The Kentish Sleep Deprivation Journal
by Marshall Brickman (excerpted from The New Yorker [1974])


Sleep--along with its counterpart, being awake--accounts for much of the time spent by modern man during his life, and therefore merits serious attention by the trained observer. Certainly the most fascinating document to emerge from the burgeoning sleep-research field is the journal kept by Dr. Mordecai Kentish during a classic experiment in which he stayed awake for more than three hundred hours in order to study the effects of extensive sleep deprivation. Dr. Kentish, Winkle Professor of Clinical Psychology at Tony’s College, Chicago, won the Nobel Prize in 1948 for his work in isolating and defining the common nap as “any rest episode up to twenty minutes’ duration involving unconsciousness but not pajamas.” He also pioneered the “Kentish Technique” of psychoanalysis, in which either the patient or the therapist gets to lie on the couch, depending on which of the two is sleepier. He is the author of the standard text “Sleep” and the widely known treatise on insomnia, “How to Sleep,” plus a third volume, “Where to Sleep,” a thoughtful rating of motels found along the major interstate arteries, which includes an appendix listing inexpensive restaurants and the locations of important historical markers.

We would like to express our thanks to Mabley Kentish for releasing the Kentish papers for publication only months after her brother’s experiments were so tragically interrupted, when he was carried off by a large bird. Selected portions of the Sleep Deprivation Journal follow.


First Day (12 hours): Arrived at laboratory 9 p.m. Bucholtz [Kentish’s devoted assistant, O. Bucholtz, a refugee who worked for Kentish for twelve years without remuneration of any kind, and with only one two-day vacation, which he spent walking around in the front yard] as usual leaves a mess--candy wrappers, a banana peel on the EEG, a half-filled container of coffee with a cigarette butt floating in it. Nevertheless, there can be no question of dismissing him; he is pathetically devoted to me, perhaps because of that time I let him watch me shave. The current record for sleeplessness is held by radio personality Galen Moon, the host of a telephone show, who remained awake for the entire two hundred hours required to take an irate call from a severe stutterer. Moon, a noted insomniac, later revealed to me that even after his excruciating ordeal he could not fall asleep without first browsing through an article entitled, “Cairo--Wither the New Agrarianism?” a soporific published every Sunday in the magazine section of the New York Times. My intention is to exceed Moon’s limit by at least one-third, utilizing no stimulants or artificial means whatsoever--nothing but the awesome powers of a disciplined intellect. At the end of each entry, as daily proof of my ability to sustain rational, sequential thought, I shall perform a simple test, by writing out the complete alphabet. Thus:
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

Second Day (38 hours): Pulse, respiration, temperature, and blood pressure normal. A mild elation accompanied by great mental clarity. Chess with Bucholtz; a carefully laid trap of my own design (Ruy Lopez, with a slashing bishop attack) had the fool mated in seven moves. Intake: Breakfast--coffee and a scone with honey. Lunch--Bibb lettuce rémoulade. Dinner--butterfish and a praline. Physical coordination excellent; I jumped two feet straight up into the air without bending my knees--a difficult enough feat for a young man, and certainly remarkable for an advanced sedentary specimen such as myself. Wonderful feeling of crispness and efficiency. Three times eight is twenty-four. The cube root of eight is two. The capital of Chile is Santiago.
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

Fifth Day (109 hours): Sensation of mild granulation around the eyeballs, as if a small boy had flung pulverized antimony into my face. Pulse, temperature, respiration, blood pressure normal. (Annoying relative term, “normal.” For whom?) In Bucholtz’s case, temperature, pressure, respiration, and blood pressure can all be expressed by one integer in the low fifties. Chess with Bucholtz. Irresponsibly sacrificed my queen, both knights, both bishops, and all pawns within the first thirteen moves; nevertheless managed to achieve stalemate by sending Bucholtz on a brief errand, during which time I flushed his king down the toilet. The frontiers of the mind are limitless. The cube root of eight is not two; it is something else, possibly the color red.
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

Sixth Day (150 hours): No noticeable fatigue. Curious perceptual distortions, however. Everyday objects (i.e.; my right hand, a chair) seem either too large or too small, but I cannot decide which. Chess with Bucholtz discontinued when I realized after twenty minutes that we had set up the pieces without the board and were playing directly on the table. Intake: Breakfast--coffee, scone. Dinner--butterfish and a slice of whole-wheat bread. Read article by Karsky in International Journal of Orthopsychology, on jealousy in moths. Difficult to follow, as the entire text apparently consists of the word “vibescu” repeated endlessly. These behaviorists will stoop to any cheap trick merely to publish. I am on to Karsky, which explains why he never speaks to me even though we have never met and he lives in Omsk.
abcdefgz

Eighth Day (182 hours): Curious feeling of constriction in the frontal lobe, as if someone had forced a tiny cast-iron opera hat onto my head with a wooden mallet. Today, for the first time in our long association, Bucholtz made a witty remark. When I asked him if there were any telephone messages for me, he replied, “No, the phone hasn’t rung all day.” (!) He is unbearably funny; the juxtaposition of “all day”--i.e.; the entire day--with the notion of the telephone not ringing was, I thought, a masterful stroke of ironic hyperbole, worthy of Goethe and especially remarkable in someone who still needs help dressing. When I finally caught my breath, I requested that he close the door, which he did in a similarly comical fashion, putting his hand on the knob and pushing the entire structure until it latched. Again I broke into gales of laughter (it was marvelous, really), which Bucholtz mocked (also amusingly) by looking at me directly with both eyes! He is quite a jolly fellow, this Bucholtz.
a b 3 defg hijklmnop p ppp

Ninth Day (231 hours): Intake: Breakfast--cofscone. The fork is the one with the little points on it; the spoon, however, is round. That is how you can tell them apart. Temperature erutarepmet. Window open 3½ inches, chair oriented along N-S magnetic lines of force, thus enabling me to draw energy from the earth and maintain a healthy, full head of hair. All else normal, except for Bucholtz’s plot to steal my face and sell it to the emperor. I have the persistent impression that a man named Al Bender possesses infinite knowledge, if we can only locate him and get him to talk. My brain remains miraculously alert. Some trouble, however, with the pancreas, which has been stealing catnaps. Thank God for the kidneys, which keep it awake with their constant bickering.
abz

Ninth Day (234 hours): 4 a.m. Bucholtz asleep in the next room. The clock has just asked for a glass of water. Reasonable enough, but what is “water”? Increasing difficulty concentrating on simple tasks, such as snapping my luncheon peas across the room at Bucholtz. The dog outside has become a distraction, with its constant barking of “Iolanthe,” but when I try to call the authorities, the phone bursts into flame. What would Lysenko say about this? And to whom would he say it? I understand “vibescu” now; Karsky is clearly a genius. Dear, dear Karsky! Misunderstood, ridiculed, mocked. And to think I almost mailed him a spider! I must go to him. I need paper to build a boat.
a bee cee dee eff gee aitch I jay

Twelfth Day (301 hours): Still no fatigue. Temperature 99°. Skies fair. Winds calm. Position 28°S by 188°W. The mate have eat of a tainted Gouda and muft be lafhed to the mizzen. Difpleasure on the foredeck, water maggoty. Three more given up to scurvey. May God help us in our tryalle...


At this point, the journal stops abruptly. Bucholtz, upon awakening, reported finding his mentor rigid, his forehead against the light switch, his body making a hypotenuse between floor and wall. His eyes were open and unblinking, his pulse 180, his temperature 50°F. Removed to the hospital, Kentish was given a strong sedative and put to sleep for a week, after which he awoke refreshed and ate an enormous breakfast, including two paper cups. His notes, bearing extensive tooth marks, were recovered by O. Bucholtz and presented to Mabley Kentish, who will publish them this fall in popular edition, under the title “Copping Zs--Forty Winks to Oblivion.”