5 Weird Sleep Experiments That You Won't Believe!

The Science of Sleep has made the most significant strides in recent decades, most of the research performed only occurring in the 20th century. For many years, humankind has not really been able to understand exactly why we need sleep, but many experiments have proven that if we don't get it, both mind and body shut down very quickly. Many theories developed over the years, giving us insights into the mind and whether these weird experiments were successes or failures, there is always something to learn!


Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

One of the first sleep experiments ever performed was in 1894 by a Russian physician named Maria Manaseina who used four puppies to study the effects of sleep deprivation. She kept all four awake though constant walking and handling, just to see what would happen. Well, they died. The first perished after 96 hours, the last, after 143. So she decided to try the experiment again, this time with 6 puppies. Well, they died too, and this led her to conclude that “Sleep is more important than food.”

One year later, some scientists at the University of Iowa decided to set animal testing aside and try out a sleep deprivation study in a more controlled environment with humans rather than puppies. They kept three young men awake for 90 hours, conducting tests periodically for performance and cognition. The results were about what you would expect, faring well enough after the first night, though after the second, things started going a little haywire. One of the patients reported vivid hallucinations, reported by one of the scientists.

“The subject complained that the floor was covered with a greasy-looking, molecular layer of rapidly moving or oscillating particles. Often this layer was a foot above the floor and parallel with it and caused the subject trouble in walking, as he would try to step up on it. Later the air was full of these dancing particles which developed into swarms of little bodies like gnats, but colored red, purple or black. The subject would climb upon a chair to brush them from about the gas jet or stealthily try to touch an imaginary fly on the table with his finger. These phenomena did not move with movements of the eye and appeared to be true hallucinations…they entirely disappeared after sleep.”

Thankfully, this experiment did not end with any deaths.


Tortured Sleep

The early years of Professor Ian Oswald, one of the most respected minds in sleep research, were spent conducting weird experiments involving environmental stimulus and sleep, many considering them more like barbaric acts of torture than experimentation, like a scene right out of a horror movie.

His controversial experiment conducted in 1960 featured three participants and focused on factors that disrupted and prevented sleep. He taped open their eyelids, flashed strobe lights, played very loud music, and even attached electrodes to deliver electrical shocks to their legs. This experiment was designed, perhaps cruelly, to deliver unavoidable light, noisy, and uncomfortable conditions to prevent and disrupt sleep.

It was Oswald's goal to assess the way his subjects reacted to the conditions allowing him to gain insight into the body's ability to overcome external stimuli to see how powerful the urge to sleep could actually be. 

If you can even believe it, 2 of the 3 subjects went to sleep within 12 minutes into the test, quicker than many people who climb into their own beds at the end of the day. The third subject suffered sleep deprivation as was expected. 

It was Oswald's conclusion that sleep could be achieved in such an environment because of the repetitive nature of the stimuli. The constant regularity of all the factors that was meant to energize the participants actually allowed their minds and bodies to ignore the conditions, the monotony creating extreme relaxation. This same reasoning can also explain why people can sleep on airplanes while hearing the roar of jet engines and why 'white noise' can lull people into sleep.


I Could Learn It In My Sleep

In 1942, a man by the name of Lawrence Leshan wished to experiment with behavior modification and sleep learning so he performed his historic Nail Biting Experiment.

He gathered up his subjects, all young boys who were chronic nail-chewers and set them up comfortably in a cabin in upstate New York where he stood over them all night, chanting “My nails taste terribly bitter.” It was difficult and exhausting, but as his phonograph had broken five weeks into the experiment, someone had to take over!

At the end of the summer, Leshan studied the nails and the chewing habits and declared that 40% of them had been cured! A later attempt by the Santa Monica College to replicate the experiment, the students using equipment to ensure the subjects were fully asleep before playing the phrase. Their experiment resulted in a 0% success rate, which suggested that Leshan's initial subjects might not have been fully asleep.


Peter Tripp's Sleepless Trip 

1959 brought us another strange experiment by radio DJ Peter Tripp, who conducted a one-man sleep study by keeping himself awake for 200 hours as a benefit for the March of Dimes. He spun records in Times Square, taking stimulants to keep him awake and thankfully being monitored by two psychologists who ensured he didn't endanger himself.

It turned out to be a fascinating peek into the world of sleep deprivation, as 100 hours into the experiment, Tripp could no longer solve simple math problems nor could he remember the alphabet. At the 120 hour mark, he began hallucinating, and according to Thomas Bartlett in the New York Times: 

“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.”

When the experiment was over, Tripp slept for 13 hours and upon waking, was right back to normal. 


Psychic Driving

Dr. Ewen Cameron, in the 1950's and 60's, gained a lot of attention for his schizophrenia treatment that he called “Psychic Driving.” Be at ease, he did not put anyone behind the wheel! But what he did do was put headphones on his patients (hundreds of them, some who did not even have schizophrenia)  and played looped messages in order to, get this...DRIVE new ways of thinking into the PSYCHE.

In some cases, the messages were tame, such as “People like you and need you. You have confidence in yourself.” Other patients were sedated and given messages such as, “When you see a piece of paper, you want to pick it up.” He would later bring those patients into the gym where a piece of paper would be in the middle of the floor, and Cameron claimed that many of the patients would immediately go over to pick the paper up. It would seem correlation implied causation back in the 50s.

What made this even weirder is when the CIA got wind of this experiment of Dr Cameron's, and gave him funding to continue it. Eventually, they decided it was a bust, and Cameron admitted that he had taken “a 10 year trip down the wrong road.”

Humankind has come a long way in understanding the importance of sleep, and more importantly, the need for restorative sleep. Science has taught us so much about what the body needs to get the best sleep possible, and we here at Nolah have taken this knowledge and applied it, creating the best bed in a box, the Nolah mattress, so that our bodies can get the best sleep possible. Sleeping cooler and with 4 times better pressure relief than memory foam, you can be certain that this mattress will have you sleeping. And with a 120 trial, its an experiment worth trying!

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