The Sleep Deprivation Publicity Stunt That Drove One Man Crazy

Back in 1959, science, charity and publicity all came together in a particular stunt pulled off by radio DJ Peter Tripp. He would stay awake for 200 hours, broadcasting his regular show at its regular time. Officially, it was a charity drive for the March of Dimes. Tripp would sit out in a booth in Times Square, and people would pledge money to the cause. It was also a valuable scientific experiment that sleep researchers took advantage of. They took shifts sitting with Tripp, both to make sure he wasn’t in physical danger and to keep him from falling asleep. Amazingly, most of the way through the ordeal, Tripp was able to do his show fairly well. However, after about 100 hours of wakefulness, Tripp was no longer able to recite the alphabet or solve simple math problems. After 120 hours, he began having hallucinations. Eventually, confusion took over his mind, and during the last few hours, he didn’t even believe he was Peter Tripp. He did manage to stay awake for 200 hours, though he was drugged regularly for the last 66 hours of it. After 24 hours of monitored sleep, he emerged, apparently none the worse for wear. However, in the end the experiment affected him permanently. Soon afterwards, he lost his job, his wife divorced him, and he was indicted in the payola scandal of 1960.