A Dream Come True?

It's a 24-hour world and despite what the clock says, it seems the goal of modern society is to expand time, to make the difference between day and night obsolete.

One little problem – humans need to sleep.

"We're constantly pounding on this desire to be in control of time and to use it and sleep stands in the way," said Dr. David Dinges of the University of Pennsylvania.

Dinges is at the center of a growing new area of scientific interest: how to achieve wakefulness 24 hours a day.

"There's growing evidence it's not good to go without sleep yet that's what everyone wants to do," he said.

Dinges is studying the effects of a drug called Modafinil. Already approved by the FDA to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy, Modafinil can convince the brain to be awake at any hour.

Other older stimulants affect many centers of the brain, often causing the increased heart rate and blood pressure that lead to jitteriness. But, reports CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin, Modafinil works only on specific neurotransmitters in the hypothalamus that control wakefulness.

Janet Cassidy takes Modafinil twice a day to control narcolepsy and has no side effects.

"It's almost like you don't know you're taking anything," she said

Modafinil raises the possibility that we may one day be able to eliminate the need for sleep altogether. Imagine the benefits for shift workers, hospital employees and brand new parents.

The American military is particularly interested.

At Fort Rucker in Alabama, researchers are giving Modafinil to Blackhawk helicopter pilots who often have to fly long missions with no rest.

Typically you're pretty physically and mentally drained," said David Talarczyk, a pilot.

Pilots at Fort Rucker who took the drug and stayed awake as long as 35 hours performed the same as their well-rested peers. For the military, Modafinil may solve a big problem.

"It's nice to be able to do research that's ultimately going to have that field use that's going to make our military pilots more effective, safer and better able to accomplish their jobs," said John Caldwell of the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Center.

But just because we can fight sleep, should we? Scientists don't know what the long-term health effects might be. It's a question we'll have to sleep on -- if we ever go to bed that is.



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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