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Sensory deprivation and sleep as a cure for illness



Type of spiritual experience


Dr Jack Vernon undertook a series of controlled experiments in a specially made ‘dark room’.  A large soft king sized bed was provided to minimise the sensation of touch.  Clearly this was one sense not eliminated, but as this sensation did not change throughout the experiment as most subjects tended to lie fairly still, there was in a sense no stimulus, as generally our nerves measure change of stimulus, rather than the continual monitoring of a uniform stimulus. 

The dark room was completely sound proofed and completely dark, however, the research subjects knew that there was a toilet they could go to in the room.  Taste sensation was not eliminated as the subjects were provided with a cold box with food [mostly sandwiches and soup].  There was also a ‘panic button’ provided, so that if they felt they could endure no more they could ask to be removed, although the door was not locked and in fact they could walk out at any time.  In effect, the experiments measured benign partial sensory deprivation.

The research subjects were nearly all male and post graduate students at the university [Princeton]

A description of the experience

Inside the Black Room – Dr Jack Vernon

Soon after entering the confinement cell most subjects went to sleep and slept almost uninterruptedly for ten to twenty-four hours. These are gross estimates, for there was nothing by which the subjects could determine elapsed time, and if anything they probably underestimated sleeping time.  We know for certain that one subject slept for nineteen hours but insisted that he had had a nap of less than one hour. According to the monitoring microphone, which was capable of picking up the deep breathing of sleep, it seems more likely that most subjects slept almost all of the first twenty-four hours.

We felt that so much sleeping in the first day wasted the effects of confinement, so we started placing subjects in S.D. early in morning.  We reasoned that after a night's sleep our confined subject would be unable to dissipate the effects of S.D. by sleeping.  Such was not the case. As far as we could determine they went to sleep just as quickly and slept just as long as the previous subjects. We then started entering the subjects at midmorning, midday, and mid-afternoon. As it turned out, it made no difference when during the day and, presumably, during the night we started the confinement; the initial sleep period was always about the same……………

Three of our subjects who came to the laboratory to start SD had the beginnings of bad head and chest colds. Our first reaction was to send them away, but later appointments could not be worked out, and, as we never had an easy time enlisting subjects, they were accepted, colds and all. They were confined for forty-eight hours, and when they were released from S.D. not one had a trace of a cold. AII three expressed amazement at the rapid recovery, since it was their usual experience to keep colds for a week or so rather than for two days, and especially since they had had no medication.

We can only assume that the very complete rest afforded by S.D. was responsible for the rapid recovery from the colds. This may suggest that S.D. as a form of complete rest, … could effect recoveries more rapidly than if one merely went to bed during illness. Dr. Azima, of the Montreal Neurological Institute, has attempted such treatment for mental patients. It is his claim that S.D. brings about a more rapid personalization process in the patient than would be otherwise possible.

The source of the experience

Scientist other