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Sensory deprivation and sleep as a cure for skin diseases

Identifier

011883

Type of spiritual experience

Background

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……………

Two men came to us with severe cases of poison ivy. Obviously we would not have allowed them to serve as S.D. subjects had we known, but, as it turned out, both men were completely cured at the end of their confinement, which for one was forty-eight hours, and for the other seventy-two hours.

Thinking back on it, I do not see how they endured that situation, for the gauntlets so covered their hands they could not scratch, and, also, they had been asked to lie still. To be sure, each could have pulled off the gauntlets and scratched to his heart's content and we would have been none the wiser. But both men insisted that they carried out our instructions to the letter, that at no time did they scratch their itching poison ivy, for they felt to do so would be contrary to our instructions to lie as quietly as possible. It may not be surprising that the poison ivy was cured in such a short time; medical counsel indicates that this affliction, if not most skin diseases, can be readily cured merely by not scratching the affected areas. It is very surprising, however, that our two subjects could resist scratching. Both men claimed that it was easy to resist scratching because of SD.   Apparently they both felt that the itching sensation was a welcome relief in circumstances devoid of stimulation.

The source of the experience

Scientist other

Activities