On not rotting

Last night saw the [oddly enforced] end to an experiment of mine.

Since the Friday night of June 4th, I did not sleep until the night of Wednesday, June 8th.

Included within that, I did not eat on Saturday 5 or Sunday 6th.

On the day of that Wednesday 8th, I was asked by the head of my department at work to ‘…go to sleep tonight’. I had not told the head of my department but had told my line manager – that added another very interesting agent into the make up of the experiment.

I hadn’t considered looking at societal acceptance – and so openly told my line manager what I was doing when she pressed when asking if there was a reason I was so relaxed – mostly because I was busy feeling out, teasing out and analysing the way in which my body and brain chemistry responded to it all.

As I don’t feel it affected my work at all, I intend to research this further but, there is definitely a societal stigma that comes with the term ‘insomniac’. Though I don’t count myself within that term – as mine was an experiment of conscious choice and I worked my way through by doing productive things and not struggling against or toward sleep – I do now have first hand experience of how insomniacs are treated by others.

Here are a few of the things I felt [and these are by no means definitive or objective findings so much as cultural phenomenological experiences] – people who do not sleep are: seen with slight suspicion; are worried about; and immediately confined to the ‘not normal’ category reserved in most people’s minds with The Other. I can’t draw conclusions from these until I’ve had more time to consider the experiment but it’s important they’re noted. I’d like to do an experiment whereby I told people I was experimenting by not sleeping [but not actually not sleeping] and seeing their responses then.

What’s far more interesting is the way in which it affected my body and brain chemistry.

I felt more alert in those past four days than I have in some time – my alertness was not always to the world around me but, instead, I was entirely alert to the functions and proprioceptive formation of my body.

On Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th I did not eat, as I have said. I did drink water and even had a cup of coffee to see its effects on Sunday 6th.

This meant that for the large proportion of those two days, I was laid down – I wrote and when not writing, I watched films, tv, and occasionally got up to go to the toilet. I also once went for a walk. I did all of these things with a few breathing exercises to make sure that my head was clear each time and that I didn’t overexert myself.

I felt my muscles relaxing and they took on a feeling of slight tension in the outer muscles and skin. That tension was comfortable and gave a slight spring to their movements. There was no pain or obvious build up of lactic acid.

However by Monday morning I realised that my not-eating couldn’t continue as I could feel my blood sugar levels at a very low point. Walking and waiting was fine but thinking and completing complex tasks was difficult without some sustenance.

As is my custom, I ate a large breakfast [and for the first time in a long time it truly was a break of my fast] and immediately felt the benefits.

Surprisingly, my digestive system wasn’t as affected as I thought it would be. I was able to urinate and defecate enough – a short while after eating, approx. 45 minutes –  for my body to feel normal.

In fact, my body felt better than normal. After my breakfast on Monday, I went for a small walk and wandered my way to work and felt excellent. My body felt really alive – I could feel each limb, each appendage and the nerves within. All hummed in soft unison. I felt at ease and calm and my mind felt only slightly removed from the world – just enough to keep me in a state of some-part exhaustion and some-part fascination.

This feeling continued until I drank a warm caffeinated drink but even then, a small distance in my bodily sensations remained between me and the world. My brain chemistry however was heavily affected.

The result was not negative, nor was it entirely positive but I felt a very definite shift back into how it normally feels.

Continuing to eat thereafter, my brain chemistry began to feel much like it normally feels except a little sharper and quicker to react. This was easily detectable by the massive difference between this sharp state and the calm, slow state of low blood sugar levels on the Monday morning.

I even tried an alcoholic beverage and, surprisingly, that didn’t affect me as much as caffeine. I then took the opportunity to smoke and found nicotine affected me more than alcohol and just as much as caffeine. My brain chemistry was felt ever stronger to me as I tried these things but I was also able to walk them off.

Walking itself affected both the body and the brain because my muscles felt as though they were eating through a great deal of energy. Walking occasionally became slower but felt like it was doing more.

In summation,  yes without proper conclusion, I recommend it.


2 thoughts on “On not rotting

  1. Interesting.
    About six years ago, I went for approximately 100 hours without sleep, after a holiday in San Francisco. It was one of the most bizarre and strangely beautiful natural highs I have ever experienced. I remember cycling to the centre of Bristol and being acutely aware of everything – my vision was strangely concentrated, as if I was looking through a pinhole lens – my peripheries were nonexistent, but that which I allowed into the centre of my vision was leaping into my optic nerve with an ecstatic enthusiasm. I became transfixed by flowers in a way I have never been before, and this has endured in an interesting way. The closest thing I can compare it to was having severe sunstroke in the gardens of the Taj Mahal a few years ago (sorry… slightly lofty/exclusive example), and experiencing tunnel vision with its disconcerting telescopic quality.
    I’d quite like to push myself ascetically again this summer – either by fasting or sleep deprivation. But this time without the use of drugs.

    Right, I’m off to swim in the river. Its BAKING here. I love it!

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