After David Blaine successfully broke a world record holding his breath in a sphere of water without turning blue on Oprah Winfrey’s show (and any Oprah show without Dr. Oz on it has to be a show out of the ordinary), people probably wondered how we was going to pull of his next announced stunt: Going without sleep for 11 days or more. Just the thought of having to stay awake for over 11 days makes me want to go take a catnap. But I believe it when Blaine says that all his physical endurance stunts are without any tricks. Certainly holding his breath was something he had to be conditioned for and in no way involved illusory tricks that would paint him as a charlatan who duped Oprah for the second time (hello, James Frey).
When it comes to breaking world records in sleep deprivation, though, there are some things that can be done to cheat–even with Guinness Book of World Records officials standing by. The only documented case that was carefully checked is the one that David Blaine will have to officially beat: Randy Gardner in 1964. This guy from San Diego was 17 years old at the time and managed to stay awake for 264 hours (which is 11 days). Blaine mentioned on Oprah’s show that he has to beat 11 days, which just might kill some people.
The interesting thing about Gardner above was that, despite a lot of the symptoms you’d expect from staying up for 11 days, he seemed to be able to think and talk logically when holding his press conference the day he broke the record. A lot of sleep researchers were on hand, though, who monitored every little reaction he’d have to forcing himself awake. They noticed Gardner having hallucinations (or basically dreaming while you’re awake) during certain moments, particularly when he was active. And that was one of the secrets to his staying awake: Playing basketball or keeping his mind active by talking to friends or TV reporters.
Unlike the deep concentration and avoidance of thinking too much about the press when holding your breath in a tank of water, staying awake obviously helps by reveling in the excitement of the attempt and getting psyched by all the media in the room…if you don’t get blas