James Goodwin in Literary Hub:
In 1963, as the Beach Boys were playing on the radio and Christmas was approaching, two California schoolboys threw a coin. They were deciding who would be the guinea pig in a school science project they had designed—to beat the world record for staying awake. The lucky “winner” was Randy Gardner, a 16-year-old from San Diego. When the experiment was over, he had stayed awake for eleven days and twenty five minutes. It yielded some fundamentally important observations, fortunately recorded by William Dement, one of America’s few sleep researchers at the time. Nearly forty years later, Gardner still holds the world record—which is unlikely to be broken, as the Guinness World Records will no longer accept entries. Why? It is much too dangerous for the brain.
There is no more intractable health problem in modern life than sleeplessness. Insomnia, difficulty sleeping and sleep disorders are all prevalent in today’s world. It is as if we are all in some ghastly sleep deprivation experiment. Shift work, long commuting hours, caffeine, stress, social life, travel, technology and, as we get older, age-related changes all influence our sleeping habits.