Sleeping is one of the most crucial parts of maintaining a healthy mind and body.
Yet, there are some who are curious about getting by without it — Is there a way to tell the old sandman to shove it? Are there any drugs, substances or supplements that can diminish your need to sleep?
The first thing that many people think of when evading sleep are traditional stimulants like caffeine, and prescription methamphetamine analogs like Ritalin and Adderall.
In my personal experience (I’ve only ever used caffeine) stimulants don’t diminish the actual need for sleep. Stimulants may promote an ephemeral sense of wakefulness and alertness, but being extremely drowsy and stimulated is nowhere near as great as being well-rested and stimulated. In other words, stimulants are best used with a good night’s sleep. I’m not saying that it’s not possible to pull an all-nighter while strung out on pills, but the crash to me is not worth the hassle.
The next thing that other people have considered is modafinil (and its up-and-coming sister substance adrafinil). It’s a prescription-only drug given for narcolepsy in the States, but can be bought overseas with little hassle. It’s a peculiar kind of central nervous stimulant, as it simply fires up the mechanisms behind consciousness and alertness without the typical side effects of traditional stimulants: addiction, elevated blood pressure and heart rate, and more.
While I’ve considered it, I do not use modafinil, but have sat on the thought for a while. For all the fanfare surrounding it, it’s relatively expensive versus other effective nootropics and stimulants, plus (not to scare anyone off, but) there’s a relatively rare but severe side effect called Stevens Johnson Syndrome where your body basically becomes allergic to its own skin. Yikes.
I’ve asked modafinil users what the real risk is of SJS, none of them seem to have an answer, other than supposedly you’ll be okay if you’ve never had a reaction to ibuprofen or whatever. My personal decision is I’ll be holding off for a long while before picking up some of that stuff in order to try it out of sheer curiosity.
If you want more positive experiences with modafinil, check out Victor Pride’s blog.
Piracetam, my nootropic of choice (due to how common and inexpensive it is), has little effect on my wakefulness. It could just be telling of my body’s sensitivity (or lack thereof) to substances, but if I’m tired, I’m tired. I will sleep even on a full stack of nootropics, albeit with some tripped out dreams.
Last on this list are choline and acetylcholine precursors. DMAE has reports of long-term users requiring less sleep to feel well-rested. I am currently taking DMAE on a daily basis, and so far I feel like I need less hours of sleep. So this one may be helpful in this area. (future write-up!)
As for non-drug based sleep hacks? I’m not going to go in-depth here, but Koanic over at his blog has mentioned his experience with polyphasic sleep and napping.
…[T]he midafternoon lull was shifting my test prep work into the evening, thereby shifting bedtime later. This was a biological problem. When you fadeout, there’s not much willpower can do. It’s like swimming against the current.
Quite by accident, I arrived at the solution. I decided that if I was going to fadeout immediately upon arriving home at 6:30 – 7pm, I would simply schedule a 20 minute vampire nap then. I did so and voila, the evening fadeout disappeared. I marveled as I sped through my evening routine.
I’ve fucked around with polyphasic sleep before a few years ago, and after a couple failed attempts, I ended up sleeping for over 16 hours through all of my alarms after not sleeping for a whole day. Plus, I have a hunch that it couldn’t possibly be good for your body to be sleeping like that. It didn’t work for Koanic either.
His more modest proposal of a large chunk of sleep (6 hours) combined with multiple naps (20 minutes each) is similar to what I’ve adopted into my daily routine when I simply cannot get that much sleep. I actually feel most alert with under the “traditional” 8 hours of sleep but with just over 6 hours of sleep including naps. Plus there are some benefits to napping, which he notes:
I estimate that I can drop from 9 hours sleep needed to 6 hours simply by spacing three 20 minute naps through the day. But the advantages are greater than a 2 hour gain would suggest. The brief naps constitute mini REM sessions that allow for more iterations of intuition and memory consolidation.
See that? Cognitive benefits from your own brain.
Sometimes it’s best to take the nootropics as a helper agent for your brain’s own working machinery, not as a crutch for exhausted gray matter. Get your mind and body up and running before you supercharge it. Just get some damn sleep.
Koanic Soul – The napping hack – a risk free major productivity boost
Return of Kings – 10 Surprising Facts About Sleep
Longecity – Modafinil – The Likelihood of SJS