By David J. Robinson, MD, FRCPC; Emily Opthof, RD, B.Sc.FN
Canadian Mental Health Association, London; Central Lambton Family Health Team, Petrolia, Ont.
Thomas Edison, the revered American inventor, defined genius as 98 per cent (%) to 99% perspiration and 1% to
2% inspiration (1). A tireless investigator, Edison considered sleep to be “a waste of time”. Edison took naps on a cot
in his laboratory and reportedly didn’t sleep for more than four hours per night. He passed away from complications of
type 2 diabetes in 1931 at the age of 84, having limited himself at that point in his life to a diet of milk and cigars.
Whether Edison’s sleep habits were a factor in his diabetes is unknown, but his legacy is an inspiration for many, and his inventions brought sweeping changes to North American society in the 20th century. His development of the incandescent light bulb into a safe and reliable means of household illumination has, however, been blamed for permanently altering our biological clocks and interfering with sleep.
Sleep deprivation is one of many potential factors leading to weight gain. Edison would have been intrigued that one of his inventions might have had deleterious effects and would have been inspired to find a solution. Can we use similar scientific curiosity to investigate potential ways that he might have found to help manage diabetes with weight loss?