10 famous insomniacs

A list of celebrities and politicians who can't — or didn't — sleep, and the methods they've used to cope. (Turpentine-soaked mattress, anyone?)

Americans aren't getting enough sleep, according to a new survey. But a lack of sleep is nothing new, and it doesn't rule out success in non-nocturnal life. Here are some notable insomniacs, and how they dealt with their sleeplessness:

1. Arianna Huffington, blogger and commentator

The Huffington Post founder has earned fame as both a workaholic and an insomniac, but ever since she "passed out from exhaustion, broke my cheekbone, and got five stitches over my eye," she has become a fervent anti-insomnia crusader. This year she's declared lack of sleep a "feminist issue," and is encouraging women get at least seven hours of shut eye each night.

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2. Vincent Van Gogh, painter

Van Gogh treated his insomnia by dousing his mattress and pillow with camphor, a relative of turpentine. Scholars believe the camphor slowly poisoned him and was one of the factors that pushed him to suicide.

3. Bill Clinton, president

Clinton long claimed to get by on five hours of sleep a night, but he's been trying to extend that number after a heart attack he partly attributes to fatigue. He also notes, "Every important mistake I've made in my life, I've made because I was too tired."

4. Marilyn Monroe, actress

Monroe's insomnia, which she treated with sleeping pills, was reportedly tied to turbulent emotional spells. The day before she overdosed, she became enraged on hearing that a friend had nabbed 15 hours of sleep.

5. Abraham Lincoln, president

Lincoln, a long-suffering insomniac, became known for taking long walks at midnight.

6. Madonna, singer

Madonna's brother, Christopher Ciccone, says his sister treats her insomnia with medication, and blames her sleeping problems on her "unbridled desire for fame and fortune." Madonna doesn't exactly disagree: "I'm anal retentive. I'm a workaholic. I have insomnia. And I'm a control freak. That's why I'm not married. Who could stand me?"

7. Judy Garland, actress

Garland developed insomnia as a teenager after studio pressure to stay thin left her addicted to amphetamines. While overly pepped on pills, she would sometimes stay up for three or four days at a time.

8. Groucho Marx, comic actor

Marx's sleeping problems were triggered by the 1929 stock market crash, in which he lost a small fortune. To avoid wee-hours boredom, he would reportedly call strangers on the phone and insult them — as well as pen such classic jokes as this: “Q: What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic, and a dyslexic? A: Someone who stays up all night wondering if there is a Dog.”

9. Margaret Thatcher, politician

Thatcher famously survived her long tenure as British prime minister on only four hours of sleep a night. Her motto: "Sleep is for wimps."

10. Tallulah Bankhead, actress (1902-68)

The early–20th century film star and libertine was a lifelong insomniac. One of her solutions was to hire gay "caddies" to sit with her and hold her hand until she fell asleep.


LA Times, Milwaukee Journal, Wikipedia, The Book of Lists via ScienceRoll, Slumboo.com

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