Insomnia for 40 years: Hai Ngoc has not slept in 40 years and has been functioning normally

Mr. Thai Ngoc and his wife.

The local media has published many stories about a man who has not slept for 39 years. He is Thai Ngoc or Hai Ngoc, 70,in Que Trung Commune, Nong Son District in the central province of Quang Nam. 

Ngoc said that he has been sleepless after a fever in 1973. The man was very worried and tried every way to sleep but he could not sleep, just a single minute.

Surprisingly enough, Ngoc has a normal daily diet and rarely gets sick. People who are curious about his sleeplessness were not able to stay awake all the time while observing him. Ngoc confided: “Before 1975 I discovered I wasn’t sleeping and it never crossed my mind if this condition had adverse affects on my health. To me, sleeping or being awake is the same, and I can work during the daytime or at night.” 

Ngoc has six children. Due to insomnia, he often guards his farm at night and in 3 months of sleepless night he dug two large ponds to raise fish. Ngoc refused to go abroad for testing as he has not left his hometown or village for past 60 years and he says he is afraid of tests.

in front of his house

Though he cannot sleep, Ngoc is mentally sound and does not feel tired. “I don’t know whether the insomnia has impacted my health or not, but I am still healthy and can farm normally like others,” he said.

In 2006, at the age of 64, he carried two fertilizer bags totaling more than 50kg daily through a 4km road to his home.

“My husband used to sleep well but these days even liquor cannot put him down,” his wife Nguyen Thi Bay said.

In 2010, he was recognized as the only Vietnamese who was selected by foreign magazines as an extraordinary man.

Ngoc has divided his farms into different plots and on each plot he grows much needed trees,  such as the acacia which is used for making paper, trees to be used for making wood products, such as Do bau (Aquilaria Agallechea), Cho (Parashorea stellata Kury), Sao den (Hopea odorata Roxb), etc. His effort resulted in afforesting the land and protecting rare and valuable trees which are near extinction in Vietnam. Ngoc also built fish ponds during his sleepless nights. He said that on the cloudless, moonlit nights he can work without a lamp as compared to cloudy nights when a kerosene lamp is needed.

“I am so sad when there is no work to do at night,” Ngoc confided. “I just lay down to rest my back and just bide my time smoking and drinking tea until sunrise.” Ngoc added that he has another farm, about 4km away from his house at the foot of Duong Lui Mountain, where he also grows timber.

Not far from his house lives a couple well into their 80’s and for the past 30 years Ngoc has made regular visits to their home, watching over them and assisting with the farm work. Thanks to Ngoc’s sleepless nights, not only his farms, but also this couple’s fields have been protected from damage caused by wild boars.

Ngoc is one of a very few people in the world with this sleepless disorder. For almost half of his lifetime, Ngoc has been awake and it isn’t known how long this can continue. One certain thing that has been acknowledged by many people, i.e., Ngoc has spent his sleepless time doing useful work for his community and co-villagers.

Ngoc’s wife tends to chores around the house and their four children have all grown up and lead normal lives.

Insomnia has brought new friends to Ngoc.

To prove, or disprove Thai Ngoc’s claim, camera crews from many countries visited Ngoc’s home to film his every move, 24 hours a day.

Ngoc said: “People from television corporations who came to document me thought that I am sleepless due to some mental illness. They brought me to the psychiatrist hospital in Da Nang for medical checks-up. The doctors said I had no signs of the mental disease. Some were still doubtful of the doctors’ results, so they tried to test my memory. They marked things like a knife, a glass, a banana, etc. each with a number, and showed them to me to see for a while, then hided them away from my sight. Then, they asked me the number tag on each thing. To their surprise, I could tell them the correct thing and its number as well. Finally they believed that I had no impact from sleeplessness and filmed me. 

In 2009, a 5-member film crew from a Thai TV channel stayed at Ngoc’s house for several days.

Before filming the extraordinary man, they made a test of Ngoc’s memory. As Ngoc passed the test easily, they installed over ten cameras to film the man’s moves, Mrs. Bay recalled.

At night, Ngoc lit up the lamps and continued to do the farm work, i.e. harvesting rice, plowing the soil, growing potatoes, tending soya bean plants, etc. When the farming work was over, he made baskets and other household utensils. One night, he brewed wine and invited the guests to taste.

Due to his sleeplessness, Ngoc’s productivity was actually double compared to a normal person.

After several days of supervision, the guests asked Ngoc to lie down on the bed for them to delude him by a special device. However the device did not work on Ngoc.

He did not sleep at night but during the day, he worked very hard on the field under the close supervision of foreign guests. After a week, Thai guests had to say goodbye. They invited Ngoc to go to Thailand for treatment for free but Ngoc refused.

“I’m familiar with this life. Thanks to sleeplessness I can do many works for my family. If I leave my home for 18 months, who will take care of my wife,” Ngoc said.

After the Thai TV crew, a British film crew paid a visit to Ngoc’s home. Like their Thai colleagues, they also stayed awake with Ngoc and after many days, they took him to the Da Nang Mental Hospital for examination. Doctors diagnosed that he had some problems with blood circulation in brain. “I do not know whether it is the reason for my disease or not,” Hai wondered.

Ngoc then welcomed an Australian film crew. This crew proposed to pay Ngoc VND30 million (nearly $3,000) and asked for their exclusive filming for 18 months but he refused.

“I never think of trading my sleeplessness! Some others offered me an overseas trip which I denied. What will I do abroad on my sleepless nights? Otherwise, at home, I can do useful things for my farms, help my co-villagers, and guard against wild beasts destroying the fields and catching animals and poultry.”

Needless to say, the film crews covering him were totally exhausted after their filming. The compensation paid to him for the filming was not much and Ngoc used it to invest in his farms.

A few medical scientists invited Ngoc to go abroad for some research and treatment, but Ngoc refused. “If I got sick due to sleeplessness and could not be cured at home, then I would accept such invitations. But I am quite okay, feeling healthy and working without becoming tired. Thanks to this phenomenon, I have been able to convert an 8ha bare forest into a green productive area,” Ngoc said.

So far, Ngoc has received a dozen of foreign film crews from many countries. However, he only knows what the media writes about him through his neighbors or his nephews.

He boasted that in the last two months, after taking several glasses of wine, he could sleep for around 30 minutes. For this farmer of 70 years old and 40 years of sleeplessness, that’s enough!


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