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October 2, 2017 | by  | in Super Science Trends |
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Super Science Trends

Tired/Wired

With exams coming up, I decided to look into the recent science around sleep and stimulants. Sleep as an area of study gets increasingly more complicated the more we look at it. While the current consensus is that sleep helps to form memories and gives the body time to recharge after exerting itself, there is an argument that says it doesn’t make sense for an organism to go into an inactive state where they aren’t searching for food sources or finding a mate. After all, the early bird gets the worm and the opportunity to pass on its genes to the next generation. However recent research from Caltech has shown that even jellyfish with no actual brain have to enter a “sleep” state, suggesting that it is a behaviour as old as animal life on Earth.

But humans view sleep as something to master or to eliminate all together in pursuit of that most loftiest of goals: productivity. Nootropics are designer drugs made up of chemical “stacks”, the most common being a cup of coffee’s worth of caffeine tempered with L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea. This combination is intended to give you all the same energy boost as coffee or an energy drink but without those post-coffee jitters. Nootropics like Qualia and Nootrobox aim for gradual optimisation of your thinking process and work ethic over time, as opposed to the temporary boost offered by Ritalin and Adderall, and aim for natural ingredients as opposed to the amphetamines in those medications. On that note, all the colourful energy drink ads that tout the magic of TAURINE AND GUARANA are really just promoting an amino acid that your pancreas produces naturally and caffeine but from a different plant, respectively. Still doesn’t mean you should be chugging them like they’re water, but hey, the more you know.

Perhaps in response, the market has actually swung back around to creating “relaxation drinks” to help people unwind and sleep better. My personal favourite was “night milk”, collected from cows in the early morning which was found to possess higher amounts of sleep-inducing hormones like tryptophan and melatonin. Night milk has yielded positive results as a sedative in mice and elderly human patients, but it’s not commercially available yet, save for one German company that manufactures night milk crystals. Night milk is tricky to get, since any slight stress or wakefulness response from the cow due to disturbing their usual milking schedule stops them producing melatonin and renders the whole process for naught. Which means in order to keep the market afloat, you have to raise a bunch of cows specifically for night milk production, and at that point we’ve basically just outsourced our problem to another species.

My philosophy brain wonders whether the desire to eliminate sleep is something to do with how we frame labour as a society. We find it difficult to conceive of a purpose or benefit for doing nothing because so much of our personal worth is derived from the quality and consistency of our labour. What doesn’t help is that good sleep is increasingly hard to find in the industrial world. Sleep researchers and bioethicists think we’re in the middle of a sleep deprivation epidemic due to industrial factors like night-time lighting in cities, longer work hours, and chronic stress. But instead of aiming to get better sleep, we focus on trying to increase productivity in waking hours through increasingly better stimulants.

So, to conclude:

TIRED: defining personal worth via the fetishising of productivity and using sleep avoidance as a metric of achievement.

WIRED: finding an appropriate balance between work and rest periods as appropriate to one’s schedule and body chemistry.

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