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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Drug cuts need for sleep
Clubbers could use the drug to stay awake
Clubbers could use the drug to stay awake
Experts are warning a sleep disorder drug could be used to allow people ranging from soldiers to clubbers to keep going without a break.

Modafinil is licensed in the UK to treat narcolepsy, a brain disorder characterised by sleep attacks and abnormal eye movement.

Studies have also been carried out into its effectiveness in treating other illness related fatigue.

But in the US, where it is easier to get hold of the medication, revising students and clubbers - who call the drug "zombies" - are looking to the drug to help them keep going.

And the US Army is said to be looking to use it to create super soldiers who could go for days without rest.


I'd much rather have well-rested soldiers than chemically-enhanced troops

Neil Stanley, British Sleep Society
Rescue teams have even suggested it could help them cope in the event of a major disaster.

Modafinil works by "turning off" a person's need to sleep, and allowing them to remain mentally awake for days on end.

Its makers say there are no side effects, but experts are worried about the drug being abused.

'People will take anything'

People such as New York DJ Dave Hollands are interested in what the drug can do for them.

"I don't have a sleep pattern. I sleep whenever my time affords it. I would be inclined to definitely investigate it, take a look at it - sounds great"

He said clubbers could also be interested.

"I think if it's available they'll do it."

Dr Gary Zammit, director of the Sleep Disorders Institute, at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, University Hospital of Columbia, was part of the team that developed modafinil to try and cure people with sleep disorders.

He said: "It's not an amphetamine, it's a unique product that acts on a specific part of the brain to regulate normal wakefulness."

But he warned: "Staying awake for extended periods is not advised that's not the way this medication was tested."

'Designed to sleep'

Neil Stanley, chairman of the British Sleep Society echoed Dr Zammit's concerns.

He told BBC News Online the problem was much greater in the US.

"Modafinil is the only wake-promoting agent apart from amphetamines.

"It's a different class of drug, and it doesn't have the problems associated with amphetamines."

But Mr Stanley said staying awake for long periods of time was not good for people.

"We are designed to have a period of sleep every 24 hours, which conveniently is something like eight hours."

And he warned against using the drug to create "super soldiers".

"What you lose when you're tired is your judgement, so things like friendly fire are more likely - a soldier sees someone with a gun and shoots them, they don't think 'there's a colleague'.

"I'd much rather have well-rested soldiers than chemically-enhanced troops."

See also:

20 Jan 02 | Health
04 Mar 98 | Science/Nature
30 Apr 98 | Science/Nature
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