Let aside for days, if one is deprived of sleep even for 17 hours then one’s concentration, muscle energy, judgement, cognitive ability etc would reduce to a level that of a person under influence of alcohol. This condition is very common in present times, for which we should “blame” the inventor of light bulb, Thomas Edison. Before the invention of light bulb average person slept for 9 hours, whereas today owing to numerous factors like television, internet, 24×7 work culture etc, average person sleeps for about 7.5 hours.
Below are couple of examples of how deprivation of sleep can sometimes lead to grave consequences –
1) In 1986, at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Russia the experts conducting some important testing post-midnight were not in their best state because of their day-centric biological clock. As a result, due to their negligible inattention the nuclear plant exploded. A perfectly alert person would not have committed such an error.
2) In 1989, near the coast of Alaska state north of the US a giant oil vessel named Exxon Valdez was sailing. There was only one person operating it from the control room and he was on duty for over eighteen hours straight. Because of long stretch of wakefulness his concentration was wavering. As a result the giant vessel met with an accident and 40 million liters of oil was spilled over the ocean. For environmental harm as well as for negligence the vessel’s owner company had to pay 5.29 billion dollars in penalty.
Looking at the above two examples where hours of sleep deprivation caused gigantic disasters, one would find it hard to believe that the world record of wakefulness is in days. The record is official and unbroken for over fifty years. In the decade of 1960’s a 17-year-old youngster named Randy Gardner spent 11 days staying awake. He started the marathon by waking up at 6 AM on December 28, 1963 and went back to sleep not before January 8, 1964, going without sleep for 264 hours.