An interesting article in the NYT about the effects of long term sleep deprivation, told through the lens of attention seeking radio DJs.
A night of missed sleep isn’t going to kill you, even if it feels like it will. But the consequences of going for prolonged periods without sleep are poorly understood even now. The two psychologists who monitored Tripp tried to talk him out of it, but they were also clearly pleased at the research opportunity his stunt presented. Tripp, by all accounts, wasn’t worried.
Maybe he should have been. In photographs taken at the beginning of the wake-a-thon, Tripp appears confident, relaxed. Everyone’s eyes are on him, which is exactly what he wanted. After the second day, the sly grin has been replaced with a glum, nervous expression. By day five Tripp looks haggard, haunted and slightly crazed.
He was crazed, too, and not just slightly. While Tripp somehow managed to keep it together during broadcasts, off the air he was experiencing wild hallucinations. He saw mice and kittens scampering around the makeshift studio. He was convinced that his shoes were full of spiders. He thought a desk drawer was on fire. When a man in a dark overcoat showed up, Tripp imagined him to be an undertaker and ran terrified into the street. He had to be dragged back inside.
I have periodic insomnia, and it’s not fun times. But sometimes sleep deprivation is entertaining. In college I would regularly pull all-nighters, and then crash during the early afternoon. There’s a feeling around noon time the next day that kicks in. Something about having seen too much, and just being overwhelmed. Usually that’s followed, for me, by becoming incredibly giddy. The world and everyone in it seems like some delightfully absurdist farce. That feeling alone is almost worth all the work that goes into all-nighters. Doing something stupid like that is fun in your early 20’s. But like drunk visits to late night diners and Sundays in a library, it looses its luster pretty fast.