The Sandman Cometh: Famous Narcoleptics

One of the best-known sleep disorders is narcolepsy, a serious medical condition that causes sufferers to be suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of fatigue. But narcolepsy symptoms also include abnormal episodes of "dreaming sleep," which are similar to hallucinations, and attacks of "cataplexy," in which a person loses control of certain muscles for a few seconds at a time.

One in every 2,000 Americans has narcolepsy. Here are a two you may have heard of.

Believe it or not, Harriet Tubman was a narcoleptic. The African-American abolitionist who freed hundreds of slaves in pre-Civil War America is famous for her strength of will, but less known for her weakness for sleep. As a 12-year-old girl in Maryland, Tubman received a serious blow to the head from her slave master. She never fully recovered, and the injury was said to cause her intermittent bouts of narcolepsy from which she suffered for the rest of her life.

ickes.jpgPresident Clinton's former deputy chief of staff, Harold Ickes, was a long-time friend of Clinton, but around the White House, he was known as a strange bird. During staff meetings, he stood in the corner and took notes, rather than sitting around the table. But Ickes wasn't being rude; he was trying to keep from falling asleep. Ickes started experiencing symptoms of narcolepsy at age 25 when he entered Columbia University Law School. To help keep himself awake, he took obscene amounts of Dexedrine—about 60 milligrams a day, a normal dosage being around 5 milligrams.

But if Ickes was bitter about his sleep disorder, he certainly couldn't blame it on his genes. Ickes' father, Harold LeClair Ickes, was also an advisor to a president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a member of his cabinet. But unlike the younger Ickes, Harold LeClair was a life-long insomniac, never known to get more than three or four hours at a time.

More on sleep: Sleeping On The Job, Five Disorders That Make For Scary Sleeping, Should You Wake A Sleepwalker?

["The Sandman Cometh" was originally printed in mental_floss magazine, Volume 3, Issue 1.]

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.


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