Archive for March, 2010

UPDATED: SWALLOW Featured Post: Little Slices of Death

March 12, 2010

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Heath Ledger as "The Joker" in 2008's "The Dark Knight"


MaximSM

Sleep Deprivation and the Unholy Trinity of Celebrity Death
by Maxim W. Furek, MA, CAC, ICADC
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“Sleep, those little slices of death; Oh how I loathe them.” —Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)

The common denominator connecting the deaths of celebrities Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Jackson was prescription drug abuse triggered by chronic sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation is a serious condition that can become deadly. It is one of the most common health complaints, caused by insomnia or sleeplessness, and can lead to impaired mental and physical health. After periods of reduced sleep, brain neurons may begin to malfunction, visibly affecting a person’s behavior. In sleep-deprived subjects, there is no activity in the temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex, which is associated with the processing of language (Ledoux, 2008). Thus, in these individuals, there are signs of slurred speech, stuttering, speaking in a monotone voice or speaking at a slower pace than normal.

Other behavioral changes may include mood changes, such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, or lack of interest or motivation, social or vocational dysfunction, including increased errors or accidents, decreased attention span and tension, headache, or stomach symptoms (Peters, 2009). Extreme anxiety caused by poor sleep patterns may contribute to irrational and dangerous behaviors. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates conservatively that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities (Breus, 2009).

Heath Ledger
Actor Heath Ledger suffered from chronic sleep deprivation. Ledger won critical acclaim for The Patriot, Monster’s Ball and a best actor Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain. Success, however, began to take its toll as a cluster of life stressors contributed to his eventual unraveling. His personal life was also unraveling. Ledger had just ended his relationship with actress Michelle Williams and was involved in a fierce custody dispute over their daughter Matilda.  Ledger, who suffered from chronic insomnia and anxiety, was forced to deal with the additional pressures of success and demands for increased creative output. Too many sleepless nights were coupled with exhausting film shoots, red-carpet events and grueling press campaigns. He told the New York Times in 2007, “Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” (CNN,2008). Prior to his tragic overdose the sleep-deprived and physically exhausted actor is believed to have been fighting off effects of walking pneumonia. Ledger died on January 22, 2008, his 28-year-old body discovered in a loft on Broome Street in New York’s SoHo district. The actor died from an accidental overdose of prescription medications, including painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills. The New York City medical examiner’s office determined that “Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine. We have concluded that the manner of death is accident, resulting from the abuse of prescription medications.”

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