catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

A cure for sleep

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Harry Clarke reports on some really cool new drugs (with obligatory cheap shot at the Liberal party):

Graham Lawton in this NewScientist suggests a new batch of drugs will conquer sleep and to enable us to be active for up to 22 hours per day.

One drug is Modafinil which is claimed to allow you to stay awake for 48 hours with no ill effects. It is a eugeroic drug that creates wakefulness without the jolt that stimulants give. You don’t feel more alert, you just don’t feel tired. Moreover you do not incur sleep debt. If you wish to sleep you can.

Sales of Modafinil have climbed from $25 million to $575 million from 1999-2005. While initially prescibed for narcolepsy and sleep apnea it is clearly now being used for ‘lifestyle’ reasons. An issue is whether illegal markets will develop for diverted supplies of this drug.

While the indications are that Modafinil is safe the mechanisms that make it effective are not understood. It prevents neurons from reabsorbing the neurotransmitter dopamine once this is released into the brain. But beyond this not a lot is known. And, of course, its long-term effects are unknown. The obvious question that occurs to me is that people who take such drugs are assuming that sleep does not have a crucial function for which no effective long-term substitute exists.

But circadian biologists like Russell Foster envisage a world where it is possible, or even routine, to be active for 22 hours a day and sleep for 2. Would the Liberal Party legislate for twice daily 8-hour work shifts (output/labour ratios would remain the same with output doubling) or could we work all night and enjoy ourselves during the day? More seriously, would we want to live such lives even if it were possible?

I’d say ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ to the last two questions. Sleep is a dead waste of time. Count me in for a prescription if this stuff passes all the safety tests.

Written by Admin

February 22, 2006 at 11:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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