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Posts Tagged ‘awake

The wise words of Wilse Webb, a prominent sleep researcher recently said.

  So, question of pose: How long can humans stay awake?

The experiemental answer to this question is 264 hours (about 11 days).  In 1965, Randy Garder, a 17 year-old high school student, set this apparent world-record for a science fair. Several other normal research subjects have remained awake for eight to 10 days in carefully monitored experiments. None of these individuals experienced serious medical, neurological, physoiological or psychiatric problems.

  On the other hand, all of them showed progressive and significant deficits in concentration, motivation, perception and other higher mental processes as the duration of sleep deprivation increased. Nevertheless, all experimental subjects recovered to relative normality within one or two nights of recovery sleep.  Other anecdotal reports describe soldiers staying awake for four days in battle, or un-medicated patients with mania going without sleep for three to four days.

  The more difficult answer to this question revolves around the definition of “awake.” As mentioned above, prolonged sleep deprivation in normal subjects induces altered stated of consciousness ( often described as “microsleep”), numerous brief episodes of overwhelming sleep, and loss of cognitive and motor functions. We all know the dangerous, drowsy driver, and have heard about drowsy flyers crashing planes because they fell asleep while flying. RandyGardner was “awake” but basically cognitively dysfunctional at the end of his ordeal.

 In certain rare human medical disorders, the question of how long people can remain awake raises other surprising answers, and more questions. Morvan’s fibrillary chorea or Morvan’s Syndrome is characterized by muscle twitchings, pain, excessive sweating, weight loss, periodic hallucinations, and severe loss of sleep ( agrypnia ). Michel Jouvet and his colleagues in Lyon, France, studies a 27 year-old man with this disorder and found he had virtually no sleep over a period of several months. During that time he did not feel sleepy or tried and did not show any disorders of mood, memory, or anxiety. Nevertheless, nearly everynight between 9:00 and 11:00 p.m., he experienced a 20 to 60-minute period of auditory, visual, olfactory and somesthetic (sense of touch ) hallucinations, as well as pain and vasoconstriction in his fingers and toes. In recent investigations, Morvan’s Syndrome has been attributed to serum antibodies directed again by specific potassium (K+) channels in cell and nerve membranes.

  So, to return to the orginal question, “How long can humans stay awake?” the ultimate remains unclear. Despite studies, there are no reports that sleep deprivation per se has killed any humab ( excluding accidents and so forth ). Indeed, the U.S. Departmend of Defense has offered research funding for the goal of sustaining a fully awake, fully functional “24/7” soldier, sailor, or airman. Future warriors will face intese, around the clock fighting for weeks at a time. Will bioengineering eventually produce genetically cloned soldiers and citizens with a variant of Morvan’s Syndrome who need no sleep but remain effective and happy? I hope not. A good nights sleep is one of life’s blessings.

As Coleridge wrote years ago, “Oh sleep! It is a  gentle thing, beloved from pole to pole.”

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…Living for the instant brain fix.

Is it just us, or does it seem like everyone is either searching for that little something to get a competitive edge or simply struggling to keep up?

Americans are 24-7_365, I am guilty of swilling espresso as I  burn the candle at both ends to make sure my day is well productive. But that doesn’t disturb us nearly as much as the overwhelming amount of highly caffeinated “energy” products being marketed to help stimulate our competitive kids. Snackfood maker Mars has even released a new “Snickers Charged,” -so even candy can now give you an extra nudge.

The pharmaceutical industry is, of course, lurking right there with a whole slew of cognitive enhancers to push our bodies and brains to the max!

As a society, we tend to reflexively deride and often morally condemn the instant fix (While at the same time scrambling for it). But what about drugs that can instantly improve your cognitive functioning? Not a good idea, right? They’re unfair- like steroids for the brain. Until you consider the pilot who’s flying your plane for the next 10 hours or the neurosurgeon operating on your mom. Maybe a hit of Provigil doesn’t sound like suck a bad idea.

There’s nothing earth-shattering or radical about the idea of “cognitive enhancers.” Caffeine and nicotine are two old-school boosters. Many studies have proven that both help maintain attention, highten alertness and, of course, keep people awake. Research has also shown that caffeine possesses cognition-enhancing properties that can enhance higher cognitive functions like short- and long-term memory and perceptual sensitivity.

But the java jolt isn’t enough for those seeking the new “smart drugs” or “nootropics,” many of which were orginally developed to treat neurological or mental disorders such as Parkinson’s disearse.

Two of the drugs which are now being used as cognitive enhancers, donepezil and tacrine were orginally approved in the United States for treatment of Alzheimers. A study published in the journal Neurology found that commerical pilots who took 5 milligrams of donepezil for one month performed better than pilots on a placebo when asked to fly a Cessna 172 on a flight simulator. There was a significant difference between the groups in the effectiveness with which they dealth with emergencies.

Then there’s Ritalin, the drug of choice on college campuses for sleep-deprived students struggling to pull all nighters, complete term papers, even boost concentration during exams.
Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are commonly prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). At recommended doses, these medications can accelerate the centeral nervous system, heightening concentration and alertness.

But as a “smart drug,” Ritalin may not be quite so smart. Never mind the fact that sharing prescription medicine is a felony drug offense in most states- taking excessively high doses of Ritalin can increase the risk for neurological and heart-related symptoms.

The current superstar of prescription stimulants is Provigil (Modafinild), first approved as a treatment for narcolepsy. A secondary indication was to treat something called Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD), a sleep disorder that affects people who frequently work schedules that resist the bodys’ natural Circadian rhythm, such as night shifts or rotating shifts. We both know doctors who regularly use Provigil.

Provigil can keep a person awake and alert for 90 hours straight, with none of the jitteriness, impaired concentration, “rebound effect,” or risk of addiction associated with amphetamines or even coffee.

Not surprisingly, Provigil is reportedly popular with the U.S. Air Force, and has been used more than 150 times this year by bomber crews to ward off fatugue on missions of mare than 12 hours.

Provigil seems to safely bolster alertness for day at a time wiht few side effects, but its long-term effects have not been sufficiently studied to completely rule out all potential problems.

A couple of final points, I have talked to quite a few parents on this topic of cognitive enhancers, and the issue of “fairness” invariably comes up. For instance, do you want your kid taking the SATs and competing with a bunch of other kids who are tweaking on Provigil? Hopefully, we will have all instilled in them an awareness of the profound difference between the abilty to perform will on standardized tests and the capacity for intellectual discovery, innovation and creativity, and humane conduct.

Sleepy brains prone to power failure:

 Being deprived of sleep even for one night can make the brain unstable and prone to sudden shutdown, like a power failure- brief lapses that hover between sleep and wakefulness.

  It’s as though it is both asleep and awake and they are switching between each other very rapidly, causing such disorientation in a sleep deprived person. Imagine your sitting in a room watching a movie with the lights on. In a stable or wakeful brain the light stay on all the time, where-as a sleep brain, the lights will suddenly go off and you’ve dozed off, unaware.

  The findings also suggest that people who are sleep deprived alterante between periods of near-normal brain function and dramatic lapses in attention and visual processing. Researchers did brain imaging studies on 24 adults who performed simple tasks involving visual attention when they were well rested and when they had missed a nights’ sleep.

  The researchers used a type of brain imaging know as functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, which measures blood flow in the brain.

  They found significant, momentary lapses in several areas of the brain, which seemed to frequently falter when the people were deprived of sleep, but when these same people were well rested. These people were doing tasks and trying to work very hard through their sleepiness, to remember what they had learned.

  These lapses seem to suggest that loss of sleep renders the brain incapable to fully fending off involuntary drive to sleep. The study also makes it clear how dangerous sleep deprivation can be while driving on a highway, when even a four-second lapse could lead to a major accident.


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