[FOUNTAIN]Sleepless in SeoulThomas Edison, the king of inventions, is often blamed for taking sleep away from the people today. He slept four hours a day and despised sleepyheads. He said that those who slept more than eight hours a day might as well sleep 24 hours. As a curse on those who like to sleep, he invented the tungsten light bulb. Until he introduced the light bulb in 1913, people used to sleep an average of nine-and-a-half-hours a day. Today, people sleep eight hours on average. Mr. Edison’s invention has taken away an hour and a half of sleep a day, a total of 547 hours of rest a year.
Edison is not the only sleep thief. One of the accomplices is “insomnia syndrome,” which associates sleeplessness with diligence and will. Students often live by the motto “Sleep four hours and get into the college of your choice, or sleep five hours and fail.” Since the liberation of the country from colonial rule, countless students have stayed up late at night to study. The ubiquitous legends of sleepless heroes from Napoleon to Winston Churchill have also taken sleep from us.
So how long can a person stay awake without falling asleep? Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old high school student, took the challenge. His aim was to stay up for 11 days, or 264 hours.
Lieutenant Commander John Ross of the U.S. Navy Medical Neuropsychiatric Research Unit in San Diego monitored the entire sleepless marathon.
Day 2: Randy had difficulty focusing his eyes and gave up watching television.
Day 4: He became increasingly depressed, irritated and uncooperative. At 3 a.m., he had a hallucination. He imagined he was a famous black football player.
Day 11: His face became expressionless and he slurred. He could not count numbers well and could not remember what he had done just a while ago.
The experiment conducted in early January 1964 became a legend in the study of sleep deprivation. Mr. Gardener is still recorded as the person who stayed awake for the longest period of time. Extreme sleeplessness can lead to death. According to an experiment by French scientist Marie de Manaceine, adult dogs deprived of sleep died after 13 days. Puppies were less tolerant of sleeplessness and died after six days.
A candidate running for Seoul City mayor went canvassing for 72 hours straight without sleeping. She might have been desperate enough to stay up three nights, but I hope she has a good night of sleep tonight.
“The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep,” said legendary American comedian W.C. Fields.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.