Tag Archives: the effect of sleeplessness on personality

Michael Jackson (and the price of sleep)

It’s six years since Michael Jackson died. He’s somebody I’ve been aware of all my life. I wasn’t obsessed, but I was very much a fan of his music and the then-young man himself, mainly back around the Thriller days. He seemed so likeable then. He looked like he was having fun – such charisma – and he made us want to have fun too. I was as thrilled as anybody to watch the Motown 25 special where he blew across our consciousness into a different stratosphere of entertainer. Before that he’d been great. But then he was brilliant. He’d become something else.

Before things really got strange – in the “elephant man bones” and “oxygen chamber” days and prior to child molestation charges – I distinctly remember reading in a book where the author suggested Michael might “slowly be going mad before our eyes.” That statement was so haunting. I’ve thought of it regularly in the decades since. It was awfully prescient. I don’t know if he went mad but he went something.

There’s a thought that has been percolating in my mind over the six years since Michael Jackson’s death. The way I understood it, he died primarily from a drug he took to help him sleep, one that was not traditionally used for that purpose, but was used to put people under for surgery. It was reported that he insisted on being prescribed the drug.

Exactly how badly must someone want sleep before opting to be administered a drug meant to render pre-op patients unconscious? One never intended as a sleep aid? How crazed and desperate would you have to be even to try it in the first place? This is all the more puzzling considering how incredibly common sleep problems are, resulting in an industry rife with sleep medications and aids. There’s quite a few steps between counting sheep and being rendered unconscious.

I don’t pretend to know what the life of a superstar celebrity is like, with its overbooked schedules and incessant pressures. But from a human angle, I very much know the importance of sleep. Personally, I find that sleep rules my personality and outlook. When I lack it, I’m prone to pessimism and joylessness. I feel like I can’t cope with things. Everything seems like an ordeal and effort. It is almost shocking the difference a decent night’s slumber has on my well-being. I’m perky and energetic and smiling at the world. My mind is clicking with ideas and I bound around getting things done. While surely some of us are more sensitively wired than others, I can’t be alone in this dualism.

So sometimes, when I can’t get to sleep, or more typically, wake up in the middle of the night only to toss around and stew, or when I drag around all day fatigued from a piss-poor right’s rest, I think of Michael Jackson and how desperately he must have wanted sleep. Enough to risk having it forever.