The Popular Urban Legend: The Russian Sleep Experiment

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“The Russian Sleep Experiment,” written by an unknown author, became immensely popular upon its publication on Creepypasta. Its internet fame has led it to various adaptations over the years. A novel written by Holly Ice was based on the short story and published in 2015, and in 2018, a film based on the short story began production. Read on for an abridged version of the story.

The Russian Sleep Experiment

In the late 1940s, a group of Russian researchers kept 5 political prisoners awake for 15 days using an experimental gas-based stimulant. To carefully monitor their oxygen intake, they were kept in a sealed environment so that the gas didn’t kill them since it was toxic in high concentrations. It was the 1940s, so they had only microphones and 5-inch-thick, porthole-sized glass windows into the chamber to monitor them. The chamber had books, cots to sleep on (but which had no bedding), running water, a toilet, and enough dried food to last all 5 for over a month.
The subjects behaved normally during the initial days and hardly complained, having been promised (falsely) that they would be freed if they submitted to the test and did not sleep for 30 days. However, it was noted that they continued to talk about increasingly traumatic incidents in their past. The general tone of their conversations took on a darker tone after the 4th day. After the 5th day, they began complaining about the circumstances that led them to the experiment, demonstrating severe paranoia. The subjects stopped talking to one another. The researchers suspected this was an effect of the gas.

After the 9th day, one of them started screaming at the top of his lungs and running back and forth in the chamber for 3 hours straight, after which he continued attempting to scream but was only able to produce squeaks. The researchers assumed that his vocal cords were torn. The most surprising thing about this was how the other captives reacted to it or, rather, didn’t react to it. They whispered to the microphones until the second of the captives started to scream. The two non-screaming captives tore books apart, smeared page after page with their own feces, and pasted them calmly over the glass portholes. The screaming promptly stopped. So did the whispering to the microphones.

Three more days passed without the researchers being able to look inside, during which the chamber was completely silent. The researchers checked the microphones hourly to make sure they were working. It was found that the oxygen consumption in the chamber indicated that all five must still be alive, but it was the amount of oxygen five people would consume at a very heavy level of strenuous exercise.

On the morning of the 14th day, the researchers did something they said they would not do to get a reaction from the captives. Using the intercom inside the chamber, they hoped to provoke any response from the captives, whom they were afraid were either dead or vegetables. They announced, “We are opening the chamber to test the microphones. Step away from the door and lie flat on the floor, or you will be shot. Compliance will earn one of you your immediate freedom.”

To their surprise, they heard a single phrase in a calm voice: “We no longer want to be freed.”

Debate broke out among the researchers and the military forces funding the research. Unable to provoke any more response using the intercom, it was finally decided that the chamber be opened at midnight on the 15th day. The stimulant inlet was turned off, and the chamber was filled with fresh air. Immediately, voices from the microphones began to object, begging, pleading for the gas to be turned back on. The chamber was opened, and soldiers were sent in to retrieve the test subjects. They began to scream louder than ever. So did the soldiers when they saw what was inside.

Four of the 5 subjects were still alive. The rations past day 5 had not been so much as touched. It was discovered that the 4 surviving subjects have performed severe mutilation and disembowelment on themselves during the past days, including tearing off flesh and muscles, removing multiple abdominal internal organs, practicing self-cannibalism, and allowing four inches of blood and water to accumulate on the floor as meat from the dead test subject’s thighs and chest were stuffed into the drain in the center of the chamber.

Abdominal organs below the rib cage of all 4 test subjects had been removed. Their hearts, lungs, and diaphragms remained in place, but their skin and most of the muscles attached to the ribs had been ripped off, exposing their lungs. The digestive tract of all four could be seen working, digesting food. It quickly became apparent that they were digesting their own flesh, which they had ripped off and eaten over the course of days. The prisoners continued to scream to be left in the chamber and alternately begged and demanded that the gas be turned back on, lest they fall asleep. To everyone’s surprise, one test subject, violently refusing to be removed from the chamber, murdered one soldier, ripping his throat out, while another was gravely injured, having his testicles ripped off and an artery in his leg severed by one of the subject’s teeth. In the struggle, one of the four living subjects had his spleen ruptured, and he bled out almost immediately. The medical researchers attempted to sedate him, but this proved impossible after injecting him with more than ten times the human dose of a morphine derivative. The subject still fought like an animal, breaking the ribs and arm of a doctor. Even after his heart stopped, he continued to scream and flail for another 3 minutes until he finally fell silent.

The surviving three test subjects were heavily restrained and moved to a medical facility. The two with intact vocal cords continued begging for the gas. The most injured of the three was taken to the only surgical operating room that the facility had. In the process of preparing the subject to have his organs placed back within his body, it was found that he was effectively immune to the sedative they had given him for the surgery. He fought furiously and managed to tear most of the way through a 4-inch-wide leather strap on one wrist, even through the weight of a 200-pound soldier holding it. It took only a little more anesthetic than normal to put him under, and the instant his eyelids fluttered and closed, his heart stopped. In the autopsy, it was found that his blood had triple the normal level of oxygen.

The second survivor had been the first of the group to start screaming way back on day 9. His vocal cords destroyed, he was unable to beg or object to surgery, shaking his head violently to express disapproval when the anesthetic gas was brought near him. He nodded when someone suggested, reluctantly, that they perform the surgery without anesthetic. The subject did not react for the entire six-hour procedure of replacing his abdominal organs and attempting to cover them with what remained of his skin. The presiding surgeon stated repeatedly that it should be medically possible for the patient to still be alive. One terrified nurse assisting the surgery stated that she had seen the patient smile several times, whenever his eyes met hers.

When the surgery ended, the subject looked at the surgeon and began to wheeze loudly in an attempt to talk. Assuming this must be something of importance, the surgeon had a pen and pad fetched so the patient could write his message. It was simple. “Keep cutting.”

The other two test subjects were given the same surgery, both without anesthetic as well. Although they had to be given a paralytic injection for the duration of the operation, the surgeon found it impossible to perform the operation while the patients laughed continuously. Once paralyzed, the subjects could only follow the attending researchers with their eyes. However, the drug cleared their system in an abnormally short period, and they were soon trying to escape their bonds. The moment they could speak, they were again asking for the stimulant gas. The researchers tried asking why they had injured themselves, why they had ripped out their own guts, and why they wanted to be given the gas again.

Only one response was given: “I must remain awake.”

After the three subjects’ restraints were reinforced, they were placed back into the chamber as the researchers thought what should be done with them. They considered euthanizing the surviving subjects, but the commanding officer, an ex-KGB, wanted to see what would happen if they were put back on the gas.

The subjects were then connected to an EEG monitor and were restrained for long-term confinement. To everyone’s surprise, all three stopped struggling the moment they learned they were going back on the gas. It was obvious that at this point all three were putting up a great struggle to stay awake. The first subject to be wired for EEG shocked the researchers. The monitors showed that his brain waves, although normal most of the time, flatlined inexplicably, as if he were suffering brain death. One nurse saw his eyes slip shut the same moment his head hit the pillow. His brain waves immediately changed to that of deep sleep then flatlined for the last time as his heart simultaneously stopped.

The only remaining subject that could speak started screaming to be sealed in now. His brain waves showed the same flat lines as one who had just died from falling asleep. The commander gave the order to seal the chamber with both subjects inside, as well as three researchers. One of the three immediately drew his gun and shot the commander point-blank between the eyes then turned the gun on the mute subject and blew his brains out as well.

He pointed his gun at the remaining subject, still restrained to a bed, as the remaining members of the medical and research team fled the room. With only one surviving subject, the researcher asked what he is, to which the subject smiled and identified himself as an inherent evil inside the human mind that is kept in check by the act of sleeping. The researcher soon shot him dead afterward.