As manufacturers continue to force increasing concentrations of caffeine (sometimes marketed as yerba mate or guarana, which are simply the names of other plants that contain caffeine) into their beverages, we now have access to the most absurdly caffeinated beverages human societies have ever seen.
But some people want more.
If you're seeking a refreshing departure from run-of-the-mill stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines, you might be ready for the new generation of energy-enhancing drugs, eugeroics (Greek for "good arousal"). These drugs (only two at present, Modafinil and Adrafinil, both manufactured by the same company) are approved for the treatment of narcolepsy, and claim to be "the ultimate stimulants": they increase alertness, they have no side effects (e.g. "jitters" and post-euphoric crashes), and they are not addictive.
Seems like a convenient, effective way to stay alert through seminars and long drives, right? While searching around for more information on eugeroics (the Wikipedia article is tragically short), it became clear that the strongest proponents of the drugs have their sights set much higher than my trivial visions of enhanced student life. These drugs appear capable of usurping one of the deepest needs of human nature: sleep.
From an article that came out about a year ago in New Scientist:
"The more we understand about the body's 24-hour clock the more we will be able to override it," says Russell Foster, a circadian biologist at Imperial College London. "In 10 to 20 years we'll be able to pharmacologically turn sleep off. Mimicking sleep will take longer, but I can see it happening." Foster envisages a world where it's possible, or even routine, for people to be active for 22 hours a day and sleep for two. It is not a world that everyone likes the sound of. "I think that would be the most hideous thing to happen to society," says Neil Stanley, head of sleep research at the Human Psychopharmacology Research Unit in the University of Surrey, UK. But most sleep researchers agree that it is inevitable.
Modafinil has made it possible to have 48 hours of continuous wakefulness with few, if any, ill effects. It delivers natural-feeling alertness and wakefulness without the powerful physical and mental jolt that earlier stimulants delivered. In fact, its effects are so subtle that many users say they don't notice anything at all - until they need to.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about modafinil is that users don't seem to have to pay back any "sleep debt". Normally, if you stayed awake for 48 hours straight you would have to sleep for about 16 hours to catch up. Modafinil somehow allows you to catch up with only 8 hours or so.
The implications here are intriguing. What if the drug allowed you to cut out 4 hours of sleep every night? You'd be awake for an extra 1460 hours (60 days) a year! Gain a year every 6 years! But before you go out and fake narcolepsy to your doctor, there's an important detail to take into consideration: no one knows how these drugs work.
Perhaps a more important consideration: how/when/why did sleep become so unfashionable? "...Perchance to dream"?!
How caffeine works
Peer-reviewed (but not FDA-approved) eugeroic
How sleep works