Polto’s gene mutation causes extreme lack of sleep

Sophia Johnson | Staff Writer

Most people aim for eight hours a night; senior Maddie Polto, however, gets eight hours every two weeks.

DEC2 is a gene that regulates levels of orexin, hormones that manage the body’s wakefulness. Polto’s DEC2 gene has a mutation that allows her to function off of a few hours of sleep a week. 

The genetic mutation Polto lives with was unknown to her parents at first. Polto said it was not until they took her to the doctor, concerned about her inability to sleep, that she was diagnosed with the gene mutation.

“My parents were like, ‘hey, my daughter is not sleeping,’ so then they did blood testing,” Polto said. “I was young and don’t fully remember the doctor coming in, but he just said your daughter has a genetic mutation of a gene. So I have a mutation of a gene that does not allow me to sleep because I don’t need the same amount of sleep as everybody else.”

While the National Sleep Foundation states that most teenagers need to get between eight and ten hours of sleep for the following day, Polto said she functions well on about four hours of sleep for an entire week.

“I usually don’t sleep in a night, I just get about four hours in a week,“ Polto said. “After like a week and a half of not sleeping, I feel tired, so I’ll sleep a little more that night. I usually just get mentally tired if a lot has happened in the school day or at work. My four hours in a week is equivalent to like eight hours a night.”

Though she does not physically get tired often, Polto said mental exhaustion has been hard to handle in the past. By limiting her mental and physical activity, she has found ways to be productive with the extra time while still staying healthy.

“I try not to do school work or be on my phone or computer past 11 P.M. because I still do get mentally tired,” Polto said. “I get burnt out a lot if I’m just constantly going, so I try to give my mind a break. There have been nights where I’ll binge watch seasons of like, The Office — I did that a lot sophomore and junior year — and it got bad for my mental state.”

Many teenagers have a reliance on sleep, and it took Polto time to acknowledge her inability to depend on sleep like everybody else. When students around her started to appreciate naps and falling asleep, Polto said she would try to sleep more. 

“At this point, I’ve just stopped trying to fall asleep; In middle school, I would realize other kids’ stress relief was sleeping, and so I’d always try it, and I never could fall asleep,” Polto said. “It made it worse for me because I would sit there trying to fall asleep, but then I would just constantly be overthinking and stressing.”

For the last four years, Polto’s nightly routine has consisted of babysitting from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. Watching her family’s friends kids, she said most of her nights she will spend helping the family. 

“I get to the house I nanny between 8 P.M. and 10 P.M. and stay there until about 6 A.M.,” Polto said. “I’ll take care of the kids until they fall asleep, then it’s like ‘okay, no more technology.’ So, I’ll read a book until about three or four — I read a ton. Then I’ll cook a lot in the middle of the night; I’ll premake meals for the mom, I’ll make dinner, and make lunches for the kids. Then I will premake my family meals and dinners, and that usually lasts until six in the morning.”

Senior Maddie Polto utilizes her abundant free time due to her gene mutation
that affects her sleeping schedule.

Polto said people often assume she benefits with the mutation because she does not have to worry about procrastination due to the extra waking hours. While sleep is not a daily necessity, she said she still tries to stay methodical.

“I’m fine talking about it because it’s just what I do every day, but when I tell other people they’re like  ‘oh my gosh you could get so much done in the day, that would be so amazing, and so good for finals,’” Polto said. “I think if anybody were to study for six hours in a day though, It is not good. I have to put limitations on what and when I do certain things because I do stuff 24 hours a day constantly.”

Photo by Sophia Johnson.

Graphic by Ryan D’Souza.