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DARPA Develops Brain Chemical to Replace Sleep

Serta_sheep_look_2As the line between science fiction and reality becomes increasingly blurry, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has always led the pack in terms of cool, weird, wacky and frightening innovations. This time Darpa-funded scientists have found a drug that eliminates sleepiness with a nasal spray of a key brain hormone. The spray has worked well in lab experiments, with no apparent side effects. The hope is that the hormone will serve as a promising sleep-replacement drug in humans.

The spray contains a naturally occurring brain hormone called orexin A. In tests, monkeys suffering from sleep deprivation were treated with the substance and were subsequently able to perform like well-rested monkeys on cognitive tests. Darpa is no doubt interested in the spray for it’s promise of keeping soldiers awake and alert during battle, but for those suffering from narcolepsy, the discovery may offers a potential treatment. Even those with less severe sleep disorders may be interested. According to the National Sleep Foundation, than 70 percent of Americans get less than the generally recommended eight hours of sleep per night and consequently suffer some type of sleep-deprivation symptoms.

The concoction is "a totally new route for increasing arousal, and the new study shows it to be relatively benign," said Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and a co-author of the paper. "It reduces sleepiness without causing edginess."

The military routinely administers amphetamines to pilots flying long distances, and has funded research into new drugs like the stimulant modafinil and orexin A in an effort to help troops stay awake with the fewest side effects. However, Orexin A may be a safer alternative. Stimulants been used to combat sleepiness, can be addictive and often have side effects, including raising blood pressure or causing mood swings.

In the study, monkeys were deprived of sleep for 30 to 36 hours (For the record, I feel really bad for those monkeys) and then given either orexin A or a saline placebo before taking standard cognitive tests. The monkeys given orexin A in a nasal spray scored about the same as alert monkeys, while the saline-control group was severely impaired.

The study, published in the Dec. 26 edition of The Journal of Neuroscience, found orexin A not only restored monkeys' cognitive abilities but made their brains look "awake" in PET scans, as well.

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.

The research came about after Siegel discovered that the absence of orexin A appears to cause narcolepsy. That finding pointed to a major role for the peptide's absence in causing sleepiness. It stood to reason that if the deficit of orexin A makes people sleepy, adding it back into the brain would reduce the effects, said Siegel.

Dr. Michael Twery, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, said that while research into drugs for sleepiness is "very interesting," he cautioned that the long-term consequences of not sleeping are not known.

Both Twery and Siegel point out that it is questionable whether treating the brain chemistry behind sleepiness would actually alleviate the other problems associated with sleep deprivation.

"New research indicates that not getting enough sleep is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders," said Twery.

However, Siegel says Americans already recognize that sleepiness is a problem and have long treated it with a variety of stimulants.

"We have to realize that we are already living in a society where we are already self-medicating with caffeine," he said. So, why not start squirting a little extra sleep up our noses?

"We have these other precedents, and it's not clear that you can't use orexin A temporarily to reduce sleep," said Siegel. "On the other hand, you'd have to be a fool to advocate taking this and reducing sleep as much as possible."

Posted by Rebecca Sato

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I took something like this once. It was called crack though...

Here's a video of 2 Canadian Fools that compete to stay awake the longest. Would a drug like this count as acutally sleeping? or would it just be a sleep aide?

while the obvious abuses of this are realized it jay whitlow and eric y consider this a major breakthrough for those debilitated by sleep disorders.

Well it may help and also cause problems for the people who are suffering from Narcolepsy or may add some more people in the list.

I'm hardly an expert on neurology, the psychology of sleep, etc., but it seems like prolonged sleep deprivation, even with chemical stimulation & enhancements, can have detrimental effects on one's emotional health, biological rythms, & other factors, not to mention reaction time & memory. When I was in college, students took diet pills to stay awake to cram for finals, I would drink LOTS of coffee, & come the day of the exam, I was jittery & my memory was in shreds ( Most of the time ). I don't care if it would be sanctioned by the US Military, using our armed forces personnel as guinea pigs for things like this isn't right.

Wow, this seems to fall under the category... what seems too good to be true, really is too good to be true... there must be a side affect to this.

Wow, this seems to fall under the category... what seems too good to be true, really is too good to be true... there must be a side affect to this.

I think with this stuff, long tearm use could lead to some serious issues. as with other hormones, if enough is present for a constant long period of time, your body will stop naturally producing it.. so yes this may keep you awake for a while, but eventually ud be Addicted to it, and unable to Stay awake without it..

A recent book actually addresses some of the issues with missing too much sleep. (Dr Timothy Walters - REM Illumination Memory Consolidation) The basic idea is that sleep let's us index our memories for access in normal function. In this case it makes sense that sleep deprivation, even while not "sleepy", would prevent the formation of memory indexes and thus make a person eventually loose time or stunt the formation of long term memories. I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but it just seems like a short term solution, not a long term solution.

On the other hand, I do have a sleep dysfunction. I can sleep from 7 to 12 hours and wake up utterly exhausted. I've been to lots of kinds of doctors, tried lots of pills, done sleep studies, got a CPAP machine... Nothing helps. I'm usually sensitive to caffeine, but even a stong cup of coffee first thing in the morning won't dent my overwhelming need to go right back to bed. Though I put in the bed time, I just don't get the restorative benefit.

For someone like me, this could make a huge difference in quality of life. I could get a job again, and use my brain for something productive! That would make me very happy.

Are they crazy? You need sleep. Actual sleep. Sleep is when our bodies heal themselves, regenerate. You could screw up your body pretty bad on this.

Did they realy need to give some monkeys a placebo? Surely the placebo effect cant happen in monkeys that dont know why they're being given pills.

the thing is kurra with any animals( even humans) there is a weird need if you see someone ina room give out chocolates to every one apart from you wouldent you want one? well the monkeys see 1/2 getting something and not them they would be pritty pissed

I think this insanity. It's furthering the drug culture craze that is going on in this country. We tell kids not to do drugs but the example we give them is, "if you have a problem, we have a drug for it." Our kids are drugged up and sent to school on a daily basis, and then we are shocked when we catch them smoking pot. Here we have a drug taken through the nose that makes it possible to stay awake. There is already a drug that does that. It's called cocaine. We tell people not to put that drug up their nose but this one over here is ok. It's total hypocracy and is a driving force in the violent drug culture that has come about.

There may be pros and cons to this DARPA research on such a drug, but DARPA's funding of research to discover how to regrow amputated human limbs seems very worthwhile. More on this in the article:

"U.S. defense research agency sponsors ‘mind-blowing’ studies to regrow human limbs" (, October 10, 2006) at ...

Yeah great, no need to sleep anymore... Have fun with your wrecked long-term memories.

Also, you can already imagine the horro-scenario of big companies giving this stuff to their workers for free and raise their work-time at the same time.

"What do you mean by "I can't finish that in time."? Here, take a breath, calm down, and now BACK TO WORK!"

I do have Narcolepsy and this sounds wonderful to me! Remember, those with Narcolepsy are lacking orexin A, a chemical in the brain. It doesn't matter how much sleep or stimulants that are prescribed to us, we are still exhausted...because we lack this chemical. The ability to replace this chemical, as the write up describes....well, would be the world to myself and many others! I am sure without a doubt that it would be only prescribed for those in true need and not for someone to stay awake.

The goverment wants you to work 24 hrs a day with no sleep.

I think the creationist in the goverment believe that 3 billion years of evolution of the sleep cycle was not the will of God.

I think that a drug like that could solve lots of problems, but it doesn't sound right at all. When your body sleeps, that's when everything is reset and goes back to normal. Even if all you did all day was sit on the couch, there are other things in your body that also replenish when you sleep. So depriving your body of sleep is a dangerous thing to do. Even still, it would help a lot of people and solve many sleeping disordes.

I also have an idea. I'm no docter or anything really, but I have a hunch that this drug in your body is like a timer, and that when it goes away, that is when you feel tired, and it is telling you to go to sleep. Other things in your body also have to rest, and without that you could be in mortal danger and still not feel tired at all.

I sometimes notice that if I sleep less I wake up more refreshed. I think there's an optimal # of hours per night for each person. For me, it's 4 hours. If I sleep more or less, I wake up still tired. At 4 hours, I wake up fully refreshed. YMMV.

forseen side effects of prolonged constant use would obviolsy be a heart attack, your heart hits a different rythem when you are sleeping, this rythem is sorta like your heart resting. i didnt put in the mood swings and such becouse those are all mental and not everyone is prone to being "cranky" when over tired.
how ever i dont think the point to this drug would be to try and stay up an entire week or any thing like that, more like, you got a 18 hour drive ahead of you and no time for stoping.

It's for reducing the effects of sleep deprivation not for replacing sleep. most of you need to read the article again. this is very cool research that will help people like steve with sleep disorders and people who have on call jobs like soldiers or IT emergency consultants. Also @Matt: First: it is a naturally occurring chemical in your brain. Cocaine isn't. Second: A lot of people have a decent quality of life because of drugs where otherwise their life would be shit, so you can STFU if you are lucky enough not to be in a condition where you require them.

Interesting article, now a days theres a pill for anything..Thanks for sharing

No apparent side effects huh.. Oh yeah... wait and see. I bet there's some damn good side effects.

@TBC, the Bible makes it clear we are *supposed* to rest - and even take a day off once a week! Ignorance may be bliss but doing your research can make you less ignorant sounding.

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