Better Than Coffee?

Remember Wake-Up Juice from Back to the Future III? (View a clip on YouTube here.) It was a concoction of flaming sauces that jolted Professor Brown’s body to immediate alertness after a night of whiskey sloshing.

Today, dozens of energy drinks and pills flood the market claiming to keep your body jazzed up with hours of unlimited energy, but most of them have annoying side effects (rapid heartbeat, shakes), or lead to addiction (hello, coffee!). But what if there was something that kept you awake without the consequences of traditional stimulants?

Popular Science recently ran a piece called “You Snooze, You Loose” about a branch of drugs called eugeroics. Essentially, pharmaceutical companies have come up with mental arousal drugs that seem to have little to no consequences: no upper-downer roller coaster feelings, no addiction, no shakes, no edginess. Drugs with names like Modafinil and the upcoming Nuvigil were developed, and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, to treat narcolepsy, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and other disorders. And the military is currently helping fund a new drug dubbed CX717, made by Cortex. However, the drugs oftentimes are taken by folks who simply have trouble staying awake due to lack of sleep.

But there’s a dark side to using eugeroics. Tired parents, driven workers, and experimental teens aren’t the only ones drawn to alertness drugs. Businesses and efficiency experts also have their eyes on them to drive human production in industry. According to the National Sleep Foundation , the “direct and indirect impact of daytime sleepiness and sleep disorders on the national economy is estimated to be $100 billion annually.” Imagine the cost savings potential of getting longer and more efficient, focused work out of your human resources. As Popular Science puts it, “Give an entire workforce the energy of a Thomas Edison, and you’ve got a new Industrial Revolution.”

Is it a good idea to take stimulants? Probably not, at least as a habit.

When we don’t sleep, our bodies build up a sleep deficit that causes immune deficiencies, stress, irritability, and other issues. Additionally, after about 18 hours without sleep, your body’s reaction time doubles. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration concludes that sleepiness causes more than 100,000 crashes per year.

Yet still, no one knows why we need sleep. There’s no explainable biological reason that our bodies need to recharge. And yet, without it we’re miserable. We can even die. I heard a story on NPR (National Public Radio) a few months ago about an Italian family who passes a gene that causes carriers to die of sleep deprivation. Insomnia comes on suddenly, usually in the person’s 40s or 50s, and nothing doctors do allows them to sleep. After a few months of torturous misery, they pass away.

Since sleep remains one of the great mysteries of the human experience, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to mess with it too much. But for that one all-nighter you need to pull, or that cross-country drive to pick up your kid from college, eugeroics sound pretty enticing.

Emily Swan
Featured Blogger - My Blog