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Lifestyle pills that promise to end the need for sleep
date: 16-February-2006
source : SCOTSMAN
editorial comment editorial comment
paraphernalia though that meth was doing the same thing......

A NEW class of drugs that promise to "cure" the need for sleep are being developed to help people cope with the 24/7 society.

It is claimed that the range of lifestyle pills will abolish the need for sleep for days at a time by creating a form of sleep that offers the benefits of a good night's rest in a fraction of the time.

The research, reported in the New Scientist magazine today, is partly being driven by the United States military's quest for a "metabolically dominant soldier" who can fight on when the enemy falls asleep, and partly to help nightshift workers and others who are struggling with over-tiredness.

Researchers are hoping to build on the success of the drug Modafinil, a stimulant launched seven years ago that allows people to wake up refreshed after just four hours of sleep.

Unlike caffeine or amphetamines it appears not to leave people with the jitters, euphoria and eventual "crash", and does not require a "sleep debt" to be repaid. Sales have climbed from £14.2 million in 1999 to £330 million in 2005. A new drug, called CX717, is being tested by Cortex Pharmaceuticals in California. the drug appears to help people maintain normal alertness, despite extended sleep deprivation.

Tests on 11 rhesus monkeys showed that they were performing better after 36 hours of continual wakefulness than monkeys that had not been drugged were after normal sleep.

Professor Russell Foster, a molecular neuroscientist and sleep expert at Imperial College London, said: "What is exciting is we are beginning really now to understand the basic mechanisms under-lying sleep. It is very complicated - there are lots of different parts of the brain involved.

"But if we genuinely understand the mechanisms of sleep, we could attempt to mimic that with a drug. I have no doubt, at some level, we'll be able to mimic sleep, but we are a long way off."

However, he cautioned that sleep was vital for the brain to function properly. "In a society increasingly dependant on creativity, we know sleep is crucial. We know that the ability to see new pathways and generate new ideas is critically dependant on a good night's sleep," Prof Foster said.

He said that Modafinil had originally been developed as a treatment for narcolepsy, but was now being used as a stimulant. "It's probably mimicking part of the arousal system of the brain," he said. "I'd be very careful about long-term use. It is now being pushed as a cure for sleep and it really isn't. It is one way to override the need for sleep, short-term. You can become dependant on these drugs for normal cognitive function."

But Prof Foster said he doubted such concerns would stand in the way of new drugs coming on to the market.

"I'm a pragmatist. I don't think we are going to be able to change the 24/7 society," he said. "The more we understand about the body's 24-hour clock, the more we will be able to override it.

"In ten to 20 years, we'll be able to pharmacologically turn sleep off. Mimicking sleep will take longer, but I can see it happening."

He said it was easy to tell if someone was getting enough sleep. "If you are woken up in the morning by an alarm clock, the answer is no. You should wake up normally," he said.

CX717 will be tested later this year by the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency based in Arlington, Virginia, which will push 48 volunteers to their limit on the drug.

But the prospect of a world where people are awake almost every hour of every day is alarming experts.

Neil Stanley, head of sleep research at the Human Psychopharmacology Research Unit at the University of Surrey, said: "I think that would be the most hideous thing to happen to society."

This article: http://news.scotsman.com/health.cfm?id=241212006

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