Internet Deems Sleep-Deprived Protester Slightly Crazy

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It was perhaps the most unscientific test ever, but an Occupy D.C. protester who's gone without sleep for nearly 80 hours is mostly sane -- though a bit bipolar -- according to some questionnaires we found on the Internet. Ricky Lehner is a 23-year-old protester from St. Petersburg, Florida, who's been living in Washington D.C.'s Mcpherson Square since Occupy D.C. started on Oct. 7. He has been awake since 10 a.m. Monday. That's the day U.S. Park Police said they'd start enforcing a ban on sleeping in the park, though they haven't really done it yet. Until they promise not to, though (or until he collapses), Lehner says he won't sleep.

By now, Lehner says, he and fellow sleep-striker Tom Reges are used to their unnatural awake state. "I think the trick I’m figuring out today is that I need to not sit at Starbucks and work on my computer, but to get up and keep moving around," he told The Atlantic Wire on Thursday. "The nights are the hardest part, for sure. It helps that there’s more than one of us doing it. We can hang out and play cards -- we were playing Scrabble, but we decided that was a bad idea. The 24-hour McDonalds that’s around here is a life saver, so we’ll wander over there and get a cup of coffee." Lehner said he was averaging around seven cups of coffee a day.

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So, are they insane yet? They're supposed to be. Studies like this one from the University of Chicago have linked sleep loss with bipolar disorder and impaired brain activity. "Everything we’ve heard or looked up said that after 70 hours is when you start getting delirious or hallucinating or whatever," Lehner said. "But when I’m awake like I am right now, I feel pretty much normal...I really haven’t noticed a big drastic change yet, which I’m surprised about."

Lehner might feel ok, but the doctors say he's tempting fate. Going without your regular immersion in the dreamless is "distinctly unhealthy," a sleep specialist told DCist on Wednesday, but the risks mostly extend to "mental acuity, judgment, and motor skills." Still, specialist Dr. Helene Emsellem said sleep deprivation "could also expose more severe effects, especially if they have any underlying risks for heart disease, bipolar disorder, or manic-depressiveness."

That sounds like a challenge -- one to be met with flagrantly unscientific methodology. We found some very basic psychological tests online at a site called PsychCentral, and asked Lehner to take them, which he was kind enough to do. PsychCentral's a little bit like a WebMD for mental health issues, and it takes itself pretty seriously as a resource, even if its quizzes, with questions like "I have magical powers that nobody else has or can explain," seemed a little silly to us.  We chose tests for schizophrenia, bipolar, and anxiety.

Not being in Washington, D.C., we had to administer them over the phone, asking Lehner to answer the multiple choice questions on tests for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Like we said: Least. Scientific. Test. Ever. Lehner seems like an eminently sane guy, speaking in clear sentences that came to a point. He didn't even drift off into long, spacey pauses or sleep-deprived hallucinations when we spoke with him. But he's on the charts as far as one of these tests go, which surprised both of us. While he's clear for both schizophrenia and anxiety, Lehner scored an 18 on the bipolar screening, which, according to Psych Central, means "Either a mild bipolar disorder (II) or depressive disorder." Maybe it's time for a nap?

Some of Lehner's answers in the 12-question quiz for bipolarity (of course, with these questions, who wouldn't be a little bit bipolar?):

And his results:

The schizophrenia results:

The anxiety results:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.