Sleep 02: Sleep is Obsolete

Well, almost.

Sleep-deprived groups ranging from truck drivers to the military have experimented with modafinil, marketed for nearly a decade by Cephalon under what Plotz calls the "creepy, pharma-Orwellian" name Provigil.

Military officials have found it so effective that some now refer to it as a "super drug." But its off-label uses have created a rich debate on how far to push the limits of the human body.

For Plotz, the results were immediate.

"I am the picture of vivacity," he wrote on Slate.com.

Even with only five hours sleep, he could write twice as fast and felt alert.

"I have a desperate urge to write, to make reporting calls and to finish my expense account – activities I religiously avoid," he wrote. "I find myself talking loudly and quickly. A colleague says I am grinning like a 'feral chipmunk.'"

Until now, the military has used amphetamines or "go pills" for its pilots, but the side effects of amphetamines can cause problems. Investigators blamed those drugs for a 2002 incident in which American pilots inadvertently killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

In studies funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Cephalon, modafinil has proved to be a better drug.

Scientists treated 16 healthy subjects, depriving them of sleep for 28 hours and then expecting them to sleep from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for four days and stay awake through the night. Those on modafinil did far better on cognitive tests than those on a sugar pill. Some could stay awake for more than 90 hours, according to Moreno.

... More

I've followed the developments on Mondafinil and Provogil for several years now. I think I first read about it when I was living in Boise in 1997.

It's an interesting concept for a drug. You don't get high. You don't get addicted. There don't appear to be long term consequences.

But you don't have to sleep. You can stay awake, alert and sharp for ridiculously long periods of time.

When I sleep on weekends or vacations, I can sleep for 10-14 hours straight with now problem. During the week, I can function well, on 5 hours a night. I can get by with the occasional alnighter and do okay on a couple of 3-4 hour nights.

And when I sleep for long periods of time, I do enjoy it.


The idea of having extra hours of high productivity appeals to me. It seems there's never enough time in the day for everything I need/want to do. To get everything done and have time for myself, something has to go. And usually that something is sleep.

A product like Provigil has the potential to change things. When I forgo sleep today, I do suffer a performance penalty. I'd really like to avoid that penalty.

Is it right to take medication to alter the normal function of the body for my convenience? Is it ethical?

I used to think it wasn't. I used to think to most important thing was to rely on sheer Biology. But I've been coming around on that. Why not take advantage of the wonders of modern chemistry?

People legitimately hack their bodies all the time with. And they do it not to heal an injury but to alter they way the body functions to make their lives easier or simpler.

We see new advances in vitamins and nutrition that are anything but natural. Caffeine intake is another way many people try to push pass the limits of the body. Are the complex exercise regimens people take on natural?

And is using something like Provigil to alter human sleep patterns all that different from using birth control pill to alter the human endocrine/reproductive system?

But I haven't done anything yet. Like LASER eye surgery, I still look at Provigil with some concern about the long term effects and the possibility of addiction.

But the more I learn, the more I like what I see.


Brian Kunath said...

Excuse me Mr. Pink, but the last thing you need is another cup of coffee.

Ramsus said...

No. The last thing you need is to entertain the uninformed comment of an admitted smoker. Our biochemistry was designed by nature. Our intellect was also designed by nature. Taking into account the exponential gathering of scientific data on chemistry and our engineering capabilities on genetic make ups, it is obvious that our minds were developed not only to overcome external threats and inadequacies, but also internal ones, such as disease, malignancies on the system, and obsolete forms of rejuvenation such as rest.