09/03/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Michael Jackson's Sleep Problems: What Can We Learn?

Amidst all the fuss and turmoil over Michael Jackson's untimely death, we have seen his life picked apart by many, covering everything from unhappy childhood to rock star status to problems with drugs. Now we learn that just trying to sleep may be what killed him.

We have learned that Michael had such trouble sleeping that he wound up resorting to propofol, an anesthesia product used in surgery. There have been many articles on this subject, including this recent item in the Huffington Post.

Imagine that. Cause of death? Sleep issues.

Now that's just staggering.

Sleep! Sleep? Yes, sleep.

So far, not many people seem to have noticed the connection between sleep issues and stress.
You may have heard that the Huffington Post is pro-sleep. And with good reason. Have you noticed how many people are looking as though a truck ran over them? We don't just mean politicians and people who travel for a living - how about our neighbors, co-workers or even family members.

Remember the pictures of Larry Summers falling asleep during the credit card industry meeting? This one picture epitomizes the dilemma so many of us seem to be facing. We can be so concerned about dealing with pressing issues that we don't take care of ourselves through something as simple and natural as sleep, and then wind up running at a much less effective rate when we most need to be on top of our game. Which then means we will have even more to do when we come back.

A March 30th LA Times article by Denise Gellene quotes Dr. Gregg D. Jacobs, an insomnia specialist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester as saying: "The first stress symptom people experience is insomnia. The size of the sleeping pill market can only go up because of the economy and stress."

According to research firm IMS Health, prescriptions for sleeping medications reached an all time high of 56 million in 2008, up 54% from 2004.

It seems as though 24/7 not only means the ability to access anything, anytime, anywhere, it also means that if you are going to be seen as worthwhile, you too will run 24/7.

What is it about our culture that something as simple and natural as sleep can be seen as a sign of weakness or lacking real commitment? We have jobs that are so important that we won't let something as silly as sleep interfere. Why does going home "early" translate into a sign of weakness for so many corporations these days? (Early means before 9:00 pm.) How many of us just can't seem to turn off our Blackberries or I-Phones? What if something urgent shows up in our email?

Vacation? Without email? Come on, get serious.

I know firsthand what that can be like. I've taken my share of red-eye flights because that meeting in New York was just so darned important, certainly more important that taking care of me. And I've stayed up until the wee hours to get some "important" project delivered. Heck, a couple of weeks ago, I even got up at 2:30 in the morning because I was concerned about how the Living page was going to look later that morning.
And it's not just that I got up, it's that I couldn't sleep because I was so concerned about something as short lived as a press deadline.

Perhaps it is a sign of how misaligned we have become as a culture that pill popping for what ails us seems so common as to be almost natural. Rather than deal with what's at the root of an issue, increasing numbers of us seem to look for an answer that comes conveniently packaged in a bottle of one sort or another.
That bottle may contain pills, an injectible, or something to drink. Something to drink could range from alcohol to an "energy drink" to a plain old Coke. Perhaps 5-6 a day. And don't forget Red Bull and Gatorade.

The underlying theme is millions looking to find some kind of relief. Relief from what? Perhaps we are seeking relief from what we call life, instead of seeking a real life, something that is sustainable from the inside out, rather than requiring something from the outside in.

For Michael Jackson, the search for relief took the form of a daily cocktail of pills for both depression and anxiety, pain medications, muscle relaxants, anesthetics, and heartburn (due to the combination of other drugs.)

Does this seem natural? Did anyone have to teach us how to sleep, relax, or otherwise take care of ourselves? Maybe we have to (re)learn now, but it didn't start that way.

So how can we find our way back to center, back to a place where we can be naturally fulfilled, naturally rested, in a state of natural peace and relaxation? Is it possible to still be a productive member of society at the same time?

After all, don't we deserve it? And won't our family and friends be appreciative if we can find something that helps, something natural, something so simple and repeatable? Many businesses today are looking for sustainable advantages in their race to be productive. It could be that a very natural advantage is right there, right now, and at virtually no cost whatsoever.

Like sleep.

I'm going to bed now. It's 10:00 pm.