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Caru On August - 7 - 2011

Let me be clear: I hate sleep. I hate the yawns that force their way from my mouth as sleep seeps into my brain. I hate the aches that set into my limbs as the need to render myself unconscious grows. But most of all, I hate the dreadful inevitability of sleep. No matter what, sleep will eventually come, like a preternaturally persistent thief, to rob me of my higher faculties.

What makes this situation even more intolerable is that I hate waking up too. For me, waking up involves roughly the same amount of willpower as it does to climb Mt. Everest. A slow, sluggish journey through the hellish terrain of semi-conciousness, occasionally accompanied by a sharp, short headache and blurred vision.

Another aspect of sleep that gets on my nerves is the sheer waste of time involved. Those 6-9 hours? I could be doing something with them! Something important, something fun, something interesting. Well, as a serial procrastinator, perhaps not. I’d probably end up bouncing from website to website, cursing my luck for having nothing to do. So, it’d be more accurate to say that I hate that sleep gets in the way of me possibly doing something worthwhile, rather than it actually getting in the way of me doing something worthwhile. Despite this, it still gets on my nerves.

Well, what if we could reduce our need for sleep or even eliminate it completely? The idea isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Thai Ngoc, a 68 year old Vietnamese farmer, has gone without sleep for nearly 40 years. He gained this strange ability in 1973, following a bout of fever. Even more remarkable is that he has apparently suffered no detrimental mental or physical effects from his sleepless hours. What if we could replicate these conditions in others? What if we could create people that need no sleep? What of we could create a society that needs no sleep?

As in turns out, we can… To an extent. Recently, there has been a lot of time and effort put into researching a class of drugs known as eugeroics. These nifty chemicals have become known as wakefullness-promoting agents due to their ability to stave off sleep in those that use them. More importantly, these drugs, unlike other stimulants such as caffeine, are virtually non-addicting and do not result in the formation of a sleep debt. This means that with eugeroics you can go without sleep for two days and then sleep for your normal 6-9 hours and feel fine, whereas with caffeine you may spend 16 hours slumped over the side of a couch and feel terrible after it too. Of course, these drugs are mostly used to treat disorders such as narcolepsy. However, as I’m sure you can see, they have other applications as well.

Military usage is one of the more obvious applications. A soldier that never sleeps? I think that was the basis of an X-Files episode. Another application is for work. I mean, who wouldn’t want to reduce the hours that they sleep to put in a few extra hours to impress the boss? Who wouldn’t want to earn more commission? The problem is that once this starts there’s no going back. Pretty soon you could be frowned at for only working 20 hours a day. What are you? Lazy? Don’t tell me that you need to sleep. The potential abuses of these drugs, especially in a corporate centred culture, are immense.

Another problem with these drugs is that they don’t replace sleep. They trick your brain into thinking it has slept. The subtle effects of sleep deprivation, such as immune dysfunction, metabolism issues and potentially depression, will still be present. To be precise, eugeroics have allowed for the future possibility of a world populated by sickly, fat, depressive workaholics. Great job, science!

The truth, as much as I hate to admit it, is that sleep is important. As long as we do not fully understand the human brain and body, then we are stuck with sleep. So when the logo-emblazoned mountebank on the street corner tries to sell me their miracle cure, I’ll declare my opposition, pull out a pillow and try to will myself to sleep.

Written by Caru

I don't really have anything of note to put in here... Oh, I won a bar of chocolate once.

23 Responses so far.

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  1. PatsyT says:

    Caru,
    I never thought sleep was very important,
    until I had children.
    Then I found out what I was missing!

    Over the last few weeks I heard tell of President Obama
    working all hours and not sleeping to get through the
    debt deal faux dilemma.
    Uggh I really felt for him.

  2. ADONAI says:

    I love sleep. The peace. The quiet. Makes me envy the dead.

    It’s the only break we get from life and I won’t let that go for anything.

    I had a similar conversation with wts not too long back about sleep. Most of the sleep you get is for your mind. Your body normally only needs a few hours rest. Your mind needs to release the buildup of the day int he form of dreams.

    It’s been documented that a prolonged lack of proper rest can cause hallucinations. Dreaming while you’re awake. Your subconscious mind can no longer bear the load so it releases it while you’re still awake. Which is pretty much what hallucinogenic drugs do. Open your subconscious mind while you’re awake.

    But you can train your body to only accept fewer hours of rest. Too much sleep is a bad thing too. If you find that it takes you hours after waking to really adjust to the day, you may be getting too much sleep as opposed to not enough. Best to consult a physician on that.

    If they have drugs that can provide what the brain needs from sleep then I really could see people staying up for days on end. The body would still have to rest though but you could cut your sleep time down dramatically. Good stuff.

    “I didn’t sleep for ten days. Because that would be too long.”
    ~Mitch Hedberg

    • Many Native American shaman would go for days without sleep, to bring on “visions.” I was never into meth, but I knew a few people who were. They would stay “up” for 5 or 6 days at a time. They all ended up being psychotic. Of course the chemicals in meth had a lot to do with that too.

      • ADONAI says:

        Indeed KT. Pushing your body to the limits and depriving it of essentials was all a part of the Native American “vision quest” as well.

        And I prefer acid myself. Don’t do it anymore but if yo want a clean, RELATIVELY safe trip, I say acid is the way to go. That or peyote.

  3. Kalima says:

    Having just woken up in my usual “zombie” haze I can sympathise with you on that point as it takes me until lunchtime to wake up some days only to start feeling sleepy again in the afternoon. Considering how long it always takes me to sleep because finding that perfect comfy position is never easy for me, I treasure every moment of sleep that I do get.

    I remember asking my mother why she slept in on her few days off. Her reply was always, “When you get to my age you will understand K”. She died aged 49, I passed her age a few years ago, and yes, I now know exactly what she meant.

    Fun article Caru. A welcomed change from all the hair-raising news I find myself linking to each day. Thanks.

  4. foodchain says:

    I love the concept of hating to fall asleep and hating to wake up. We are a funny sort. We are capable of such strong desires to control our lives. I wonder if other species have frustrations. Rumors of exalted thinkers surviving without sleep and nutrition (akin to walking on hot coals I suppose) was talked about in the 70’s, as was just about everything, but I never researched because I love food as art and entertainment. And I do like sleep when it comes as I’m ready. It is a very big bear to fight off if you’re not!

    I find, after quite a few years, that I wake early searching for that unstructured time that I cherish.

  5. Interesting topic Caru. I am reminded of that line by Shakespeare, “Ah to sleep, perchance to dream.” Some psychologists say that dreams help us to stay mentally healthy. (unless they are horrible and frequent nightmares) Dreams allows our subconscious to communicate with our conscious.
    I love to sleep. (maybe a little too much) I think mankind gets into enough trouble in the hours he now remains awake. 😉

  6. GirlOutWest says:

    Oddly interesting. Get some rest. :-)

  7. Emerald1943 says:

    Well done, Caru!

    I admit to being aggravated when I can no longer hold my eyes open and there is some very interesting issue being discussed on PlanetPOV, or some breaking news story on the boob tube.

    But I have to disagree about that delicious feeling that you get when, finally after a hard day, you sink into that dark oblivion. I cherish it!

    Waking up? I don’t even want to go there… :-)

    • Caru says:

      I’d hardly call the feeling delicious myself, especially since I’m the one being eaten! 😉

      • jkkFL says:

        LOL Caru- perhaps some ‘monster control’ is in order.
        A friend of mine -when his daughter was young, used to go on a ‘monster removal’ every night after he tucked her in! He would turn on her nitelight, then proceed to collect them- naming who it was he had captured and where, then flush them! He would drag the wolf from the closet- flush! No more wolf! The trolls under her bed- same fate! The dragon behind the door- ByeBye!
        She identified who he was to catch, he would collect them, and flush them.
        He and his daughter now play the game with his grandchild..nightmares banished for two generations! 😉

        • Sounds like great fun for a parent and his/her child.

          • jkkFL says:

            I have used it myself- with nieces and nephews who have sleep anxiety, but it’s a fine line to identify the ‘subjects’ without creating more!!I did learn that it is helpful to ask ‘who are you afraid of,’ rather than what…
            The child identifies the terror- (the wolf, or the dragon,) and it’s your job to thoroughly search-identify, and remove it- flushing reinforces the removal!
            Caru, are you taking notes?? 😉


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