That Time The Military Paid Me Not To Sleep


I’ve done a lot of things for money on CraigsList. And yes, it’s as bad as that sounds. If there is anywhere your mom doesn’t want you doing things for money, it’s Craigslist. If she knew what Craigslist was. But me? I love it. There was the time I was a gay stripper. And all the times I’ve done focus groups. But one of the more unique gigs I did was when the U.S. Military paid me not sleep for three nights straight.

It started out harmless enough. I saw a post: “Sleep Deprivation Study.” What could go wrong? It was at Columbia University which I felt gave it some legitimacy, and legitimacy, if you aren’t aware, is the second most important attribute a CL job can boast. The first being, “Probably won’t be stabbed by a perverted hobo.”

When I got to Columbia they wouldn’t tell me who was conducting the study and that made me a little nervous. But there was a professor-type wearing a real life lab coat so my mind was set at ease. They showed me to my room. The 12×12 hospital room in which I would be spending the next 72 hours. There were cameras all around the room so they could observe me throughout. And in the corner I spied a computer station that would be used for tests. And, then, there by the window: an Xbox, TV, and a football game ready to go. It was pretty much the most glorious vision I have ever beheld.

Just before we started the experiment an intern took me grocery shopping. I was allowed to buy whatever I wanted except no caffeine. It was just like Supermarket Sweep but the prize was three days of voluntary confinement and sleep deprivation. So… exactly like the Supermarket Sweep of my dreams. Thirty minutes later I had a cart full of Pop Tarts and Nutter Butters. Let’s go make science!

My first task back in the room was to take a memory and reflex test on the computer. Simple stuff: click a button as fast as you can and then remember which card was which after they flipped them over. And that was it. All I had to do was patiently wait eight hours for the next test. So that’s what I did. For the next three days and nights I just played video game football between tests.  ALL THE TIME. FOR THREE DAYS AND NIGHTS WITHOUT STOPPING. I don’t know what I would have done without that video game (besides miss out on six Super Bowl Championships). But I know I would have fallen asleep. But at the end of the experiment the guy told me I was the only person who didn’t once nod off. So thank you, Mr. Madden.

But during the test, every eight hours I would have to pause my game and take the reflex/memory quiz. As you might imagine, my reflexes (and my Xbox skills) suffered significantly as the lack of sleep began to add up. By the last test, as soon as I sat down, my eyes closed. I’m pretty sure I failed that last reflex test as it is almost impossible to hit a mouse button while unconscious.

But they finally finished and I went home. A week later, as a follow-up, I went back. They brought me in for a quick one hour experiment which involved putting an electric shock helmet on my head. You know, that old story. Electric shock helmet for fifty extra bucks. And that’s when they let it slip that this was all the U.S. Military researching ways to keep soldiers combat ready even after days without sleep.

The sleep deprivation was trying. The electric shock helmet was painful. And probably dangerous. But it was a gig. And gigs are what I do. Tune in next time for the story of when I was a male escort or the time I was Clippy the Paperclip and got to hug Bill Gates.

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