In the late 1940s, a group of unethical Soviet researchers wanted to test the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation. For their purposes, they put five convicted criminals in a sealed chamber and promised to let them free if they managed to go without sleep for 30 days. Then they dosed them up with a stimulant gas that prevented them from falling asleep, and started monitoring their behavior through two-way mirrors and microphones. On the fifth day, effects of sleep deprivation began to appear: the test subjects became paranoid and stopped communication. Some more days later, two of them started shrieking, then eery silence followed. The researchers announced they were about to open the chamber, but the prisoners refused to be freed. On the fifteenth day, the stimulant gas was replaced by fresh air, which had shocking consequences. The subjects’ bodies were severely mutilated, their flesh ripped off from their ribs as obvious results of self-cannibalism and zombie-like behavior. All in all, the whole experiment ended with all the prisoners dying in agony. Plus, the commanding officer was shot by the chief researcher, as the former wanted to further continue the experiment, this time with three of the researchers joining the inmates in the chamber. The famous last words of the last surviving subject were, “We are you. We are the madness that lurks within you all, begging to be free at every moment in your deepest animal mind.“
This is a story (legend, myth, ruse— whatever you want to call it) people know and pass on. What you might not now about this infamous experiment, however, you are about to read. Get yourself ready for 15 shocking theories about the Russian Sleep Experiment.
15. The Experimental Gas Was A Sort Of A Truth Serum
In very few versions of the story about the experiment, the gas that the researchers used on their test subjects was unnamed and the formula unknown. But in some modified accounts, the stimulant gas is named Nikolayev gas and was used in the Second World War. The original purpose of the gas was believed to keep the soldiers awake on the battlefield for extended periods of time. This would allow governments to either use less military power or make the soldiers who were subjected to the gas to become super powerful. Supposedly, the gas is a hypnotic catalyst used also as a truth serum. In addition, it can be used to provide relief to patients suffering from catatonia and mania. Amorbital is one of the chemical compounds used in the truth serum. A defector from the KGB’s biological weapons department claimed that the truth serum, which went under the name of Sp-117, was highly effective and widely used. According to him, it has “no smell, no color, and no immediate side effects.”
14. Could KGB Be Behind The Experiment?
In the story, at the point when the subjects were placed back into the chamber awaiting a decision as to what should be done with them, it reads that “the commanding officer, an ex-KGB, saw potential and wanted to see what would happen if they were put back on the gas.” The experiment allegedly took place in the 1940s, which makes it impossible for a KGB agent to be in charge with it. Комите́т госуда́рственной безопа́сности, a.k.a KGB was formed in 1954 as a direct successor of preceding agencies such as Cheka, NKGB, and MGB. Hence, the experiment couldn’t have been conducted under the supervision of KGB. Besides, in the very beginning of the story it was mentioned that, because this was before the time of the closed-circuit cameras, they had only microphones and a glass porthole sized window to the chamber to monitor the prisoners. Come on, who would believe that a government funded experiment was this low on budget that they had at their disposal only a room with mics, an oxygen level indicator and a double-mirror wall!
13. The Inexplicable Appearance Of A Sixth Dead Body
The story begins with Soviet researchers keeping five people awake for fifteen days. When the chamber is opened for the first time, the soldiers find one of the prisoners dead. Then the remaining four start dying one after another; one’s spleen ruptured and died of blood loss. The third prisoner died while put under anesthetic. This means that up to that point, there were two test subjects still alive. And then, out of nowhere, the author says, “The surviving THREE subjects were heavily restrained and moved to a medical facility.” Unless one of them had risen from the dead like Lazarus, this sounds like a very improbable situation. The writer, however, further continues to play with the numbers of deaths, so that towards the end, there are three people who have died, one who had a six-hour operation, and another two test subjects who were “given the same surgery, both without anesthetic as well.” Even if you are as brilliant a detective as Hercule Poirot, there is no way you could know where the sixth victim of the experiment came from.
12. The Number Of “Believers” Outdoes The Number Of “Non-Believers”
Whoever has fallen upon the story either loves it or hates it, either believes in its authenticity or totally rejects it. We have no idea as to how much of it can be real, but when everything fails, you are still left with your inexplicable love for horror. Recently, the site Debate.org, where many controversial issues are open for the audience to freely debate on, asked its users if they thought the Russian Sleep Experiment could possibly be real. 57% of the participants answered positively. 43% called it “a sci-fi horror story.” Most of the reasoning pro the validity of the experiment orbits around the following argument, “Even though the Nazis are famous for their cruelty, few people realize Stalin’s regime was even more horrific. I believe it to be plausible because it happened after WW2, thus prisoners of war would have been an obvious choice for experiments.“
11. The Soviet Scientists Didn’t Work Alone
The story is set right after World War II, which means after the USSR captured and took control of Germany. What is known for sure is that they also captured some prominent Nazi scientists, who had the know-how of advanced research and technology. Much is already known about Nazi human experimentation, which denotes a series of medical experiments on prisoners, including children, in the concentration camps from the early to mid 1940s. Some of the experiments included the following: experiments on twins, bone, nerve, and muscle transplant experiments, freezing experiments, mustard gas and sulfonamide experiments, experiments with poison, and many more. If these scientists were working on bio-genetics, cryogenics and researching nerve agents, why would you not use their knowledge for your own benefit if you were an aspiring Soviet scientist?
10. The Scary Picture Is A Spasm Prop. But Is It?!
You’ve probably wondered where all those incredibly authentic looking pictures came from. The mostly debated picture, without question, is the one of the prisoner with all his viscera and bones exposed. Of course, the photograph has been altered— no one has a mandible and teeth of that size! And it’s very unlikely that anyone could become so emaciated within two weeks only! Some claim that what’s in that picture is just Halloween decoration, a prop called Spasm (or Spazm), and you can buy it on eBay, for example. Others would even joke that this is how Joan Rivers looked like after one of her endless plastic surgery procedures. However, not everything about this picture should be taken as fake. Actually, the victims of the extremely potent and highly dangerous drug known as krokodil (crocodile), which first was popularized in Russia, may look exactly like the creature from the experiment. The drug contains a mix of codeine, gasoline, paint thinner, and alcohol, and can cause abscesses and gangrene on the skin, making it look as scaly as that of crocodiles. Bones and muscles can be exposed as krokodil literally eats away at the flesh, and users become susceptible to infections.
9. The Slender Man Changes His “Professional Profile”
Here is a fun fact about the fictional supernatural character known as Slender Man that originated as a CreepyPasta Internet meme: it started as a Photoshop contest. In 2009, users on the forum were asked to digitally alter an ordinary photo to create a creepy internet image. The result is a disturbing image that is really hard to shake off– it’s an unnaturally tall, thin man with a blank and featureless face, usually wearing a black suit. Its author is the Something Awful user Eric Knudsen, a.k.a. Victor Surge. He was inspired to create Slender Man primarily by Zack Parson’s That Insidious Beast and Stephen King’s The Mist. However, once divorced from its original creator, the Slender Man became the subject of many stories by various authors. A modified version of the creepy character appeared not only in the Russian Sleep Experiment story “personifying” one of the test subjects, but also in a video series. It is about a movie geek named Alex Krale, who stumbled upon something troubling while shooting his first film, Marble Hornets, which later turned into an alternate YouTube channel with over 300,000 subscribers. In 2012, the Slender Man was adapted into a video game, Slender: The Eight Pages.
8. It Is Possible to Stay Awake For Many Days Without Any Stimulants
Nobody has so far proven one hundred percent the legitimacy of the experiment or provided evidence that five people survived without sleep for fifteen days. Yet, it is a fact that there is one person who presently holds the scientifically documented record for the longest period a human has intentionally gone without sleep without using stimulants of any kind. The guy’s name is Randy Gardner (born 1947), who, in 1964, stayed awake for 264.4 hours. Please, let us do the math for you– this is exactly 11 days and 24 minutes. The then 17-year-old Gardner did it for a high school science project, and set the bar pretty high for any subsequent attempts. The previous record for staying awake was set in 1959 by Tom Rounds, a Honolulu DJ, who stayed up for ten days as a part of a radio station publicity show. Unlike Rounds, whose intention was to raise money for charity by using the stunt, the record-holder Gardner told Esquire in 2007 that he just wanted to win the science fair.
7. This Is What Really Happens If You Stay Awake For Many Days In A Row
Remember our buddy from before, Randy Gardner? You probably wonder what would happen if you stayed awake for eleven straight days. Actually, no one cared to monitor Randy while doing the experiment, so we know nothing for sure about his experiences. One of the earliest studies in the field of sleep deprivation came to unpromising conclusions. In 1894, the Russian physician Marie de Manaceine kept four puppies awake for almost five days. At the end, the puppies died. She reported that the research was “excessively painful” and not only for the test subjects, but also for her. Sleep deprivation can have horrible, and even fatal results; as we’ve seen. To start with, sleep-deprived men and women report lower libidos and less interest in sex. In ordinary settings, chronic sleep deprivation (especially deprivation of dream sleep) will get progressively worse and result in fatigue, short and long term memory problems, hallucinations, paranoia, and even death if you keep it up long enough.
6. The Behavior Of The Test Subjects Cannot Be Attributed To Sleep Deprivation
Except for the part about paranoia, hardly any of the described ways in which the prisoners from the story responded to the conditions were realistic. Medically, very little of what is described makes sense and is consistent with what is known about human biology and psychology. Assuming the participants were in an intense enough state of hallucination/temporary psychosis and it was possible for them to rip off their own skin, the damage to the tissues and arteries would be so extensive that the blood loss would have ended the lives of the subjects long before the end of the story. Then, we come upon the excerpt where it is mentioned that the abdominal organs of the subjects have been removed. And then somehow, “to everyone’s surprise the test subjects put up a fierce fight in the process of being removed from the chamber.” A person who is missing organs and muscles has lost so much blood that the subsequent weakness would have left him completely incapable of causing any kind of harm. Let alone causing harm to a militarily trained soldier…
5. The Russian Sleep Experiment Makes It To Hollywood
In 2015, a 29-minute short horror film entitled The Russian Sleep Experiment, was released. Timothy Smith is the writer and director of the movie. The synopsis for the film, based upon the CreepyPasta of the same name, is as follows: “Three Nazi war criminals are held captive in a Russian compound where they are given a gas that keeps them awake for 30 days. Morality will be tested and sanity will be bent. Its very different on the other side of the gas.” You’d think, what the heck is this travesty of a plot? Yet, they did a decent job with only a $5,000 budget! And they probably would have done an even better job with at least $50,000 at their disposal. Some months later, the Russian Sleep Experiment was adapted into a horror novella, the author of which calls herself Holly Ice. The next thing we expect to see is a full-length movie, why not with Gary Ross as a director and Ben Affleck starring?
4. The Russian Sleep Experiment Is Among The Top 10 Scariest Urban Legends Of All Time
Of course, urban legends are rarely factually accurate, but they are believed to reveal essential truths about our deepest, darkest fears. Psychologists claim that embracing these fears through sharing them in our social circle is a way of confronting and coping with what we are truly afraid of. In this train of thought, the story of the Russian Sleep Experiment has earned itself an honorable place among the ten best urban legends of all times. The list contains some undeniably horrific stories, which possess such a power of suggestion that few have ever questioned their truthfulness since they started circulating. The reason why all those stories have gone viral is mainly because we are most thrilled by the unknown, or things that we can’t seem to understand. The story needs to involve strange occurrences or some creature whose origins are unknown in order to have a lasting impact on your psyche. And the story about the Russian Sleep Experiment has the full package!
3. Two Actual Disorders Make The Experiment Feasible
What could have given solid ground for one such experiment to be carried out is the existence of particular neurological disorders such as insomnia and narcolepsy. People with narcolepsy experience excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep, which may occur during any type of activity at any time of the day. Experts think that narcolepsy may be due to a deficiency in the production of a chemical called hypocretin by the brain. As for insomnia, it is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep.
The truth is that most adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night in order to feel fit the next day. A small group (1 to 3 percent) of the population are among the “sleepless elite” who are able to get by on just a few hours of sleep.
Probably, the ultimate goal of the experiment (if there was one at all!) was to find a scientific explanation for both phenomena, so that, at a later stage, they could start “breeding” humans who need less hours of sleep or none at all.
2. Hoax Or Reality?
At the end of the day, it all comes to that question: Did the Russian sleep experiment really happen?
So far, we have produced a lot of evidence clearly indicating the fictional nature of the story, which was originally posted in 2010 on the website CreepyPasta.com by an anonymous author. However, documented accounts of unethical experiments carried out by Soviet scientists in the 1940s are still shocking today, such as the story about a decapitated dog whose head was kept alive by a machine. A more modern example is the Stanford Prison Experiment from 1971, in which volunteers were locked in a mock prison. The experiment led to psychological collapses and hunger strikes. The bottom line is that although the Russian Sleep Experiment is a fictional work (we think), it was most probably influenced by real historic events. After all, where there’s smoke, there’s fire…
1. The Orange Soda Confusion
After August 2010, the creepy story about the Russian Sleep Experiment started to appear here and there on the net with the improbable title tag of “Orange Soda”. People thought that was the pseudonym of the author, although when the story first appeared on CreepyPasta, a website for publishing scary fictional tales which are not always authenticated, the author was listed as anonymous. The confusion was finally resolved when on August 19, 2010, the following comment appeared in CreepyPasta’s conversational thread, “Yo, [the story] got the name The Russian Sleep Experiment Orange Soda because last summer, one of the times I reposted it while tripfagging on /x/, someone decided to make a paint of it and never removed my trip name from the post. The actual name is The Russian Sleep Experiment. Orange.Soda 23:26, August 19, 2010 (UTC).”
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