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When sleep deprivation becomes great enough, the effects mimic those of psychosis. The failure of the scientific world to recognize this is due to some extent to the folklore that has grown up around the sleepless marathon of high school student Randy Gardner in 1964.
To gain an entry into the Guiness Book of World Records, he remained awake for 264 hours (11 days). Summaries of this case usually report that Gardner suffered no hallucinations, no paranoia or other negative mood changes, and that his mental, motor and sensory abilities were quite good throughout the entire episode. This conclusion is so widespread that it has now become a stock "fact" presented in virtually any psychology or psychiatry book that has a chapter on sleep.
This conclusion seems to be based on two items of information. The first was the observation that there were no obvious lasting physical or mental problems encountered by Gardner when he began to sleep again. The second was based upon observations of researcher William Dement (Dement, 1992), who interviewed Gardner on Day 10 of the experiment. He reported that he took Gardner to a restaurant and then played pinball with him, noting that Gardner played the game well and even won. Lt. Cmdr. John J. Ross of the U.S. Navy Medical Neuropsychiatric Research Unit in San Diego, who was called in by Gardner's worried parents to monitor his condition, tells a quite different story (Ross, 1965). Gardner's symptoms that Ross reported included: