Sleep is the enemy. It must be destroyed.

The Great Awakening

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.

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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."

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10 Responses:

  1. icis_machine says:

    who the hell would want to not sleep?
    i mean sure it gets in the way when i'm busy, but the amount of insight, ideas, and chance to live out anything and everything i've ever wanted, is nothing to snear at.

    it's kinda like the government trying to figure out a way of removing our desire to question multiple realities with the intent on breaking us or something.

    hmm... i wonder if william s. bourroughs needs a sidekick?

    • jwz says:

      Me! If I could completely eliminate my need for sleep forever, I'd do it in a hearbeat. I'd trade the poorly-remembered poorly-scripted infantile-themed movies we call "dreams" for a 33% longer lifespan without ever looking back.

    • xinit says:

      I enjoy sleep well enough; but think of the movies I could see, the books I could read, the things I could do...

      An extra 8 or 9 hours of uptime per day? Sign me up.

  2. coldacid says:

    I. NEED. THIS. DRUG. Forty hour coding sessions, here I come...


  3. knowbuddy says:

    Back in my younger, collegiate, days I got myself to a point where I was only sleeping 6 hours every other night. On the off nights I would read a couple of books, play Civilization all night, catch up on homework, or whatever. I did this for my entire first sophomore semester. I didn't notice any major physical or mental drawbacks, as much as the so-called researchers say I should have.

    The primary reason I stopped doing it was because I ran out of stuff to do! I used to be an avid reader, but the dozen or so paperbacks I was going through each week eventually stopped being amusing. Late night TV sucked. I lived in a dorm and had 2 rommates, so I couldn't just watch TV all night. And I was on a student budget, so paid entertainment was right out.

    Try just shifting your schedule by 12 hours some time. You'd be amazed how much the world doesn't accomodate the nocturnal. Unless you live somewhere huge, like SanFran or NYC, you're gonna run out of stuff to do, too.

    The odd thing about all of this, was that I initially did it without any sort of drugs or anything other than an extra 2 meals a day. (It wasn't until after I stopped not-sleeping that I got hooked on caffiene and soda.) More energy expended awake means more food consumption, which is the other reason I had to stop doing it. My meager student budget couldn't affor the nearly 100% increase in my food budget!

    There are a lot of little downsides to having that much extra free time that most people don't think about when they think they want to sleep less.

    • jwz says:

      When I was around 19, I spent about a year living on a ~34-hour cycle (usually 25 or 26 hours awake, 8 or 9 asleep) so I know what you mean about it being inconvenient, since nobody else was on that cycle too. If I wanted to have dinner with someone, I'd have to do the math to work out when I'd be awake in the evening. The inconvenience was basically why I stopped, but I loved the extra time.

      I dunno, some people don't know what to do with themselves when there's nobody else telling them what to do, but I'd like to take a crack at rising to that challenge.

      I spent about a year trying to get in touch with my inner Slack after Netscape, and I think I was almost there when this club thing came up. I would have liked to have seen just how long I could stand doing fuck-all before I got tired of it: I feel like I was just getting into the swing of it when I decided the opportunity of buying a club was too, uh, good? to pass up.

  4. oh GOOD, they finally discovered the natural substance my body seems to produce that keeps me sleepless and restless as everyone else naps peacefully. great.


    another good reason (and they are myriad) to drink alcohol is that it finally allows me to crash and sleep (not quality sleep mind you, given its REM-supressing qualities, but still...).

    don't you people understand? i just want to be normal!
    sleep is lovely and dreams are interesting and biologically needed for survival.
    but i understand the desire for more productive time...

    gonna go throw things at people's heads until they wake up and amuse me.

  5. alanj says:

    Either those soldiers are getting the *good* shit, or they're taking more than I am, or something. I'm taking modafinil, and while it partially counteracts some of the daytime sleepiness I've had from other drugs, helping me continue to get by on eight hours, I've experienced absolutely nothing like the descriptions in that article. Other user reports I've found searching Usenet were similarly drab, and many of them reported decreased effects after a month or two of use.

    Maybe it'd be especially useful for an occasional all-nighter - I haven't tried it for that - but I seriously doubt that an ongoing dramatic reduction in need for sleep is a common experience with this drug. Alas.