Phil Walter/Getty ImagesAn expert witness in the Michael Jackson trial said Thursday that the musician had gone 60 days without REM sleep, which inevitably lead to his death.
He was being treated for his insomnia with the anesthetic propofol which put him into a coma-like sleep, but deprived him of REM sleep. An overdose of the drug killed the singer.
Dr. Charles Czeisler, of Harvard Medical School testified that Jackson's lack of REM sleep would have killed him soon, if the drug hadn't, according to CNN.
Most of us have gone a night or two with little or no sleep, but to go weeks or months without sleep seems unimaginable.
Lack of sleep can cause confusion, dizziness, headaches, and in extreme cases, death.
Real people without sleep
Almost a month. Had insomnia for no reason I could figure out. Luckily Fight Club and American Beauty had just come out on VHS tape. I watched them both about 20 some times. I was unemployed at the time so I just kinda laid on the couch in a zombie like haze. I started to get really mad and frustrated about the whole thing toward the end of the month. I decided I was going to drink myself to sleep. It worked, I slept for about a day and a half. The next night I slept normally. I haven't had another incident since. It's been about 12 years.
I had insomnia when I was going through a separation. I slept but only about 15-20 minutes a day of real sleep. Lasted about 3-4 weeks. Some people said I looked like death others just did a double take stare like they saw a zombie. My mind would race and I would start questioning my whole worthiness as a human. Then when that passed I would just get pissed that I couldn't sleep. Throw bed sheets and pillows around. Swear at the way the human mind f*cks with you. It was a great time. Finally went to the doctor for some meds. Found that xanax and a couple drinks works better than actual sleep aids. Although I also learned that you either sit or lay down after you gobble the xanax down. Got in an argument once with the ex wife 30 minutes after popping 2 xanax and having several drinks. Managed to fall up the steps. The way the movie Insomnia is done gives you an accurate uneasiness and mania feeling that comes with is actual Insomnia.
Some people have stayed up even longer.
Tyler Shields, a LA-based photographer documented his experiment to go without sleep for 40 days. He was trying to set a world record, but Guinness wouldn't recognize his feat because it was too dangerous and too hard to prove.
He claims he trained for months to perform the feat, and was under 24 hour watch.
He also doesn't sleep as much as normal people even when he's not trying to break a record.
"A lot of people say, 'This is impossible, you can't do this,'" Shields told AOL News in 2010, when he performed his feat. "If I was a normal person that slept every night, then I would agree with those people. But in my normal life, I only sleep one to two nights a week — that's my normal. That's my every day."
He experienced bad fevers, leg numbness, severe headaches, eye aches, and had to pee a lot, according to AOL News. His usually sharp memory was frazzled.
"It's not even a struggle to stay awake — it's that everything else is a struggle," he told AOL. "I took a shower this morning and it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. When the water was hitting me, I felt like I was being stabbed. I have to think about breathing, I have to think about moving."
Though he might have slept for small amounts of time during his feat — called microsleeps – he definitely didn't get any REM sleep. When he finally did go to sleep it took him 8 hours to fall asleep.
When insomnia is fatal
When sleep loss is at its extreme, it can definitely lead to death.
A condition called Fatal Familiar Insomnia, which according to Wikipedia "involves progressively worsening insomnia, which leads to hallucinations, delirium, and confusional states like that of dementia. The average survival span for patients diagnosed with FFI after the onset of symptoms is 18 months." The disease affects only about 100 people.
“Extended periods of wakefulness are associated with poor health outcomes, and animals subjected to sleep deprivation have resulted in death… There is a disorder called Fatal Familial Insomnia. As part of the progression of the disorder, the person is not able to sleep and death usually occurs within a few months to a few years,” sleep physician Vikas Wadhwa told the Epoch times in 2008.
The disease has four stages, taking 7 to 18 months to run its course:
- The patient suffers increasing insomnia, resulting in panic attacks, paranoia, and phobias. This stage lasts for about four months.
- Hallucinations and panic attacks become noticeable, continuing for about five months.
- Complete inability to sleep is followed by rapid loss of weight. This lasts for about three months.
- Dementia, during which the patient becomes unresponsive or mute over the course of six months. This is the final progression of the disease, after which death follows.
It isn't known what was causing Michael Jackson to lose sleep, but he definitely would have felt the effects of his insomnia after 60 days.
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