I recently had the opportunity to listen to a rather provocative podcast at All in the Mind about cognitive enhancing drugs. Specifically they discuss Modafinil, a drug used to treat Narcolepsy, a disease in which sleep comes suddenly and often, to help them with excessive daytime sleepiness. I was startled to learn that many in the neuroscience community are using this drug, openly, and sharing it with others in order to work longer hours, get more done, focus more, and think more. This blew we away.
You would think a Neuroscientist, of all people would understand that sleep has a purpose. I would think they might have an idea as to what that purpose is. The brain clearly needs downtime to process and integrate memory and information from the previous day. It is necessary for brain function. In fact, humans who have the most complex brains of any animal, also require the largest amount of sleep.
Sleep is also resorative for the body. Stress tolerance is much greater when we are getting adequate sleep. When I was in medical school, we had a psychiatry professor who shared the observation that most psychotic breakdowns in Schizophrenics occurred in College kids during finals week. It was almost as if they blew a fuse. While this is anecdotal, it causes me concern. Evidence has shown that students who pull all-nighters before an exam do worse on tests than those who get a full nights sleep.
What does this have to do with cognitive enhancement and Modafenil, you may ask? It seems to me the idea is to stay awake, while focusing and doing better, but an unavoidable effect will be reduced sleep. Oddly enough, I think these scientists are actually making their brains function worse. The reason I mention schizophrenia is that there is that extreme sleep deprivation can actually causes psychosis. Furthermore, Modafenil is actually used in night shift workers for daytime sleepiness. In this group, Modafenil and sleep deprivation are were associated with psychosis.
So it seems what we have is a group of scientists bent on driving themselves mad!! I wonder if their motives are as pure as presented. Are they thinking it is a dog eat dog academic world and they need to publish or perish, or are they thinking, “Fools, I’ll destroy them all!! I’m going to take over the world!” I wonder how much sleep Frankenstein or Dr. Evil missed?
Look out, their coming after you.