Have you ever pulled an all-nighter to study for a test or get a project done for work? How about doing it 11 days in a row?
A man in Cornwall, England actually went 11 consecutive days without a wink of sleep. On May 24, 2007, Tony Wright, a 42-year-old horticulturalist, claimed to have beaten the record of 264 hours (exactly 11 days) set in 1964 by 17-year-old American Randy Gardner. Wright had some practice: he had already been through more than 100 sleep deprivation experiments, the longest one lasting eight days. He also employed a unique raw-food diet. Wright claims that his regimen of salads, avocados, bananas, pineapples, nuts, seeds, carrot juice and herbal tea helped his brain stay awake. He also says that it allowed him to "switch" from one side of his brain to the other when he got tired. (Whales and dolphins are known to employ similar brain-switching techniques, which allow one part of their brain to rest while the other focuses on breathing and other basic functions.)
In order to chronicle his attempt, Wright confined himself to a live-music venue called Studio Bar in Penzance, Cornwall, and allowed a Webcam to monitor him the entire time. He also kept a blog for the BBC, though he stopped blogging on the tenth day because he found it too difficult to write coherently. The public visited Wright at the Studio Bar or kept track of him through his Webcam.
Though it's believed that Wright broke Randy Gardner's sleep deprivation record, the Guinness Book of World Records no longer acknowledges sleep deprivation attempts because it feels that they're too dangerous. Some have also claimed that Gardner's record had already been broken by Toimi Soni of Finland, who went 276 hours without sleep, and that the record was in the Guinness Book until they removed the category entirely in 1989 [source: The Times].
The health risks of prolonged sleeplessness are potentially severe. After five days, Wright wrote in his blog that he saw "giggling dancing pixies and elves" in place of the text on his computer screen [source: BBC]. He had difficulty understanding the speech of others and developed blisters on his feet, although those were due to long sessions of playing pool with various friends and visitors. However, after 11 days, Wright told reporters, "I do not feel tired yet. There is a bit of adrenaline pumping around" [source: The Scotsman].