Two first-year students stayed awake for 72 hours to see if they would have crazy hallucinations and hear voices. Suzanne Ma recounts their final hour.
It’s 9:15 a.m. on Saturday morning. Robin Poon takes off his glasses and rubs his bloodshot eyes — they haven’t rested for 71 hours.
His best friend Jamieson Child sits across from him slouched in his chair in their Pitman Hall rooms, idly doodling in a lined-paper booklet. Both are struggling to stay awake for just one more hour.
Since Wednesday morning, Child and Poon have been depriving themselves of sleep because they heard a theory that after 72 hours without rest a person can be labelled “clinically insane.”
“We wanted to change things up,’ explains Child, a first-year film studies student. “Our goal was to do something we wouldn’t normally do, and something other people couldn’t do.”
The topic of being “clinically insane” is widely discussed on the Internet, but a surgical resident at the University of Toronto says “clinically insane” isn’t even a medial term.
According to the resident, a psychiatric disorder has to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist.
“Someone can stimulate symptoms that may emulate certain psychiatric disorders, but detailed criteria need to be met in order for that to happen,” says the 25-year old resident, who must remain anonymous according to Canadian Medical Association rules.
While clinical insanity isn’t a condition that can be diagnosed, those who are sleep-deprived may suffer serious consequences including loss of concentration, memory impairment, slurred speech and slower reaction time.
Poon and Child say they are determined to experience the effects of sleep deprivation for themselves, but are disappointed they have yet to experience any hallucinations.
Still, Poon says he has developed canker sores in his mouth and a cluster of pimples on his forehead since he began refraining from sleeping.
“I feel like more should have happened… unfortunately we are getting close to the deadline,” Poon says. “I was thinking to push it for another 24 hours, but it probably won’t happen.”
Now in the home stretch, the boys are a little disappointed and are questioning whether their experiment was worthwhile.
“I don’t know if it was worth it, Child says. “I haven’t had any real illusions. I was expecting to experience something really crazy. I wanted to go insane, hear voices and be more dysfunctional.”
With five minutes to 10 a.m., Poon and Child began debating their next challenge.
“I’m thinking maybe I can go 96 hours or 100 hours,” says Poon. “It would be a dream.”