Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sleep no more

Sleep researchers are one step closer to doing away with our constant need for rest with a new class of drugs. Graham Lawton writes:
Modafinil has changed the rules of the [sleep] game. The drug is what's known as a eugeroic, meaning "good arousal" in Greek. It delivers natural-feeling alertness and wakefulness without the powerful physical and mental jolt that earlier stimulants delivered. "There are no amphetamine-like feelings," says Yves. And as Yves' way of taking it shows, being on modafinil doesn't stop you from falling asleep if you want to.

In fact, its effects are so subtle that many users say they don't notice anything at all - until they need to. "I wouldn't say it makes me feel more alert or less sleepy. It's just that thoughts of tiredness don't occur to me," says Yves. "If there's a job at hand that I should be doing, I'm focused, but if I'm watching a movie or something, there is no effect."

People who take modafinil for medical reasons usually take just enough of the drug in the morning to see them through the day, but it also seems to be able to deliver sustained wakefulness - for a couple of days at least. "The military has tested sequential dosing," says Jeffrey Vaught, president of R&D at Cephalon, modafinil's Pennsylvania-based manufacturer. "It works for 48 hours or so, but eventually you need to sleep."

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about modafinil is that users don't seem to have to pay back any "sleep debt". Normally, if you stayed awake for 48 hours straight you would have to sleep for about 16 hours to catch up. Modafinil somehow allows you to catch up with only 8 hours or so. Well before Cephalon took an interest in the drug, French researchers discovered this effect in cats back in the early 1990s (Brain Research, vol 591, p 319), and it has since been found to apply to humans too. |New Scientist|
Now if they could just do something about the constant eating thing...

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