Popular Science recently published a great piece by Laura Allen on the "scariest ideas in science." While many of the ideas are terrifying, I am intrigued by the prospect of wakefulness drugs that might enable a 22-hour day.
"Pennsylvania-based drugmaker Cephalon developed modafinil and armodafinil to treat narcolepsy, sleep apnea and shift-work sleep disorder," writes Allen. "But fighting drowsiness has world-changing potential. The electric lightbulb allowed workers to remain productive after dark. Drugs that allow us to toil into even wee-er hours is the next leap forward."
She notes that rats die after 17 days without rest, and this is certainly cause for concern. But were those rats taking modafinil and CX-717? And what if the rats were allowed to sleep a few hours each night? Would they have survived and been happy with just a tiny bit of shut-eye?
I completely understand why some people are terrified by the wakefulness drugs. We know from the meth epidemic that traditional amphetamines have been devastating. But this new class of substances delivers alertness without addictive euphoria. If it is possible to iron out the dangerous side-effects, these brain technologies might not be such a bad thing.
There are so many exciting things to do in this complicated and wonderful world. So many ideas to consider, so many interesting people to meet, and so many chances to create. And it's all over much too quickly. If we can figure out a way to get by safely with less sleep, this might be a very good thing. (But only for those who choose to sleep less.)