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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.]

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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