Erasing the need for sleep

newsci_20060218.jpgThe cover article in this week’s New Scientist is about the new generation of wakefulness-promoting and cognitive enhancement drugs being marketed and developed by pharmaceutical companies.

Available drugs, such as modafinil, and those still in development, such as CX717, are being widely discussed as having the potential to alter society as sleep becomes a less necessary comidity.

Although marketed as a treatment for narcolepsy, modafinil is being frequently used by people wanting more work or play time without the cognitive impairement associated with tiredness. This has become so prevalent that it featured in a major article in the Washington Post as far back as 2002.

The New Scientist article is also enthusiastic in its coverage of the new compounds:

If that sounds unlikely, think about what is already here. Modafinil has made it possible to have 48 hours of continuous wakefulness with few, if any, ill effects. New classes of sleeping pills are on the horizon that promise to deliver sleep that is deeper and more refreshing than the real thing. Further down the line are even more radical interventions – wakefulness promoters that can safely abolish sleep for several days at a stretch, and sleeping pills that deliver what feels like 8 hours of sleep in half the time. Nor is it all about drugs: one research team even talks about developing a wearable electrical device that can wake your brain up at the flick of a switch.

Although perhaps we can be a bit suspicious of the claim that they have “few, if any, ill effects”, as the history of new drugs shows that major effects are often not discovered until several years after the marketing claims them to be virtually side-effect free (e.g. benzodiazepines, SSRIs).

Unfortunately, the New Scientist article is not available online to non-subscribers, so you’ll have to visit your local library or newsagent to get a copy, but there’s plenty of information on modafinil and CX717 on the net.

Link to table of contents for current New Scientist.
Link to Washington Post article ‘The Great Awakening’.

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