Dole caravan's snooze control Campaign: The GOP challenger's got miles to go before he sleeps, but says he's ready. Can he be? Are we?

Campaign 1996

November 02, 1996|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

Saturday morning, Nov. 2. Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole passes the 24th hour of his so-called "non-stop Victory Tour," a 96-hour, 11-state whirl of campaigning campaigning campaigning until Tuesday morning. Call it a blitz, call it a marathon. Just don't call it sleep.

Bob Dole won't be doing much sleeping. A nap here or there on a plane or bus, that's all. He plans to stump at pre-dawn factory gates, on the midnight shift at the local police precinct and in the wee neon hours in Las Vegas. Before 10 this morning, Bob Dole was scheduled to march from Newark to Philadelphia to Indianapolis in a span of five hours.

As little sleep as presidential candidates usually get in the closing days of a campaign, Bob Dole pledges to get even less. "I intend to take my message to Americans nonstop," says Dole.

Nonstop Dolespeak. Imagine that. Dole won't get much sleep until Election Day, but clearly the rest of us won't have this problem. Wake Up America! Wake Up Already!

If you talk to sleep experts, this much is evident: Bob Dole is wading into risky territory.

"Ninety-six hours, that's a long time," says Mark Pressman, a psychologist and associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, Pa. He says the world record of staying awake with no sleep at all was set by a 17-year-old high school boy in 1965: 264 hours. And the kid still managed to make sense at the press conference when the whole thing was over.

Dole has been known to suffer syntax fracture on his best days. What of Day 2, Day 3 of the "Victory Tour"? What will Bob Dole look and sound like in San Diego, where he is scheduled to appear at 5 a.m. tomorrow?

"I wouldn't mind putting some recording devices on him and see what's going on there," says Dr. Claudio Stampi, the associate director of the Institute for Circadian Physiology in Cambridge, Mass., where they study how people function without sleep. "If it's done right, if it's done with some sleep, it could be OK."

Most of us need about seven hours of sleep a night to function. In the longest partial sleep-deprivation experiment Stampi knows someone went six weeks on three hours' sleep a day. They were fine, taking the three hours a day in regular 30-minute naps. But after the six weeks, says Stampi, who knows? Sleep deprivation is cumulative. The longer it goes, the greater the potential risk.

You might fall asleep at an inappropriate moment. You might say something embarrassing. You might, for example, reach for a sports metaphor and mention the latest triumph of Hideo Nomo, that pitching phenom of the "Brooklyn Dodgers."

You might say we have the worst economy this century, which last time we looked included the Great Depression.

You might recall living through the dark days of Watergate, saying, "I remember President Clinton leaving on a helicopter."

Wait a minute, Bob Dole said all that in the last few weeks. Now what?

His aides have a tough job. They'll have to watch Dole carefully for the warning signs of sleep deprivation.

"The first thing is irritability," says Dr. Richard Allen, founder of the Sleep Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Great. That should be easy to spot.

Grouchiness is just for openers. Michael H. Bonnet, a psychologist and expert on sleep disorders at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, says the next potential effect if sleep deprivation continues is "some increased difficulty with new and creative things, as opposed to rote responses."

L Wait a minute, when exactly did Bob Dole start not sleeping?

Dole aides might also watch their man for inability to concentrate, difficulty picking up nuance and short-term memory loss. If the days stretch on and Dole can't nap, he's liable to experience blurred vision, even seeing spots floating in the corners of his eyes.

Sleep experts say age does not necessarily intensify the effects of sleep deprivation. It's possible, says Allen, that his age could even be an advantage, because older people tend to sleep in two shorter phases: at night and afternoon naps.

Elderly people also tend to get up earlier, meaning Dole could sail through those pre-dawn sessions at the factory gates.

The sleep experts suggest that Dole do the following: Take regular short naps, maybe 30 minutes each, a la Thomas Edison. Stick to the stump speech. Don't try to be spontaneous. When in public, keep moving or at least remain standing. If you sit down you might doze off.

"If you really get sleepy, stand on one leg," says Allen.

Mark Merritt, former communications director for the Lamar Alexander presidential campaign, says the biggest danger is probably not physical, but political. Because Dole has made such a fuss about going without sleep, Merritt says, "there's a greater risk of the press looking for a gaffe, whether there is one or not."

Merritt, who teaches a course on the media in the 1996 RTC campaign at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in Boston, says Dole is doing the right thing in trying to stir up interest to get out the vote. A bigger turnout has to help him, says Merritt. Besides, nobody ever gets much sleep in the closing days of a campaign.

"Maybe Dole's problem is he's been getting too much sleep," says Merritt.

Pub Date: 11/02/96

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