Was insomnia responsible for Stalin’s paranoia?


Clinical experience indicates that many individuals with persecutory delusions have difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep. Insomnia is a potential cause of anxiety, depression, and anomalies of experience; separate research has shown that anxiety, depression and anomalies of experience are predictors of paranoia. Thus insomnia may contribute to the formation and maintenance of persecutory ideation. Assessments of insomnia, persecutory ideation, anxiety, and depression were completed by 300 individuals from the general population and 30 individuals with persecutory delusions and a diagnosis of non-affective psychosis. Insomnia symptoms were clearly associated with higher levels of persecutory ideation. Consistent with the theoretical understanding of paranoia, the association was partly explained by the presence of anxiety and depression. Moderate or severe insomnia was present in more than 50% of the delusions group. The study provides the first direct evidence that insomnia is common in individuals with high levels of paranoia. It is plausible that sleep difficulties contribute to the development of persecutory ideation. The intriguing implication is that insomnia interventions for this group could have the added benefit of lessening paranoia.


Stalin was known for his piercing eyes and terrifying stare, which he used to cow his opponents into submission during private discussions. In 1927 Stalin requested medical help for his insomnia, anger and severe anxiety disorder. Stalin was diagnosed with “typical clinical form of paranoia” in 1927, by the leading psychiatrist/neurologist Doctor Bekhterev. Next day Doctor Bekhterev died of poisoning. Clinical paranoia explains ruthless killings of millions and brutal treatment of his own wives and children.


His social circle in the 1920s and early 30s, consisting largely of in-laws from his two marriages, was effectively wiped out by the Great Purges of 1937-38, despite the fact that he was the architect of the purges. In the post-war years, his top political associates were drafted as unwilling companions in late-night parties at his dacha to keep loneliness and insomnia at bay.


Insomnia is frequent in schizophrenia


Insomnia common in schizophrenia patients


Dr Myasnikov, who was called to the Stalin’s deathbed when he passed away in 1953, wrote that he had suffered from the condition for a long time, the Independent reported: ‘Stalin may have lost his sense of good and bad, healthy and dangerous, permissible and impermissible, friend and enemy. Character traits can become exaggerated, so that a suspicious person becomes paranoid,’ he wrote. ‘I would suggest that the cruelty and suspicion of Stalin, his fear of enemies was created to a large extent by atherosclerosis of the cerebral arteries. The country was being run, in effect, by a sick man.’


McGraw-Hill Science & Technology Encyclopedia: Paranoia

A mode of thought, feeling, and behavior characterized centrally by false persecutory beliefs. Commonly associated are properties of suspiciousness, fearfulness, hostility, hypersensitivity, rigidity of conviction, and an exaggerated sense of self-reference. These properties are evident with varying degrees of intensity and duration. The paranoid mode can be triggered at either biological or psychological levels. Common precipitating biological causes are brain trauma or tumor, thyroid disorder, cerebral arteriosclerosis. At the psychological level, triggering causes include false arrest, birth of a deformed child, social isolation, deafness, and intensely humiliating experiences.



  1. Posted 8 March 2013 at 2:34 am | Permalink | Reply

    1. Introduction
    Clinical experience indicates that many individuals with persecutory delusions have difficulties initiating and maintaining sleep.

    There is evidence consistent with the idea that sleep disturbance has a role in the development of paranoia. Insomnia is a risk factor for the development of emotional disorder (Ford and Kamerow, 1989; Breslau et al., 1996; Morphy et al., 2007) and an association with daytime mood disturbance has been repeatedly demonstrated (Riedel and Lichstein, 2000; Buysse et al., 2007). In separate research, paranoia has been strongly linked with negative affect (Freeman et al., 2008b; Bentall et al., in press), even being considered a type of anxious fear (Freeman and Freeman, 2008). Therefore insomnia may be one cause of the negative mood that leads to paranoia. Anomalies of experience such as perceptual distortions and hallucinations are also considered a key cause of paranoia (Maher, 1988; Freeman et al., 2008a); therefore it is germane that sleep deprivation has long been noted to produce temporary psychotic-like experiences (Luby et al., 1960; West et al., 1962). Sleep difficulties are a common prodromal feature of schizophrenia (Birchwood et al., 1989; Yung and McGorry, 1996) and even in unmedicated patients with schizophrenia there is evidence of increased sleep latency and decreased total sleep time (Chouinard et al., 2004). At a neurobiological level it has been suggested that the overactivity of dopamine D2 receptors in the striatum thought to underlie the positive symptoms of schizophrenia also enhances wakefulness (Monti and Monti, 2005).

    Recent research demonstrates that paranoid thinking is much more common in the general population than previously thought (Freeman et al., 2008b). A high prevalence of insomnia has been recognised for longer. Approximately 30% of the general population experience symptoms of insomnia, with a third of this group having chronic insomnia (Ohayon, 2002; Walsh, 2004; Morin et al., 2006). This sleep disturbance is associated with anxiety and depression (Taylor et al., 2005; Breslau et al., 1996; Buckner et al., 2008); indeed, difficulties falling or staying asleep are a symptom of the diagnoses of depression, generalised anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (APA, 2000). In the current study the aim was to determine whether persecutory ideation and insomnia are associated. A community sample was used to obtain a range in paranoia severity and avoid the complicating issues of neuroleptic medication and high levels of inactivity. At the same time the occurrence of insomnia in a group of patients with persecutory delusions attending psychiatric services for psychosis was also examined.

  2. Posted 1 March 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink | Reply


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