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Blog Feature

By: Kevin Asp on July 3rd, 2015

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5 Historical Figures with Sleep Disorders

Sleep Disorders

Declaration_independence

Did You Know One of Our Founding Fathers Had Insomnia?

Not surprisingly, sleep disorders were a prevalent problem even among some of history's most influential figures.

Here's a list of historical figures with sleep disorders who could have benefitted from the help of a sleep technologist with a time machine.

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1. Benjamin Franklin was an insomniac.

One of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was right about many things, with the exception of his thoughts on sleep. To this day, he is often quoted for saying, "There will be sleeping enough in the grave."

Not surprisingly, Benjamin Franklin reportedly suffered from severe bouts of insomnia and was well-known for being a polyphasic sleeper.

This was often true for high achievers from the times when we knew little about the biological function of sleep, and way before the time of sleep technologists.

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2. Thomas Edison was constantly sleep deprived.

One of the most influential inventors of our time, Thomas Edison had a love-hate relationship with sleep. He was a known workaholic, and unfortunately propagated the belief that sleep is a sign of laziness and people who sleept often would fall behind.

He was noted for saying the following: "Most people overeat 100 percent, and oversleep 100 percent, because they like it.  That extra 100 percent makes them unhealthy and inefficient. The person who sleeps eight or ten hours a night is never fully asleep and never fully awake - they have only different degrees of doze through the twenty-four hours."

Edison carried his sleep deprivation as a badge of honor, and actually often did not practice what we preached.  Much can be learned from his sleep diary, which he stopped recording frequently after the age of 40.

According to his sleep diary, Edison was a huge fan of a good night's sleep (who wouldn't be?) and would start off his day by ranking the quality of his sleep.  He noted in his diary that he took advantage of the hours immediately after he woke up, when he claimed he was most productive.

Perhaps Edison did know a thing or two about how sleep is interconnected with our mind's performance but it is indeed a loss that he did not preach what he actually practiced.

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3. Winston Churchill had sleep apnea.

According to his assistants, Winston Churchill was an infamous snorer, whose sleep behavior mirrored that of our modern day sleep apnea patients.

Today he is well-known for his penchant for afternoon naps, but not surprisngly to sleep technologists Churchill also dealt with many comorbidities such as obesity, alcoholism and obsessive cigar smoking habits.

But what kind of device would he have used had he been alive today? Read our post about which sleep therapy device he would have benefitted from.

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4. Franklin Roosevelt also suffered from sleep apnea.

FDR was known for having pre-disposed conditions for having sleep apnea that included: a history of polio, severe snoring, incessant smoking and heart failure.

He was also known for suffering from hypertension, which most likely contributed to his heart failure. Hypertension, a recognized complication of obstructive sleep apnea, was first noted in FDR in 1931. It may have been a contributing factor, if not the cause, of his heart failure. (Roosevelt also had coronary artery disease.)

Roosevelt was utterly exhausted during the many months of his final illness. For example, in January 1944 he began complaining of headaches in the evening. "He seemed strangely tired, even in the morning hours; he occasionally nodded off during a conversation; once, he blacked out half-way through signing his name to a letter, leaving a long scrawl." He several times complained about his excessive sleepiness.

From what we know about his final days, it is likely FDR had central sleep apnea. Whether he additionally had obstructive sleep apnea remains unknown.  But what we do know is that had FDR had a sleep study today, he could have been treated for some of the various ailments he suffered from!

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5. Sir Isaac Newton was a classic example of a patient with various comorbidities.

Newton was noted to suffer from severe depression and it's not surprising that historians today attribute his two infamous bouts of nervous breakdowns to his poor sleep habits.

In 1678, after engaging in a dispute over aspects of his theory of optics, Newton is believed to have suffered a nervous breakdown. In 1693, he had another, after which he retired from scientific research. Newton blamed his second breakdown on lack of sleep, though historians mention other possible causes, including chemical poisoning from experiments as well as the accumulated effects of chronic psychological depression.

Sleep technologists, what treatment options do you think your sleep physicians would offer these historical figures if they had access to a time machine?

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