What’s the minimum number of hours of sleep you need in order to function the next day fully? Eight? Maybe six? If you’re on the bit extreme side, you’d probably say four? It’s not true that sleep is for the weak, regardless of what others say. It is an essential part of our daily activities to keep a healthy mind and body. There was this one baffling case, however, during World War I. A soldier named Paul Kern was shot by an enemy bullet in the head that cost him not his mobility or eyesight. No, it cost him the ability to sleep, and that’s how he ended up staying awake for the next forty years of his life—feeling sleepy yet?

Paul Kern’s Last Sleep

At the outbreak of World War I, after Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated, Paul Kern immediately joined up as one of those soldiers. He was a member of Hungary’s elite shock troop. The group that would lead the charge into the enemy positions and fights on the frontlines of World War I.

Austro-Hungarian Troops at War, 1916. (National Museum of the U.S. Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1915, Kern and his troops were battling the Russian when one of the enemy bullets made its way into his head. It entered through his right temple and instantly knocked him unconscious. The wound was no doubt fatal if left untreated, so he was immediately brought to Lemberg hospital to remove the bullet.

Upon doctors’ inspection, they found out that the bullet damaged part of his frontal lobe. This is the part of the brain considered to be the behavior and emotional control center that’s responsible for a wide range of brain activities like movement, emotions, planning, and problem-solving, to name a few.

Kern did not know that waking up from his injury would be the last time he would wake up. He did not know yet that he had just lost his ability to sleep. It was a symptom that would baffle the doctors for the next forty years, as even for a frontal lobe injury, his case was still a scientific anomaly.

Paul Kern

Importance of  Zzz…

To understand how valuable sleep was, which Kern lost after his brain injury, let’s have a quick look at the importance of sleep. To start, Sleep Foundation wrote in an article,

Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. This can impair your abilities to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories.

During sleep, your body has the chance to rebuild and restore its vital systems, especially the brain. A lack of sleep can result in many negative effects on the body, including hallucinations and entire changes in personality. Most adults need about seven to nine hours of nightly sleep, while children and teenagers need a bit more.