History

Karolina Olsson: The “Real” Sleeping Beauty

The story of Karolina Olsson is one of the biggest mysteries that has perplexed doctors and people of all ages. How can a young girl fall asleep and not wake up for another 32 years?

Or did she really sleep?

Olsson was raised in Okno, Sweden. One day in 1876, she slipped on ice and bruised her head. When she came home, she also began suffering from an extreme toothache. 

Her mother tended to her, put her in bed, and then Karolina slept for 32 years. When she woke up, she was 46 years old. Her mother had passed away, and she acted as if nothing had happened. 

Theories and evidence have materialized that some of the “hibernation” stories were untrue. Some say that while Karolina did a lot of sleeping, she also did some talking with her mother and ate normally. 

A before and after picture of Karolina Olsson. Creative Commons

An Unusually Long Nap

In 1876, Karolina Olsson and her family claimed that she came home from school one night with bruises on her head and face from slipping and falling on the frozen ice. Following that, a horrible toothache struck Karolina. 

The Olsson’s were strong believers in witchcraft, and Karolina’s mother swore that this was the work of witches. So she sent her daughter to bed and cared for her. But when Karolina fell asleep, she wouldn’t wake up.

The Olsson’s couldn’t afford a doctor and had to treat her on their own. Eventually, people raised money so she could get proper medical attention. 

Doctors came and couldn’t get her to open her eyes. They shook her, yelled in her ear, and tried all kinds of things, but she was in a deep coma. Karolina’s mother force-fed her milk and sugar. 

They eventually took her to a hospital and she was given electric shock treatment, but she still was asleep. They even pricked her fingers hoping the pain would generate a reaction.

However, nothing worked. She was then diagnosed with a condition called dementia paralytica.

Doctors couldn’t figure it out, claiming she was hysterical. Comatose conditions were known to happen, but not for this long. However, Karolina did show signs of movement. 

One time, her father said she heard her scream, “Good Jesus! Have Mercy on Me!” She then pulled the covers back over herself and went back to sleep. She would also moan at times and mumble in her sleep. But she never was fully awake.

Olsson on 14 April 1908, just a few days after she purportedly awoke

What was most peculiar was that Karolina, despite living on milk and sugar, never lost weight. Additionally, many argue she wouldn’t have been able to stay alive living off milk with sugar. Her body also stayed in such good shape for a person bedridden for so long. 

In 1905, while Karolina was in her 29th year of slumber, her mother passed away. Her father tried to take care of her but couldn’t, so he hired a caregiver. 

It was then that Karolina began to lose a lot of weight for the first time. This made some wonder if her mother had been feeding her more than was led on.

Karolina Wakes Up

Finally, in 1908, 46-year-old Karolina began screaming and crying. Her caregiver rushed upstairs and found her on the floor. Her father and brothers came in and were joyous to see Karolina awake.

Karolina did not recognize her brothers and had no idea what had transpired in the last 32 years. However, she did remember parts of her life as a child. 

After a few weeks, she ate and worked herself back into regular shape. She also began to talk normally again and walked around like she was before she fell asleep. 

Those who saw her say she looked like she was in her late 20s, not her mid-40s. Even her behavior was like someone more of a child than an adult. She was flirtatious and vibrant.

Karolina had tests done, and remarkably, everything was in good working condition. For someone suffering from dementia paralytica, she showed no ill-effects of someone who had gone through a traumatic experience. 

She read and wrote well. Besides not having any good history or geography skills, showed above-average intelligence.

The Mysteries Surrounding Olsson

So did Karolina Olsson really fall asleep for 32 years? While Karolina and her family claim that she was in full hibernation, there are still pieces of evidence doubting that she truly slept the whole time. 

Her caregiver asserted that she heard voices upstairs as if Karolina and her mother were talking. Also, her caregiver said that objects were mysteriously moved, and the food that was left disappeared.

More suspicion arose when psychiatrist Harald Fröderström, enamored by her story, decided to do a study on her and try to figure out what happened. Up to this point, no psychiatrist had examined her, only medical doctors. 

Fröderström concluded that Olsson couldn’t fall into hibernation for 32 years. For starters, she would have starved to death after losing an incredible amount of weight, which she didn’t lose until the final couple of years. 

He said she instead suffered some sort of severe trauma, or psychosis, which left her in a psychotic state for so long. He also concluded that Karolina had suffered from some sort of horrific event. He felt her mother could have played a significant role in her hiding from the world. 

There are a lot of different theories of what happened. Some say she truly fell into a coma and was force-fed more than just milk. Others state she was an abuse victim, perhaps tortured by her mother upstairs. She had experienced severe trauma, and pulling the covers over her face was a way to hide from the world.

Karolina lived for another 42 years after waking up, finally passing away in 1950. People who knew her say she was a hard worker, happy with life, and showing no ill effects of what she went through for 32 years. 

References

Belfrage, Anna. “The Curious Case of Karolina–A Real Sleeping Beauty.” AnnaBelfrage.com. 14 Sep 2017. https://www.annabelfrage.com/2017/09/14/the-curious-case-of-karolina-a-real-sleeping-beauty/. 

Tapalaga, Andrei. “The Woman Who Slept for 32 Years.” HistoryofYesterday.com. 23 Jun 2023. https://historyofyesterday.com/karolina-olsson-the-woman-who-slept-for-32-years/. 

Brown, Emily. “Girl, 14, Slept for 32 Years and Woke Up as a 46-Year-Old Woman.” Unilad.com. 6 Aug 2014. https://www.unilad.com/community/life/karolina-olsson-sweden-slept-32-years-474008-20230804. 

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