Why exactly do we care about famous people with insomnia? Does it make us feel better to see someone we love dealing with the same problem? Do we revel in the fact that so many artists and gifted people seem mad in their own way?
Sadly, so many people on this list burnt out and died hard, which isn’t to say that’s what happens when you have insomnia… but it sure as hell seems like insomnia + fame make for a lethal combination.
There’s loads more people I could’ve added to this list, but here are what I think are the most interesting famous people with insomnia. Let me know what you think and who I left out.
. . .
“The last refuge of the insomniac is a sense of superiority to the sleeping world.”
1. Michael Jackson
I’ll start this list with my childhood hero, Michael Jackson.
Oh Michael, I love you, and of course you would have insomnia along with a million other health problems.
Bloggers from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (1) speculated after his death that Jackson could have been dealing with a number of sleep problems. These included adjustment insomnia, which comes from being stressed out and psychophysiological insomnia, which comes from worry about insomnia to the point that anxiety is associated with sleep. He was also on a number of medicines which could have – and almost certainly did – mess up his sleep.
Additionally, they say he practiced bad sleep hygiene by sleeping in a chamber with a monkey using his laptop in bed. D’oh, how many you are reading this right now in bed?
PS I think this photo is actually a photo of a wax statue. It’s a little weird that it’s hard to tell the difference.
2. Vincent van Gogh
“For three weeks I have been suffering from insomnia.”
– Letter, June 1882, Vincent van Gogh
Discussions of Van Gogh’s mental and physical health are nearly as celebrated as his art. On the subject of insomnia, he wrote about it often, noting in one letter he had been struggling for 3 weeks to fall asleep. (1) In another letter, this time to his brother, he offered his solution: putting “a very, very strong dose of camphor in my pillow and mattress.” (2)
Camphor, made from dried rosemary leaves or evergreen trees, at high doses is actually poisonous to ingest, causing confusion, seizures, and irritability. Interesting to think what this “very, very strong dose” he slept with was doing to him.
3. Abraham Lincoln
President Lincoln reportedly kept his aides awake as he stayed up all night working – or maybe just goofing off. Reportedly he would pace the White House telling stories and reading Shakespeare outloud to his secretary, while everyone but Lincoln would be falling asleep. (1)
Insomnia? It’s not entirely clear if that’s the case but it sure sounds like he had problems sleeping.
In fact, Lincolns health is a subject a popular debate amongst historians. He was known to take a medicine called “blue mass” as a treatment for melancholy. (2) Turns out this medicine was mercury, which we now know is a neurotoxin. Strange to think of one of the most famous Presidents in American history slowly and purposely, yet unknowingly, eating poison.
4. Judy Garland
Judy Garland, star of one of the most wonderful movies about dreams ever made, the Wizard of Oz, developed insomnia in the same manner many celebrities do: stress. (1)
Sadly, her insomnia and stress all worked in a vicious cycle: she was given drugs to help her sleep, drugs to her get up, and drugs to help her stay thin. Taken together, this led to her pain pill addiction. She was rumored to stay awake for days on end while on amphetamines. Eventually she died from an (accidental?) overdose of sleeping pills.
5. Marily Monroe
Marilyn Monroe’s story is all too similar to that of Judy Garland: young, pretty, and overworked, develops insomnia, takes lots of drugs, and dies of a sleeping pill overdose. The two drugs in question: Nembutal and Chloral Hydrate (1), two drugs given for insomnia.
6. Groucho Marx
Marx once asked:
“What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic, and a dyslexic? Someone who stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.”
Even when suffering from insomnia, Marx had to have his wits about him and be funny: (1)
When he couldn’t sleep, he would pick up the phone, call people, and prank them.
7. Alexandre Dumas
Huh, who’s that?
No, it’s not Frederick Douglasses twin brother, that’s just how all photos looked back then.
You know who is Alexandre Dumas is, you just don’t know you know. He’s the author behind such famous books as The Three Musteteers and The Count of Monte Cristo.
As an insomniac he would clear his head by taking walks in the night time, which eventually helped him go back to sleep. (1) Yay!
He wrote a ton of books, and it’s fun to think that maybe if he didn’t have sleep problems, he would not have had the time to write as much as he did.
But he was also kind of a literary badass with a fascinating life. Born in poverty, Dumas was the grandson of a both a slave and a French noblemen, and had sex with lots of women, sometimes even including his wife.
All photos in this article, unless otherwise indicated, are in the public domain
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