Are We Headed For An Existence Without Sleep?

without sleepWhy waste one third of our precious lives lying in bed unconscious? Via Aeon Magazine, Jessa Gamble on how technological progress is being made which will eventually render biological sleep obsolete, enabling (and forcing?) all of us to go without it:

A thirst for life leads many to pine for a drastic reduction, if not elimination, of the human need for sleep. It’s the Holy Grail of sleep researchers, and they might be closing in.

DARPA – the research arm of the US military – leads the way in squeezing a full night’s sleep into fewer hours, by forcing sleep the moment head meets pillow, and by concentrating that sleep into only the most restorative stages.

Advanced Brain Monitoring (ABM), one of DARPA’s research partners, has developed a mask called the Somneo Sleep Trainer that exploits one- or two-hour windows for strategic naps in mobile sleeping environments. Screening out ambient noise and visual distractions, the mask carries a heating element around the eyes, based on the finding that facial warming helps send people to sleep. It also carries a blue light that gradually brightens as your set alarm time approaches, suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin for a less groggy awakening.

Using a slightly different technique — transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which directly causes neurons to fire — neuroscientists at Duke University have been able to induce slow-wave oscillations, the once-per-second ripples of brain activity that we see in deep sleep. TMS devices might be able to launch us straight into deep sleep at the flip of a switch. Full control of our sleep cycles could maximise time spent in slow-wave sleep and REM, ensuring full physical and mental benefits while cutting sleep time in half.

Lifespan statistics often adjust for time spent disabled by illness, but they rarely account for the ultimate debilitation: lack of consciousness. Now a life lived at 150 per cent might be within our grasp. Are we brave enough to choose it?

15 Comments on "Are We Headed For An Existence Without Sleep?"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | May 10, 2013 at 12:11 pm |

    They could have acheived this decades ago if someone had simply had the guts to rip out someone’s brain stalk and graft it onto a cybernetic hybrid beast.

    Dr. Moreau: 1
    Norms: 0

  2. Anarchy Pony | May 10, 2013 at 12:12 pm |

    I don’t think a single minute of my life has ever been wasted while sleeping.

  3. Hadrian999 | May 10, 2013 at 12:35 pm |

    It is interesting how variable sleep requirements are. I read some research years ago about two different tribes. one tribe was isolated, faced very few dangers and had plenty of food, the slept a great portion of their day. another tribe lived in an environment of constant warfare with other tribes they slept only about 3 hours a day.
    I doubt we will be able to leave sleep behind unless we change the basics of how our brains work. sleep is tied to several of our basic functions

  4. Trevor Smith | May 10, 2013 at 12:41 pm |

    After changing my diet around, meditating a lot, and doing psychedelics I found that I need very very little sleep. But I still love it and don’t think its something we should give up completely…Although sleep deprivation is interesting..

  5. If this was to happen, you’d then have the 16 hour workday. Not looking forward to that, I’ll stick with sleep.

  6. Eric_D_Read | May 10, 2013 at 3:58 pm |

    Why waste a third of my life lying in bed unconscious?
    Because my dreams are vivid, intense and (usually) awesome.

  7. BuzzCoastin | May 10, 2013 at 7:03 pm |

    the Buddha slept four hours a night, 10 to 2
    but he also mediated several hours a day as well
    many Buddhists monks still follow this example

    but when DARPA is involved
    it wise to be wary

    • Rhoid Rager | May 11, 2013 at 3:04 am |

      Exactly. It’s going to be people who kill other people for a pay cheque that ‘benefit’ from this research first. Although, the X-Files predicted this years ago.

  8. I take a drug called Nuvigil. It’s the barely modified successor of Provigil, which I took before it was removed from the market. It’s primarily used to treat narcolepsy. I understand the military uses it too. I take 500 mgs daily. I also have taken 60 mgs of Dexedrine daily for eight years until I just recently switched to Vyvanse 70 mg daily. I believe Vyvanse is also Dexedrine, but in a unique timed-release form. I have existed on 30-120 minutes of a day, occasionally a little less but rarely more. I don’t get the sleep all at once, but in 5-10 minute “cat naps”. I find it actually painful to sleep more. I’m functional in every aspect of life. So there you go, for what it’s worth

    • The Well Dressed Man | May 13, 2013 at 3:17 am |

      Wikipedia says Vyvanse is Dexedrine chemically bonded to an amino acid, which sounds like a really precise time release mechanism.

      My understanding is that Provigil is fairly effective at mitigating the side-effects of sleep deprivation. Seems like your meds would promote the sleep schedule you’ve outlined. Still, your situation sounds like a unique case. Do you dream during those mini-naps? Also, were you sleeping this way before the Dexedrine?

      I needed very little sleep until my-mid 20s. I think I wore myself out with too much fun, and have slept soundly 6-8 hours a night since. xx mgs Methylphenidate (Ritalin) a day, over the past year has barely affected my sleep needs.

      • I do not dream much. If I sleep long enough to get to a deeper state I do a lot of talking. I usually wake up from the talking. Sometimes I’m saying something that’s actually pretty smart. It’s almost always coherent. Typically I’ll be in the middle of making an obviously important point to some unknown party when I wake up. I’m usually g
        compelled to finish what I’m saying even though awake. It’s odd and intense. I have an app that will cause my device to record anything I say. it’s voice activated. I should be using it and delving into the mysteries of my deep thought, but I never even think I’m going to be falling asleep when I do, so it never occurs to me to set it.

  9. howiebledsoe | May 11, 2013 at 9:02 am |

    Wasting a 3rd of my workday???? The workday is the wasted part. Why not figure out how to squeeze a 8 hour shift into 3 hours so I can get back to bed.

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