Insomniac Ukrainian

Here's another example of why Ananova is so widely known as a credible source for news. The title of this latest journalistic gem: Ukrainian hasn't slept in 20 years. The article describes Fyodor Nesterchuk who just stays up reading while everybody else sleeps. The local doctor claims he has "examined Nesterchuk extensively" and can't find anything wrong with him, except for the fact that the guy never sleeps. Although I don't believe for a second that this guy has really gone for twenty years without even taking a nap, I have read articles speculating that in the future scientists might be able to eliminate, at a genetic level, our need for sleep. There's an interesting science-fiction novel, Beggars in Spain, that explores this concept.


Posted on Wed Jan 26, 2005


If I didn't sleep for 20 years I wouldn't be a Happy Slapper, I would simply be Slap Happy! Not to mention completely insane.
Posted by Myst  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  12:19 AM
It just occurred to me that this guy is the exact opposite of Rip Van Winkle.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  12:23 AM
There was a movie made in the 80's that had a girl in it who never slept. I forget the title of the movie, but it was set at a college and most of the students were genuises. Anyone remember this? I was told at the time that there are a few people in the world who never sleep, and it's some kind of condition. I don't know if this is true. Just thought I'd bring it up.
Posted by thephrog  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  01:40 AM
Gee, if this guy never sleeps, then with the extra wake time he has, he could invent a gizmo that allows you to see through walls! Right? I mean, what if he claimed to do just that and Ananova reported it? Well then, we'd all just have to believe it, right? Even if there was absolutely NO proof whatsoever that the thing actually worked. After all, there are a lot of big companies that would love to come up with a machine like that AND he has no formal scientific training. So that proves that he actually did it in some way that makes no logical sense.

Besides, I heard something about something like this on an all-night radio show that usually has UFO abductees on and they wouldn't change their format unless they were REALLY REALLY sure that he really had invented it, right? I rest my case.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  02:13 AM
In theory, then, he has 'lived' roughly one-third longer than the rest of us, although I can't imagine that he's had much fun. Wasn't there an urban legend about Keith Richard, of the Rolling Stones, purposefully staying awake for a month, or something?
Posted by Ashley Pomeroy  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  04:09 AM
"There was a movie made in the 80's that had a girl in it who never slept. I forget the title of the movie, but it was set at a college and most of the students were genuises. Anyone remember this?" - thephrog
I believe that the movie you're referring to is "Real Genius." Val Kilmer played Chris Knight (a genius with lasers), and the girl to whom you're referring was named Jordan (played by Michelle Meyrink who really hasn't done anything else much since then).
No, I'm not that much of a geek. I just like IMDB.
Posted by Nymph  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  05:42 AM
I'll admit it, I am a geek. I fell in love with Jordan and watched the movie over and over again just for her.

Oh, and the six-inch spike joke. Beautiful.

You may now return to topic.
Posted by Charybdis  in  Hell  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  08:03 AM
I don't believe this. I just read an article (too early to recall which of my 10 subscriptions it was in) about a family who has a hereditary genetic disease that keeps them from sleeping. (not everyone has it, depends on how the carriers bear children with) But in their situation, everyone who has the defective gene eventually dies because their body is denied the daily "recharging".
I believe in the disorder of not being able to sleep exists but medically, this guy should be dead.
Posted by Commongrdca  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  08:15 AM
i've actually heard of a few rare cases where people who DO sleep eventually die, even with 'daily "recharging"'
Posted by Nick  in  Merrie Olde Englande  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  09:32 AM
I stayed up for a week once, but that was drug related. Sleep deprivation certainly takes quite the toll on your body (with or without drugs), including visual and audio hallucinations, loss of equilibrium and motor skills, and most cognitive ability. I'm sure it's pretty much impossible to interact with anyone who's been up for 10 days or more, let alone 20 years.

Also, I love Real Genius, and have watched it again times this week, but Jordan didn't sleep? That must have been some quick line in the beginning, because I certainly don't remember it. Did remember the guy in the closet though...
Posted by Lothar Ignatius  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  10:01 AM
"i've actually heard of a few rare cases where people who DO sleep eventually die, even with 'daily "recharging"'"

Posted by Matt  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  10:54 AM
I haven't had GOOD night's sleep for almost 20 years. Does that count?
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  01:36 PM
All stories about insomnia remind me of the novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude," in which the town of Macondo is hit by a plague of insomnia which lasts for years. Eventually the people get so groggy they can't remember the names of anything, so they start putting signs on everything: "This is a chair. You can sit on it." "This is a cow. Milk her every morning and evening." Believe me, I can relate.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  01:40 PM
After decades of serious medical research that began during the Korean War, the U.S.Army did a field test during the 1980's of the effects on soldiers and their leaders of sleep deprivation during exercises simulating anticipated wartime operations. Thousands of we troops in W.Germany participated in relatively uncontrolled tests with reportable results. I'm not sure how long this series of evaluations went on, but early results revealed, and further tests unanimously concluded a surprising result. While previous medical research for the Defense Department had concentrated on the effects of sleep deprivation on combat soldiers, the universal conclusion of these field evaluations showed that it was the tactical LEADERS who succumbed to the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation first, and most profoundly! After all, if you're a 45 year old Colonel who hasn't slept in 72 hours, can't focus on your mission, start making unwise decisions, and issuing stupid orders, you're going to have a much greater effect on the possible outcome of your unit's immediate mission, let alone the potential loss of lives among your soldiers, than anything stupid a few dazed grunts could do.
Posted by stork  in  the spiracles of space  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  06:45 PM
I once read somewhere that a person will die from lack of sleep before they die from lack of food. But I can't seem to find that anywhere now.

I did find something interesting, though: apparently the Nazis did TSD (total sleep deprivation) experiments on concentration camp prisoners, and came up with 264 hours; after that time elapses with no sleep, you die of exhaustion. (You can be sure that they tested this over and over and over...plenty of available subjects, sadly.)

That's eleven days.

Now, if you're reading this and thinking you want to try to stay up for eleven days and see if you die, go ahead; you won't make it. There's literally no way to stop yourself from sleeping that long--you'll simply pass out, then wake up and be dissapointed that your experiment was a failure. You see, the Nazi test subjects had lots of help from the researchers in staying awake (along the lines of electric shocks, I'm assuming).

So I totally call bullcrap on that article.

I do remember a pretty good issue of 'Batman' from the mid-nineties where a woman was kept awake indefinitely because it put her in an extreme state of suggestability, and turned into an assassin. But of course, they somehow made her a very GOOD assassin. I would think she'd be falling over and tripping and dropping her knife and not remembering to look both ways before crossing the street a lot.
Posted by Barghest  on  Thu Jan 27, 2005  at  11:11 PM
X-Files episode: Sleepless. Part of the brain or brain stem was removed, idea being that a sleep-deprived soldier is a more effective fighting machine. Lack of sleep causes them to lose their fear, make them agressive killers. Problem is, there was no way to reverse it, and the Vietnam soldiers used as test subjects hadn't slept in 24 years. They didn't look too good, either.
Though it's just a TV show, I don't doubt our government is using us and our soldiers as guinea pigs without our knowledge, let alone consent. LSD was used in experiments on soldiers during world war one, and on men in prison. Nuclear 'medicine' was practiced on soldiers, and others. Without permission, without knowledge of the effects radiation has on the body. Well, at least they weren't testing on bunnies...
Posted by catlady  on  Fri Jan 28, 2005  at  08:39 AM
"...experiments on concentration camp prisoners, and came up with 264 hours; after that time elapses with no sleep, you die of exhaustion."

This was a pretty lousy experiment, because surely those test subjects were already pretty well exhausted, poorly fed, sick, cold, etc. before the experiment started. So we still don't know (and I hope not to find out) how long somebody can live without sleeping if he/she is healthy and well-rested at the beginning. This is one of the reasons that those Nazi experiments were not only ethically unspeakable, but bad science as well, and didn't really yield much worthwhile data.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Fri Jan 28, 2005  at  09:57 AM
Barghest: After staying up only one or two nights, I've found it extremely difficult to find my own feet, let alone hunt down and kill some VIP somewhere. So you're right: I believe sleep deprivation might destroy someone's resistance and judgment to the point of making her a willing assassin, but not a capable assassin.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Fri Jan 28, 2005  at  10:02 AM
catlady: You have the wrong war. LSD didn't exist during World War I. I seem to remember that it was invented (in Switzerland?) sometime in the 1930s.
The experiments you cite did take place, but they were in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Fri Jan 28, 2005  at  10:05 AM
>>>This was a pretty lousy experiment, because surely those test subjects were already pretty well exhausted, poorly fed, sick, cold, etc. before the experiment started....This is one of the reasons that those Nazi experiments were not only ethically unspeakable, but bad science as well, and didn't really yield much worthwhile data.<<<

That's a very reasonable assumption to make, but not necessarily a true one. Nazi scientists were given carte blanche in many cases to treat their subjects however they wanted; Mengele was known for treating his 'children' very well, giving them plenty of food, rest, and new clothing, before plucking their eyes out or irradiating their genitalia. So it's possible that in this specific study, the prisoners were treated well and made healthy before the experiment began. Unless we can find reliable documentation of the specific experiments, we can't be sure.

But why use Nazi scientist data at all? Because if we can learn something from the suffering of the victims, and we don't, then they died in vain.

Unfortunately, in this case, I can't find a single thing about Nazi TSD experiments other than an assurance that they happened, so it's a dead end.

Here's a much more scientifically valid source:

Note that this appears to be where the eleven-days number came from:

>>>The easy experimental answer to this question is 264 hours (about 11 days). In 1965, Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old high school student, set this apparent world-record for a science fair.<<<

And apparently Randy didn't die from it, either. So it looks like that first data I put up was bunk. Sorry about that everyone.
Posted by Barghest  on  Fri Jan 28, 2005  at  08:09 PM
Every time someone tries for the World's Record for staying away, usually for some charity, there are attending doctors to monitor the individual. After a few days, five or six I think, the individual begins going into a delusional state and having psycotic attacks of various sorts. In other words, staying awake for more than a couple days can drive you CRAZY. The individuals recover their sanity once they have caught up on sleep, I have never heard of any of these people going insane and having to be treated but I imagine that if you kept at it long enough, serious damage would happen. And as far as people who "recharge" still dying, just remember that everyone who ate carrots in 1873 is dead. Coincidence? Pass the beans please.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Sat Jan 29, 2005  at  01:20 PM
I too read an article on that family. Aparently 25% of the family eventually gets the disease and dies around their 20's or 30's. The disease has never been seen in anyone other than their family. A family member with the disease one day just doesn't feel tired and is unable to sleep. Eventually they just die because their body won't let them sleep. Studies on this family are probably the best guess at how long a person can go without sleep before they die of exhaustion. Aparently, the members of this family who have not died suffer from stress related disorders. It makes sense. I'm sure every night when they are just having a little bout of insomnia they must panic that they will never sleep again.

Personally, my longest was about 55 hours during traveling back from a trip from germany. I was standing in a line at the detroit airport during my 6 hour layover and i was trying to read the big letters on my ticket that said "Detroit" and I couldn't read it. Then everything went black and I just dropped. I was ok, I just slept in the 4-5 hours to san diego and then another 10 when i got home and I was back to normal.
Posted by Razela  in  Chicago, IL  on  Sun Jan 30, 2005  at  12:06 PM
I seem to remember reading about some stupid prank a DJ did to stay up as long as possible, and it was about 11 days before he passed out. My boyfriend sleeps very little--3-4 hours a night, and he's still smarter than me. After I go about 18 hours without sleep, I start to get completely incoherant. 😛

Last I heard, the jury's still out on exactly WHY we need to sleep. It was previously believed to be a time for the brain to rest, but the brain remains active--more active than it is during some of our waking hours (watching tv, for example)--so that can't be right. Your body can be refreshed/refueled while you are still awake, as well.
Posted by James D  on  Sun Jan 30, 2005  at  02:18 PM
Fatal Insomia

Fatal Familial Insomia is the disease you were referring to.

There is another type of Fatal Insomnia that is caused by Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Sounds horrible either way. *shudder*
Posted by Lane_Meyer  on  Mon Jan 31, 2005  at  06:15 PM
Hey... "Lane Meyer" was the name of John Cusack's character in the film "Better Off Dead". I love that flick.
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Mon Jan 31, 2005  at  06:22 PM
Regarding sleep: My husband has sleep apnea. When he was finally tested they found he was never really reaching REM sleep. The sleep specialist we went to for the diagnosis told Erik that if he hadn't come in to be treated, the doctor felt he would have had a stroke by age 30. (He was 26 when diagnosed and now sleeps with a CPAP machine.) So, if according to the Dr. Erik would have had a stroke, I really don't see how it is possible that people could survive for so long without sleep.
Posted by Winona  on  Thu Feb 03, 2005  at  08:04 AM
That's odd. I fall asleep within minutes of listening to REM. Shiny, Nappy People, indeed
Posted by Hairy Houdini  on  Thu Feb 03, 2005  at  08:25 AM
Eleven days? I've stayed up for 27 days on only water and a mixture of amphetamine, methamphetamine and opium. It was a great time and I have yet to beat my 27 day record, but I'm very determined.

By the way, ever since this month-long adventure with no sleep I have been unable to fall asleep soundly at night. I suffer from horrible insomnia and am lucky to fall asleep at all..Most of the time I end up staying up so late that I just force myself to stay awake since it's already so close to morning..

But when I do manage to fall asleep, I sleep for a VERY long time. I missed Sunday completely because of this problem ;(

I slept for probably 22 of the 25 hours I was in bed. I woke up and found it almost impossible to get myself out of bed, if I didn't crawl to my back-pack and grab that Ephedrine I'd probably still be in bed.
Posted by xun  on  Mon Feb 14, 2005  at  10:08 AM
MY BS detector just broek off of that comment xun
Posted by JJmires  on  Mon May 09, 2005  at  02:03 PM
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