Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Amazing Tale of Jonathan Winston - Chapter One

 June 15, 2014 - The Georgia Gazette

He has been the the subject of 14 books, more than 400 articles and an infinite number of conversations. Every inch of him, inside and out, has been examined, analyzed and interpreted. He is considered the most studied person on the planet. As incomprehensible the solution,  the problem is simple and clearly defined: Jonathan Winston has not slept in more than 27 years.

On the night of February 12, 1987, Jonathan Winston went to bed at 11 PM. He was 43 years, 8 months, 2 weeks and 3 days old. He lived alone in a two bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Atlanta . He had never been married, was the owner, sole proprietor and only employee of a small bookstore. He had a wide circle of friends, drank but not to excess, did not smoke, was not overweight and exercised regularly. His mother and father were still alive and well, working class people much like him. His sister had moved to England more than a decade earlier. They rarely spoke, but he would say they were still close. Up to the evening of February 12, 1987, the life of Jonathan Winston was wholly unremarkable.

He can recall nothing unusual that occurred during the day of February 12, 1987. He was not struck by lightning, hit by a car, did not suffer a seizure, have a heart attack, neither found God nor a new favorite food, did not hear voices or see visions,was not abducted by aliens or even by his friends for a drink or two. He merely awoke, went to work, came home, watched the nightly news, read for a  while and got into bed. But for some reason he was not the least sleepy.

At 1 AM, he grew irritated. Having tossed and turned for an extended period, he headed to the medicine cabinet searching for a remedy. But there was not a sleeping pill to be found, for getting a good night's sleep had never been an issue. There was a product for those with a cold and stuffy head that promised to bring peaceful rest, so Jonathan gave this a try. But more than an hour later, nothing had happened. He stared at the ceiling and contemplated his next move.

Suddenly there was something that felt different. It was but a small shudder, almost imperceptible to Jonathan initially, but it came again about 15 minutes after the first. And then another, within but several minutes more. And another, even closer. There was no pain attached, only a very tiny sensation, not a shock, not nearly that much, but something.

And then, maybe an hour after the first of these episodes, all was quiet. Jonathan was not so much scared as he was concerned. He hoped it was nothing but he vowed to get it checked out in the morning. He remained wide awake for the balance of the night.

When he called his doctor's office and relayed what had happened, the receptionist advised that the doctor was on vacation and would not be returning until the following week. If he wanted an appointment for a checkup, he could be seen in three weeks. If he was at all worried, there was another doctor on call whom she could contact to get in touch with Jonathan. That would not be  necessary, Jonathan told her.

The unusual thing was that Jonathan was not at all tired on the day of February 13, 1987. While he would have expected to be exhausted by mid-day, his energy did not wane at all. If anything, he felt strangely refreshed. He relayed the story of the prior evening to several friends, and while one or two told him he must get checked right away, Jonathan did not take their suggestion seriously. He was fine, he told them, and himself.

Only the evening of February 13, 1987 was much like the one before. And then the next day also. It was now more than 72 hours since Jonathan had slept. The nightly "tremors" recurred and then dissipated. The expected fatigue never materialized. Jonathan now feared something was gravely wrong. A brain tumor maybe. He called back to the doctor's office, this time with a sense of urgency.

It is estimated that Jonathan has seen over 250 doctors in the more than 27 years since that first night he lay awake in bed. There have been solutions suggested as benign as eating 2 bananas each night no more than 30 minutes before bedtime to the exotic and extremely bizarre. There have been 'breakthroughs" and discoveries. But never anything that has cured him.

Jonathan Winston is now 70 years old, has not slept  in 9981 days and counting. He appears to be in remarkably good health. He is planning  no celebration on July 4th of this year when he will mark 10,000 evenings since he last was able to slumber. He had hoped the day would pass without notice. That will not be the case.

The mystery persists. And the questions that hang in the air are why has he survived, and maybe more importantly, why do any of us need to sleep?

A study recently done by the University of Rochester  would suggest that sleep is required to clean out one's brain of all the excess debris built up during the time we are awake.

Cells throughout our body produce waste product that gets removed through our lymphatic system, but not so the brain. It has its own unique method of dumping its junk, carried on waves of cerebrospinal fluid to the liver for disposal. And, as it turns out, the passageways to get this done open much wider during periods of sleep.

So, the conclusion reached by those conducting this study is that without sleep our brains would basically explode.

What seems to have happened with Jonathan Winston is that his brain has been able to replicate this pattern while he is fully awake. Those little nightly episodes, that Jonathan refers to as the "shakes", are the vacuum cleaner inside his head going to work, filtering out all the bad that has accumulated during the normal waking hours, and leaving his brain ready to take in another day's worth of information.

Jonathan Winston has long since abandoned the possibility of closing his eyes in the darkness of  night and finding bright daylight when they next open. Has he done remarkable things with all those extra hours? For the answers to that question and what the past 27 years have been like for him, you will have to read the follow up articles in this series entitled, "The Life and Very Strange Times of Jonathan Winston".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So wild! This could be the basis for a really compelling series of stories, even in a reportage format. What were you thinking about? I love this idea