My Week Without Sleep, with a Little Help From Zeus

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Struggling with insomnia or restlessness?

Maybe you’re thinking about it all wrong. I mean, who really needs sleep anyway?

The so-called experts tell us sleep is one of the most essential foundations for physical and mental health. But that’s just science. What do they know?

I know I’m swimming against the current here, but what if our biological batteries didn’t need recharging every 24 hours?

I’m not talking about the 2% of humans known as short sleepers, amazing as they are

I’m interested in no sleep. Have we really ruled out simply doing away with the tired old institution altogether?

Why just lie there in the dark wasting 8 precious hours of creative, conscious leisure time listening to your partner snore away 1/3rd of their life?

Imagine the possibilities of true 24 hour days!  What would you do with the extra time?

  • Read an extra 6-10 books per week?
  • Learn 10 or 20 foreign languages?
  • Finish that Master’s degree and then waltz through a couple more doctoral programs?
  • Start a couple side hustles or even work another full-time job (really though?
  • Follow the midnight sun to Northern Europe for the summer and just never go to bed for 4-5 months? Then, head down to your cabin in Antarctica to continue working on that amazing tan.
  • OK, none of those are working for you? How about literally partying all night every night–maybe just for the first few weeks?

And, don’t forget the cost savings! You could skip the President’s Day mattress sales forever. Buying your first house? Search Zillow for affordable 1 bath / 0 bedroom homes in your area. The possibilities are endless, but it’s all fantasy, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you my personal story about going without any sleep for a solid week. And, I’m not talking about grinding out a hyper-caffeinated endurance contest. I mean blissful and abundant absence of any need to sleep for five straight days.

Spoiler alert–my experience was amazing and miraculous as it sounds; I just wouldn’t recommend trying it the way I did.

It was the summer of 1999. 

My wife Stephanie and I were living with an American family who owned a grand chateau out in the middle of France, just east of Poitiers.

Once in a while, the owners would go to Paris and leave us to care for the estate. It was a large, 4 story place dating back at least to the 1700s, with mentions of the estate first recorded in the 15th century. It had 18 bedrooms, several salons, old barns, mills, horses, ponds, walled gardens, several outbuildings, apartments, and farmhouses, all on about 600 acres which functioned as a working cattle ranch and wild boar hunting grounds.

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Supposedly, David Ogilvy and Mick Jagger owned similar places in the same vicinity at that time, but we never ran into them.


One fine day in late spring, the owners went to Paris leaving us and the maid to care for the place. It was a beautiful day. Easy breezy, we thought.

After letting the horses out and tackling a few chores that morning, I drove back out to the farmhouse where we lived. 

Over the horizon, I saw something I had only ever read about in flight school–an immense formation of clouds in the shape of a rolling pin stretched out across the horizon between the ground and blue sky above it.

They refer to these as roll or arcus clouds generally. This may have been a shelf storm. I classified it in my mind at the time as a low squall line. It looked like these.

My heart sank. Adrenaline kicked in. I hit the gas (well, 4 cylinder diesel) and estimated we had 15-20 minutes to bring in all the animals and lock everything down.

I grabbed Stephanie and headed back to the main chateau, where we found the maid had, earlier that morning, opened every single window to air out the place. If you’re doing the math, that amounts to somewhere around 100 windows.

By the time I collected the horses and joined the ladies in the main house, it was already raining sideways. Our small team had succeeded in closing down the first two floors. I distinctly remember getting to the third floor, where an east-facing window in a 50 foot long hallway was allowing wind and rain straight into the house and on out the west window, like a wind tunnel. The wind probably helped keep that top floor relatively dry, but there was rain across the entire span of the hallway from that one window. Amazing.

Victoire! Puis Terreur

Finally, exhausted, soaking wet, and exhilarated from our small victory against nature, we headed back to the farmhouse to wait out the storm.

In our rush, we hadn’t closed down the farmhouse windows. I entered the house after my wife. She was already in the back room when the blinding flash and loud bang of a lightning bolt completely stopped time for us. 

It came crashing down through our chimney, traveled through our kitchen and passed right in front of me on its way out through an open window.

As my senses returned, I found myself still standing in the same spot, hearing the faint sound of my wife yelling if I was ok. Smoke was curling up from a fried radio and a couple counter top kitchen appliances. 

There was a distinct but not altogether unpleasant ringing in my ears and a curious emotion I can only describe as lightness or relief–almost humor. Didn’t see that coming.

Phew! Still breathing. No injuries. Just a little smoke in the air.

A near miss.

A brush with death.

Stunned, we hugged, crossed ourselves, and closed that kitchen window.

But here’s where it gets weird.

That night, we went to bed early, weary from a strenuous day locking everything down and then setting everything right again that afternoon after the storm.

Stephanie went to sleep immediately.

I didn’t. I was wide awake, unable to sleep. Here, it’s important to note that among my very few talents is an uncanny facility with getting my required 7.0 hours of sleep per day. I can sleep anywhere, anytime, and through just about anything. It’s wonderful. My parents have always been so proud of me.

Still, there I was, wide-eyed, looking up at our beamed ceiling in the dark.

For hours.

Finally, I got up for a 2AM snack and some reading. That didn’t work either.

Morning came, and I dreaded the day, certain it would be a slog.

Very much to my surprise, I had plenty of energy for the day and skipped the nap I anticipated needing. I had done things like this in college–pulling all-nighters for exams and papers, so I knew I would be able to catch up the following night with a long, deep sleep.

But that didn’t happen. I was up all night again Sunday night, blissfully awake and aware, full of happy, creative thought. It was this second night where I realized something truly unusual had happened to me.

I kid you not. It went on like this for 2 more nights before my energy started tapering off and mental fatigue set in. Oddly, my emotional health never really suffered. It was a positive week all the way through.

I never really needed any catch-up sleep. In fact, after the first 4-5 days, I simply started sleeping a couple more hours per night until I got back to my solid 7hrs. The whole experience took just over a week, during which time I slept a total of 8-10 hours instead of the normall 50 and not at all for those first 4 nights.

To put this in perspective, I woke up Saturday morning, the day of the lightning strike and went about my regular life the rest of that afternoon and on through Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of that week without sleeping a wink. I felt fine the whole time.

Wednesday night, I got two or three hours of sleep and hit it again Thursday.

The weirdest thing about all of this is how effortless it was–and how perfectly enjoyable. It was a brief taste of something immortal.

Since then, I’ve come across a few–very few–nearly identical stories about lightning near-misses as well as documented direct strike victims where they experienced prolonged sleeplessness. 

I’ve heard similar stories from victims of electrocution as well, where non-lethal jolts of electricity to the body provided days of unlimited, wakeful energy.

There are plenty of anecdotes along these lines from drug culture and military testing histories where chemicals have been used to release our bodies from the need to sleep.

So, I’ve never really known what to make of that experience, but now it’s written down. Perhaps others who have had experiences like this can get in touch or publish their own account.

Perhaps someday science will be able to explain this rare but fascinating phenomenon to those of us who have experienced it–any volunteers for near-miss lightning strike experiments? 

And, for those who could benefit from bountiful sleeplessness, maybe someday we’ll literally catch lightning in a bottle and get back 33% of our lives.