With a Pill Called Modafinil, You Can Go 40 Hours Without Sleep -- and See Into the Future
[...] In trials on healthy people like Army helicopter pilots, modafinil has allowed humans to stay up safely for almost two days while remaining practically as focused, alert, and capable of dealing with complex problems as the well-rested. Then, after a good eight hours' sleep, they can get up and do it again -- for another 40 hours, before finally catching up on their sleep.
<LJ-CUT text=" --More--(10%) ">
Originally aimed at narcoleptics, who fall asleep frequently and uncontrollably, modafinil works without the jitter, buzz, euphoria, crash, addictive characteristics or potential for paranoid delusion of stimulants like amphetamines or cocaine or even caffeine, researchers say. As with an increasing number of the so-called superhuman, posthuman or trans-human drugs or genetic manipulations rapidly entering our lives, modafinil thus calls into question some fundamental underpinnings of hundreds of thousands of years of thought regarding what are normal human capabilities.
The implications for Washington are profound.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is searching for ways to create the "metabolically dominant soldier." Among the projects it is pursuing is the creation of a warrior who can fight 24 hours a day, seven days straight. "Eliminating the need for sleep while maintaining the high level of both cognitive and physical performance of the individual will create a fundamental change in war-fighting," says the Defense Sciences Office on its Web site. As usual, DARPA did not comment directly for this report.
[...] Caffeine -- the globe's most widely used drug -- today is a bigger food additive in dollar terms than salt. The U.S. soft drink industry alone sold 10 billion 192-ounce cases of bubbly last year, most of it caffeinated.
Humans have been manipulating their sleep chemistry for a long time. Caffeine is as old as coffee in Arabia, tea in China and chocolate in the New World.
[...] The effects of medicated sleeplessness on a vast healthy population is still unknown. "Before you start taking it for the rest of your life, find out what it does to your heart valves or some damn thing," Dement says. "A lot of people know the story of fen-phen or thalidomide. If you take it all the time, and try to stay awake all the time, there's a big chance that there may be some hitherto unknown toxic effect."
Nonetheless, modafinil (pronounced mo-DAF-i-nil) is distinguished by its apparently precise neurological focus. Nobody knows exactly how modafinil works, but researchers marvel at the way it seems to target very specific regions of the brain believed to regulate normal wakefulness. It's that narrow effect that is lacking in other stimulants, resulting in their notorious side effects.
[...] Says Stanford's Dement: "The real problem is the accumulated sleep debt, not daily need. It's established fact that lost sleep accumulates. You quickly become too tired to be functional." Even with a substance like modafinil that can keep you wakeful, if you don't ultimately catch up on the sleep you missed, bad things will happen, sleep researchers have always believed.
[...] "The next generation of wake-performing therapeutics will be more effective. You'll be able to stay awake for X amount of time and not add sleep debt. Ideally, it means being able to be up all day, all night, and all the next day and not have incremental increase in sleepiness or in sleep debt. It would be medication that gives you an interest-free loan."
"It could change the world. A complete paradigm shift. I'm not trying to plug my company. But we are in the forefront. We could see this being a reality, starting to become available, in about five years."
[...] "The final twist is that caffeine is a food additive," says Edgar. Replacing caffeine with modafinil -- "that would be the revolutionary next step. Just as one replaces sugar with NutraSweet. Everybody drinks soda pop with caffeine from the age of 5 up. Yeah. You're changing the world. Yeah. I'm telling you as a sleep scientist the kinds of things we see on the horizon. It's exciting. Changing lives. Saving lives. That's for certain.
[...] "The more far-out question is: What if we eventually had something that was absolutely safe that could substitute for sleep?" asks Dinges. "Is that the direction we want to go? Many would say yes. I don't know what the implications are for our species. Probably not bad. This is pure speculation. Should humans try to live without sleep? I don't know. We're already trying to do that."