The whole affair - the fasting and sleep deprivation, as well as the greater blanket issue of asceticism, smacks of masochism. Dictionary.com defines masochism thusly:
2. gratification gained from pain, deprivation, degradation, etc.,inflicted or imposed on oneself, either as a result of one'sown actions or the actions of others, especially thetendency to seek this form of gratification.
I do believe strongly religious people gain some gratification from their pain, just as much as the more fanatical auto-flagellants do, the difference being that religiously motivated masochists have developed a rationale behind their actions. Those who fast tell me that it gets them closer to god, that they can feel a stronger connection being forged and that their prayers are being heard. Of course, I'd argue that it's more likely the lack of food affecting their brain, but that's just me. Among Adventists (at least locally, anyway) such self-denialist streaks run even deeper than the occasional fast. Especially around older folks, you get the feeling that simply having any sort of fun is wrong. Last Sunday, I was at a friend's birthday party, and the amount of supplication that went on just dazzled me. Before anything had begun, there were pleas for god to forgive everyone in advance for any sins they may commit and a blessing for everyone to enjoy themselves, "but not too much" in case they sinned, then after it all, another prayer for god to forgive everyone's sins, both those they committed "knowingly" and "unknowingly". Frankly, this brings images of an abusive relationship, where one partner is so afraid of angering the abusive partner that they are constantly begging for forgiveness and limiting their activities in order to avoid arousing their ire.
All this is simply another way religion poisons peoples' minds, limiting their view of the world and their enjoyment of life.
If this piece seemed a little disjointed, forgive me. I actually watched considerably more than the Pirates movie last night.