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You are in: Cornwall > About Cornwall > About Cornwall > Sleep Deprivation Diary

Tony Wright writes an online diary.

Sleep Deprivation Diary

Imagine trying to stay awake for more than 11 days? Tony Wright from Penzance attempts to break the world sleep deprivation record set in 1964 by Randy Gardner. Read his daily diary here.

Tony Wright began his quest to break the 43 year old world sleep deprivation record at 6.00am on May 14 2007. The event is taking place at The Studio Bar in Penzance Cornwall. The current record of 264 hours (11 days) was set by 17 year old Randy Gardner in 1964 as part of a student science project in San Diego.

Tony is writing an online diary for BBC Cornwall during his world record attempt. Click back each day to find out how he is getting on.

Day 1  : Monday 14 May 2007 : 6:00am

Some last minute preparations meant that I got to sleep around 1.30 am Monday morning, awake again at around 4.30am to meet a news reporter so not exactly the kind of long lie in I had imagined.

After a rushed breakfast and a couple of interviews for the local media I presumed it would be a fairly uneventful day. However both the Studio Bar phone and my mobile number started ringing almost continuously and at times simultaneously from mid morning onwards.

Journalists, reporters, press agencies, TV and radio, at least a thousand and one questions in quick succession. I had presumed and hoped to generate some media interest by the time the event was two or three days old, I did not expect such an immediate rush. 

Suddenly staying awake seemed the least of my concerns, trying to remember who I was talking to, who was next and if it was live or recorded left me feeling more bewildered than a week without sleep. Once the rush eased off the rest of the day was spent catching up with emails and writing letters.

The evening was a mixture of live music and chatting to some of the musicians and patrons of the bar. My plans for a resident support team had not as yet materialised so from around 2.30am, just before the last of those bound for bed had left I set up 'camp' at a table directly in front the main web cam.

Amongst other things I trawled the net looking for information on the origin of the so called 'ginger gene' considered an evolutionary response to low light levels at high latitudes. It conveys amongst other things more efficient conversion of vitamin D from sunlight and a susceptibility to sunburn, more on that tomorrow.

Not the most enthralling of nights but the 24 hour mark came and went without incident. Roll on the next 14400 minutes.

Day 2  : Tuesday 15 May 2007

Another day another phone call and another and another, finally easing off as the day progressed. Two reporters and a photographer added a more human element to the media interest and in depth discussions of my research ensued between recording takes. Fifteen copies of the book I have written 'Left in the Dark', explaining research and ideas that ultimately led to my quest to break the sleep deprivation record, finally arrived.

The rest of the day past off without difficulty and once again it was dark, live music and people coming and going and late evening had turned into early night. For the first time a few noticeable waves of tiredness, the remedy? a three hour pool marathon, after the best part of fifty hours awake I won every single game! (don't ask Alex the Studio Bar owner as he may be in denial).

Morning again, two days or fifty hours completed, suddenly another nine days seems a very very long time, hats off to Randy Gardner. A quick chat to a local radio station  then being interviewed by a local newspaper.

Back to the 'ginger gene' mystery, as the gene turns out to be at least 100,000 years old it could not have evolved in the dark northern climates as modern humans had yet to leave their evolutionary home in Africa by this date. The high light and ultraviolet levels typical of the climate in Africa would have rendered its evolution unlikely and useless. One recent suggestion is that it evolved in Neanderthals and entered the modern human population via crossbreeding, more tomorrow.

Day 3  : Wednesday 16 May 2007

Well not so much to report today except of course the 70 hour blues, after all the interviews in the last couple of days my voice has started to go again so have decided to reduce any talking to minimum today.

Also have played pool for several hours each of the last two nights as a means of passing time, the standard was not so good last night and to add to my woes by morning the cumulative mileage was rubbing the skin off my feet.

Tony Wright

Sheilding his eyes from the screen

So much for whinging, well I'm not finished on top of my ailments I felt very tired on a couple of occasions and it became easy to imagine climbing into a soft warm bed and pulling the covers over my head. However, rather than giving in at the first hurdle I survived these terrible ordeals and now feel fine if a little hoarse chaffed and surreal around the edges.

Final thought on the mysterious origins of the ginger gene, it is likely to have emerged in response to a low level of light yet confers little defence against the harmful effects of sunlight. Perhaps a solution exists, tropical forests have been the evolutionary home of most primates and apes for millions of years.

On the forest floor almost all the light has been absorbed and filtered by the forest canopy, you are left with very shady environment without the direct and harmful impact of ultraviolet light. For any animal that lived some of its life high in the trees being forced to spend more time on the forest floor would have caused problems, could this have been the kind of scenario that humans ones faced. Of course it is still believed by many that we evolved on the savannah or along the coastal fringes yet the possibility that it was the forest all along that shaped our evolution is never considered.

Day 4  : Thursday 17 May 2007

Once more a journey through the long dark night of the soul loomed large, a few games of pool, the now regular midnight chat with Danny Kelly at BBC Radio Birmingham and the increasing questions from local visitors.

Would that be enough to stave off the ever-lurking presence of sleep (Deaths younger brother, according to some ancient traditions) In short it was but only just! The lure of sleep in alliance with its distant cousins Stress and Burnout. I considered throwing in the towel. I had realised that dealing with the initial and unexpected number of press enquiries and follow up interviews had taken a bit of a toll.

The very positive knock on effect was a lot more publicity than I had expected at such an early stage, good? Yes, however at 3am the alliance sowed the seeds of doubt and for a couple of hours encouraged them to grow. One of my support team kept reminding me (for a couple of hours) of the effort that had gone into getting this off the ground and although everyday we receive more and more emails of support, it was still not enough to allay the doubt and negativity and the malaise may well have continued.

Fortunately a call from Radio Cornwall shook me out of this self hypnosis and the spell was broken, no way, not until 264 hours have passed will I be tempted by the lure of an easy exit. Not long after sustainability consultant Steve Charter turned up, he is chairing the 1st ever Transition Penwith’s Sustainability and Consciousness meeting here in the Studio Bar at 6pm tomorrow. I am supposed to co host if I’m still awake and coherent so come along and check out my sleep deprived state of mind!

Day 5  : Friday 18 May 2007

Today's News ... Significant milestone 100 hours successfully passed (actually 122 hours at the time of dictation). Once more into the jaws ... not sure where I was going with that ... This entry will be short and others may be (I'm dictating this and someone else is typing it) ...

You may have heard of an NDE (Near Death Experience) or what about an OBE (Out of Body Experience), well I've just had my first couple of NSE's (no not Near Sex Experience, but the dreaded Near Sleep Experience) ... It turns out in the etiquette of sleep deprivation marathons there are a number of does and don'ts that I discovered almost to my cost. One is 'Thou Shalt Not Type Long Blogs for the BBC'; number two is 'Thou Shalt Not Redraft a Press Release'.

Apparently it is written (or probably not) that once you've passed the 100 hours mark, a great curse will be bestowed upon you when, for example, trying to write ... One's pen initially does as it's told, yet imperceptibly and without warning you find yourself staring ever more closely at the word you are writing, to the point where your nose starts resting on the paper. Simultaneously the word you began with has mysteriously transformed into an incomprehensible hieroglyph.

You also become aware of a loud ringing in your ears. This is the sound of the non-stop sleeper from Penzance coming to take you away. The results were remarkably similar despite resorting to a keyboard and screen. The flat screen starts turning into a multi-dimensional portal to another world and the text into a welcoming entourage of giggling dancing pixies and elves ... Remarkably, one's nose heads in a similar direction, and without a last-second reprieve would have come firmly to rest on the Z key.

That's the humorous way of saying I was almost caught out and from now on these great taboos in the religion of sleep deprivation will no longer be ignored. Near misses aside, everything is going well. Don't forget if you're in the Penzance area tonight at  6pm for the Consciousness meeting - see previous postings - at the Studio Bar, 40-41 Bread Street.

Day 6  : Saturday 20 May 2007

After the near sleep experience on Saturday I have been a lot more careful to avoid sleep ambushes, however it's a tricky blighter and it can jump you without warning anywhere, relax for just a mo, bang its in your head and trying to take you down. The only option is to fight it off, do not negotiate, do not appeal to its better nature and never show it any mercy or it will be back almost immediately.

Despite the ever present risk from the sleep monster today, 6 days in was the first day I began to feel really confident that the record was mine for the taking. However I could do with a little help, a few extra allies during the day and subject to prior agreement (see diary heading) at night would be great, evenings are already too busy for sleep to stand a chance though more would be better. In a rush, must keep on the move as its always just one small step behind for sleep or one big blackout for me!!!!! (hey I haven't slept for 6 days).

Day 7 : Sunday 21 May 2007

Well as the end of the sleep fast draws nigh the bloggers chores are never done, peering closely into the laptop screen when down around 150 hours of sleep is doubly Riske, aside from the new strains of NSE caused by the hypnogogic effects of a close screen encounter, the webcam seems to give an unhelpful impression of total stillness when one is merely pondering ones creative insights (or in this case lack of them).

Several emails appeared and the phone rang to point out the lack of vital signs so efforts were made to ensure my existence had not prematurely ended. While NSE has become a real headache, threatening ones laptop with a fake headbutt having hunched over  its screen and population for too long they are still a step from real sleep the killer for record adherents. Tomorrow, hopefully something of relevance!!!

Day 8 : Monday 22 May 2007

Having some real trouble with this blog stuff, its more fun writing it when sleep deprived than expected but the risks of a damaging NSE or rare and deadly fatal TSE experience is increasing in proportion (or exponebtialkky) to the number of hours I stay awake.

Every attempt to glance at the screen can end up in a nose dive and if your lucky some pathetic attempts at nonchalance when your strange acrobatic performance is the embarrassed centre of everyone's attention.

I have tried a couple of approaches, stealth -- by sneaking short sideways glances at the screen it is possible to cobble together short words though further editing can result in pre sleep deprived psychosis, Two --- Hold your ground, stare rigidly at the screen and type like hell, or at least use your best finger. This always gives the impression it will work, that is until catastrophic failure results in laptop, table and stool flying away from the operators head.

11 days without sleep in the name of research is one thing, a couple of paragraphs for a blog seemed so innocuous, however a veteran war reporter would be easy prey in this hell hole. However I'm no quitter, shaking the concussion from my last crash out of my head I grabbed my sunglasses and without hesitation looked straight into the middle of the screen. No swirling hieroglyphs, dancing pixies or sudden NSE, at last a safe screen for heavily sleep deprived bloggers.

Day 10 : Wednesday 24 May 2007

OK, I have decided to lay off the surreal references to hallucinating and stage diving laptops. During my sleepless-feast I have received many enquires as to the difficulties of my endurance, being sleepy, being the focus of attention etc

As it turns out writing while sleep deprived is easily the most difficult thing to do, for that reason I have decided I won't write anymore, so this will be my last entry.

Best Wishes Tony

last updated: 21/06/07

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