working but the researchers said that what the prisoners had been digesting was their own flesh that they had ripped off and eaten.
The Truth about Sleep Deprivation and Insomnia
Although this tale of a purported Russian Sleep Experiment is entirely false, it does make the disturbing point that sleep deprivation is definitely bad for you. Although you will probably not start screaming at the top of your lungs or eating your own flesh when you can’t sleep, you will become groggy, sluggish and a bit unfocused. You will also become overly emotional, somewhat clumsier than usual and quite hungry. Happily, most of the time, if you simply lay down for a good night’s sleep, all of these problems will go away.
Most adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night according to a study by the National Sleep Foundation. But when we get less than 6 hours of sleep, problems begin to occur, although not nearly as severe as those in the Russian experiment.
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One or two nights of not quite enough sleep will not put you at serious risk. However, a week of deprivation may create problems with your heart, obesity and even genetic changes that could have serious consequences.
- Heart damage
- A severe risk of stroke
- An increase in obesity
- An elevated risk of diabetes
- Memory loss
- Higher Diabetes Risk
- Increased risk of cancer
- Damaged bone structure
The stress and strain of getting too little sleep can also tell your body that it needs to produce more of the hormones and chemicals that can lead to heart disease. Some researchers today are even suggesting that sleep deprivation should be considered as serious a problem as alcohol consumption.
Play it safe. Don’t take chances with your health. Be sure to get the recommended amount of sleep every single night. You’ll be glad you did.