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Orexin A is a promising candidate to become a “sleep replacement” drug. For decades, stimulants have been used to combat sleepiness, but they can be addictive and often have side effects, including raising blood pressure or causing mood swings. […]
The monkeys were deprived of sleep for 30 to 36 hours and then given either orexin A or a saline placebo before taking standard cognitive tests. The monkeys given orexin A in a nasal spray scored about the same as alert monkeys, while the saline-control group was severely impaired.
There will be obvious and valuable uses for a drug like this: doctors, soldiers, pilots, intelligence agents and other key personnel who are occasionally called upon to perform under suboptimal rest conditions. There will also be lots of people who want to use this drug (if it comes to market) to avoid “wasting” time sleeping, or to cure jetlag, or to get a day’s work in after a night up with the baby.
Would you take this drug (or another like it — it’s not the first; there are others already in use for night shift workers, for example)? Would you worry about long-term (or even short-term) physical effects of tricking the body out of its physical needs? Do you love to be up, or love to get your shuteye?
What effect will drugs like this one have on cultural expectations of stamina? Of neediness? Of being “always on” in a 24/7 world?
The changes are already happening, although they are subtler: expectations generated by the ubiquity of laptop computers, cell phones, and Blackberry PDAs. Executives report setting their Blackberry alarms to wake them in the middle of the night just to shoot off an email to a colleague, in order to “prove” that they work around the clock. Still, saying “I got your email first thing this morning” is still an acceptable excuse for an eight-hour delay. Will that change?
Alternatively, will the backlash finally trigger a situation in which people start being more aggressive about drawing lines between their personal and working lives?
Stay tuned. Don’t fall asleep.