Circadian Sleep Disorders Network - Advocating for people with misaligned body clocks
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My Grandmother Figured it Out First

by James Fadden

I want to tell you about my grandmother.

She was poor girl who grew up in a rural Italian village. She had no education but she was smart. The village school only allowed boys. She had to herd the farm animals. But she would herd them over near the school so she could hear the lessons through the open window.

She immigrated to the US where she had four children. I was the eldest son of her eldest daughter. I was born in June and they would put me in a baby carriage on the front porch to get the summer air. One day when I was not even a month old, my grandmother took my mother aside.

"There is something wrong with your baby. He doesn't have a sleep pattern. I have seen many children and they have a rhythm of eating and sleeping. Your baby has no sleep pattern. He doesn't sleep. You should take him to a doctor."

My mother did take me to a pediatrician who offered to prescribe phenobarbital, a powerful and dangerous sedative, to help me sleep. My mother wisely declined and somehow I got through childhood and grew up, but never quite sleeping right.

Flash forward several decades and the now Harvard-educated grandson goes to a medical library and figures out he has something called hypernychthemeral syndrome -- what we now call N24. He consults a Yale-educated research doctor at the NIH. Three years of intensive studies ensue. 26-hour intravenous sampling of chemicals with names like melatonin and thyrotropin and gondotropin-releasing hormone. Labs doing radioimmunoassays and "LH pulse signal cluster analysis". $100,000+ research budget. Publications in the New England Journal of Medicine and in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. Diagnosis confirmed. The 6th case of N24 to be published on Earth. Lots of fancy degrees. Fancy chemicals. Complicated studies. Prestigious medical journals.

But Grandma figured it out first.

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Last modified Sep 20, 2018
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