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Biotech Science

Snortable Drug 'Replaces' Sleep For Monkeys In Trials 236

sporkme writes "A DARPA-funded research project at UCLA has wrapped up a set of animal trials testing the effects of inhalation of the brain chemical orexin A, a deficiency of which is a characteristic of narcolepsy. Monkeys were deprived of sleep, and then given a shot of the compound. 'The study ... found orexin A not only restored monkeys' cognitive abilities but made their brains look "awake" in PET scans. Siegel said that orexin A is unique in that it only had an impact on sleepy monkeys, not alert ones, and that it is 'specific in reversing the effects of sleepiness' without other impacts on the brain.' Researchers seem cautious to bill the treatment as a replacement for sleep, as it is not clear that adjusting brain chemistry could have the same physical benefits of real sleep in the long run. The drug is aimed at replacing amphetamines used by drowsy long-haul military pilots, but there would no doubt be large demand for such a remedy thanks to its apparent lack of side-effects."
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Snortable Drug 'Replaces' Sleep For Monkeys In Trials

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  • by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:44AM (#21846690) Homepage Journal
    Years ago I was asked to join a group doing government work in exploring drugs related to sleep replacement or to maintain alertness in certain groups of people. This sort of stuff made me uncomfortable then and it still gives me the creeps.

    The question for me always is whether or not the drug can *replace* sleep and all of its critical physiological functions. Sleep is a complex phenomenon with very specific architectures that helps maintain learning, performance, sanity and literature suggests more far reaching benefits from regular sleep. Lots of drugs can make the brain look "awake" including amphetamines and modafinil, itself widely used by people to maintain activities in the face of sleep needs. However, there are long term biological implications for not allowing one to invoke sleep including poor long term performance on learning and memory and there is some literature that suggests cardiovascular implications as well as other problems. Now, while the adverse effects of amphetamines are well known, they have been used for at least 60 years. On the other hand, drugs like modafinil are very recent and you may be shocked to find out just how many physicians, pilots, military personnel, truck drivers and housewives are currently taking modafinil to maintain alertness in the face of lack of sleep.

  • by Bananatree3 ( 872975 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:52AM (#21846726)
    I doubt this drug would permanently replace sleep without some form of side-effect. However, I'm sure it could work as a good "supplement" to sleep for periods of time where awareness is crucial. A low side effect No Doze?
  • by Plazmid ( 1132467 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:57AM (#21846742)
    What will happen if we ever find a way to truly avoid sleep? Will it become a requirement that we take the drug to work for a certain company? Will the company only hire people who take the anti-sleep drug or pay more to those who take it because they work longer. Will companies whose employees take anti-sleep pills 'out-compete' those who don't? Could the world eventually end up sleepless?
  • Why not modafinil? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 29, 2007 @04:02AM (#21846760)
    Provigil (modafinil) has been shown to remove the need for sleep for days on end without any side effects, including the fun ones, like euphoria. Why are pilots still popping dexies?
  • Speculation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by localman ( 111171 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @04:05AM (#21846780) Homepage
    Without having performed any research at all, I'm going to speculate that actual sleep is very important. In the wild it is dangerous to be unconscious for hours at a time. If it wasn't absolutely necessary, then nature would have found a way to avoid it. Or, more correctly stated, not needing sleep would seem to be a pretty amazing advantage.

    But, almost anything with measurable cognitive abilities needs sleep. So there must be some very important work going on there. Probably laying down neural hardlines where temporary chemicals were making pathways before? I'm just guessing, but it's got to be something that requires a partial shutdown.

    I think the technology is cool and would be useful for some things, though. I'm always in favor of exploring the outer limits of our abilities. It will be very interesting to see what happens if a person uses this chemical sleep exclusively for, say weeks at a time. Maybe we'll learn what sleep is really for by seeing what stops working correctly. My guess is that they'll not be able to recall anything beyond the past couple days. Things that happened too far back in their wakefulness will not get layed down as long term memories and will be permanently lost.

    That is, it'll be kind of like Memento except with, say, a 72 hour working memory instead of 10 minutes.
  • Re:Speculation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @04:43AM (#21846886) Homepage Journal
    A lot of this is already known to science. There is a family that (I think) has a prion disease such that if a family member gets it, they stay awake until they die a few months later - and it sounds like a very horrible death too.

    Here's a link to the story I heard about. []
  • A few years back, I did some reading from a semi-reliable source (maybe Reader's Digest) about two people in the world who can't sleep for more than a few minutes.

    One was a guy in his twenties who lived in Israel. An explosion left some shrapnel in his brain and could no longer sleep. When I read the story, he was just finishing a Law degree.

    Another story was about an older man in Germany who hadn't been able to sleep at least since his teens. He was 50ish and could sleep for up to 5 minutes at best. He lived a relatively normal life.

    Obviously in some cases, the body can adjust to getting by without sleep - I wonder if their bodies learned how to overproduce this chemical?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 29, 2007 @05:38AM (#21847046) []

    I'm not certain about your information about being able to survive without sleep. There's also what happens to people with severe sleep apnea which can cause heart problems, problems with the metabolism, paranoia, depression, anxiety and high blood pressure.
  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @05:57AM (#21847128) Journal
    Well sleepless people would consume more (probably 6 meals a day) and would have more leisure time as well. This require more work/money. The important statistic is the ratio between time spent at work and time spent having fun.

    Also, even if it shorten the lifespan of individuals when counted in days of life, it would be interesting to see if it extends it when counted in "awaken hours".
  • Re:Speculation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kawdyr ( 1209648 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @06:02AM (#21847148)
    Actually, one important theory of sleep says the opposite - that we evolved it to keep us OUT of trouble - saving energy and avoiding roaming, which puts us at greater risk of meeting predators. As I recall, this theory is (partially) supported by diet being one of the best predictors of the amount of sleep an animal needs. Of course if that was sleep's only purpose, you'd think we'd stay conscious for it so we could react to a predator that found us... so it's probably quite multi-faceted. Sleep [] - See preservation and protection theory
  • Re:Speculation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gregor-e ( 136142 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @07:48AM (#21847474) Homepage
    The selective pressures of the environment are radically altered by presence or absence of daylight. This profound change results in two separate ecosystems. Sleep is a hack to enable survival in both worlds. Those species best adapted to a lit world will find their more restless members get eaten if they don't sit absolutely still at night. And vice-versa. Evolving to be competitive in both worlds is a much taller order. Evolution settles for the first solution that assures reproduction, not the ultimate ideal solution. Because this hack has been around since our microbial days, other architectural features have evolved around it as a given. Removing the need for sleep will require addressing all of these features built up around sleep, not just alertness.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Saturday December 29, 2007 @08:57AM (#21847788) Journal
    Yeah, leave it to science to try to replace the one part of my life that I really, unconditionally adore. I'm a reasonably productive person, and I've done quite a lot in my half-life, but there's nothing like 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep to make me a wonderfully happy man. I love my wife and kid. Food and sex are great. But sleep... Sleep is like the best bottle of wine you ever drank, cubed. It's like falling in love every single night. It's a fabulous journey, it's a long-sought homecoming. It's a precious fluid dropped on a parched tongue.

    A drug that would make sleep unnecessary?

  • by OG ( 15008 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @09:28AM (#21847968)
    Here are some facts about orexin to supplement the article. It's a neuropeptide that is endogenous in the mamallian brain (probably outside of mammals, but I've never checked). It was discovered about 10 years ago, and the original biological function described for it was increasing feeding, hence the name orexin (although many scientists prefer the name hypocretin). It's also been shown to subserve the reward system in the brain as a modulating agent.

    All which leads me to the question, how could this effect eating disorders and addiction? It's been shown that blocking the orexin system decreases relapse to drugs in animal models. Could artificially increasing the levels of orexin in the brain support the development or maintenance of drug abuse? Could it have similar effects on eating? It is interesting (and makes sense) that it only affected drowsy monkeys, as orexin seems to support the maintenance of wakefulness, so it's possible that there's a ceiling effect to orexin. Still, I'd be wary of longterm exposure to non-natural levels.
  • by waferthinmint ( 1051350 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @10:57AM (#21848500)
    I'm not disagreeing per se, but I am not entirely sold on that "best solution as designed by evolution" pitch. One very good reason that evolution may have created sleep is not that sleep is the best fix, but the cludge that it came up with. consider that many animals never sleep. It may be that sleep is just Nature's way of making us go inactive when a niche does not suit us. animals designed for nightlife do poorly in daylight and so tend to sleep then. animals that don't do well in the dark sleep at night. this may be selection in which sleep is really to keep us from walking around where there are predators we can't see. for that matter, big cats and house cats alike would kill all possible prey and starve if not unconscious 20 hours a day. If allowed to "follow the necessities of life, survival, eating[,] drinking, (and if your [sic] lucky enough) Reproduction" to heart's content, we would have died out on the savannah.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Saturday December 29, 2007 @12:57PM (#21849336) Journal

    I would like to limit my sleep to neccesary minimum if only it would give me more producivity time.
    Maybe we have differing notions of "productivity". I've been playing with lucid dreaming, on and off, for about 25 years. I find that a really good night's sleep, with energetic, "strong" dreams will make me twice as productive the following day, while a night of insufficient sleep brings a day where I have to exert twice as much mental energy to produce the same result. In fact, when I'm in sleep deficit, I often can't produce anything at all.

    Maybe this is unique to artists, musicians, writers, etc. Perhaps if I was some sort of middle manager or legal secretary or director of tech support for an insurance company, lack of sleep would make less difference. But I bet programmers do better with a good night's sleep.

    I understant that when you work 8-10 hours and sleep 8 hours and commute 2.5 hours it doesn't leave a lot of time for living. That's why I've tried so hard to arrange my life so I don't have to work 40 hours per week to support my family and have tried to live close to my place of work (or work at home) so I don't throw away so many hours of spirit-draining activities such as commuting. Although, for the few years that I rode my bike 15 miles to (and from) work every day, I found that under certain circumstances, commuting doesn't have to be so bad.

    But the main thing was coming to terms with the fact that working 40+ hours every week in a job that you don't like just so you can have health insurance and pay credit card debt was not an acceptable way to live. Then, it was just a matter of making my decisions with that in mind.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Saturday December 29, 2007 @01:05PM (#21849394) Journal
    You know, Monty, it was during a few weeks, some decade-plus ago, when my wife and daughter were visiting my inlaws and I was home alone, that I found out just how beautiful going to bed early could be.

    When I was in college, and for some years thereafter, I made a living playing in a band. That meant staying out until 4-5am every night, sleeping until after noon, then doing it all over again. Even when I transitioned to a more conventional lifestyle, I was still definitely a night person and would stay up reading late into the night and then sleeping late (on the weekends at least) when I could and hating to wake up in the morning.

    But going to be early, and then finding out just how lovely it is to be awake at 5am when the world is still asleep, was an epiphany for me. Now I've learned that those first few hours of the morning are my most productive. Maybe it's middle age, but I have been transformed into a total morning person and I'm much happier for it.
  • Why amphetamines? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:02PM (#21849772) Journal
    There is already Provigil which has no effects on metabolism. Its only effect is to remove sleepiness.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.