“There are many who don’t wish to sleep for fear of nightmares. Sadly, there are many who don’t wish to wake for the same fear.”
― Richelle Goodrich
It has become a permanent fixture in the fabric of Internet lore: the Russian Sleep Experiment, an account of a horrific experiment said to have been conducted in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. According to the fable, five subjects were kept in a sealed environment to carefully monitor their oxygen intake so the gas didn’t kill them since it was toxic in high concentrations. They had only microphones and thick glass porthole sized windows in the chamber to monitor them. The chamber was stocked with books, but no bedding, running water and toilet, and enough dried food to last all five for over a month.
Everything was fine for the first five days; the subjects hardly complained that they would be freed if they submitted to the test and did not sleep for 30 days. After five days they started to complain about the circumstances and events that lead them where they were. They stopped talking to each other and instead began whispering to the microphones and one way mirrored portholes. At the time, it was thought to be an effect of the simulating gas.
After nine days the first of them started screaming for 12 hours straight and researchers postulated that he had physically torn his vocal cords. The most flabbergasting thing about this behavior is how the other captives didn’t pay any attention to the screech at all. Instead, they unceasingly whispered in the microphones until the second of the captives started to scream. The two other non-screaming captives took a few books apart, soiled a handful of pages with their own feces and covered the glass portholes. The screaming and whispering promptly stopped.
After three days went by, on the morning of the 14th day the researchers used the intercom inside the chamber, to provoke any response from the captives. They announced that they will be opening the chamber to test the microphones. To their surprise, they heard a single phrase in a calm voice response: “We no longer want to be freed.”
The chamber was filled with fresh air and the gas was expelled. Immediately voices from the microphones began to object, pleading for the life of loved ones to turn the gas back on. The food rations past day five had not been touched. There were chunks of flesh from the dead test subject’s thighs and chest stuffed into the drain in the center of the chamber on the floor. All four ‘surviving’ test subjects also had large portions of muscle and skin torn away from their bodies, self-inflicted.
The story from here onward has different versions. But what is significant is to ask whether the story is plausible. What would happen to people if they were forcibly deprived of sleep for that long? Would they go crazy, attacking and eating each other?
During the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, American special forces battled Somali fighters who chewed khat, a plant that is a powerful stimulant. This allowed the Somalis to be ready to fight at any time and to remain active well past the time the Americans became fatigued. The world’s militaries took note.
It’s a widely published fact that the Russian Sleep Experiment was a piece of fiction, posted anonymously in 2010 to CreepyPasta, a website that showcases scary fictional tales. Despite this, there are always conspiracy minded people insistent that the story is true, or was leaked from some secret government lab but, no matter how strong their desire, nobody has ever turned up anything like that.
Sometimes a creepy story is just a creepy story.