In the blockbuster hit Limitless, Bradley Cooper plays a 30-something, down-and-out writer.
As the story goes, the aspiring author—after years of struggle and privation and broken relationships—finally inks his first publishing contract. But instead of elation, he finds himself consumed by the pressure of the publisher’s looming deadlines. His creativity then shrivels like a raisin as he stares blankly at a mocking pad of loose leaf. Until, that is, a high-flying acquaintance slips him a tab of NZT-48. Within 24 hours of downing the ‘smart’ pill, Cooper’s supercharged character churns out a thousand-page masterpiece.
As it turns out, the fictional NZT wonder drug was inspired by real-life medication that treats sleepiness caused by insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. Modafinil, a wakefulness-promoting drug sold under the brand name Provigil, also sees off-label use as a cognitive enhancer. The same year that Limitless hit theaters, just over 500,000 people in the US had modafinil prescriptions. By 2012, that number had risen to 2 million.
Meanwhile, ‘smart’ supplements advertised as brain-boosters were on a steady upward climb toward their pinnacle today as a $50 billion-a-year industry. All of which was, incidentally, unbeknownst to the chronically sleep-deprived author of this article when he was prescribed modafinil for persistent wakefulness.
My ignorance of the drug ruled-out any potential placebo effects. Far as I was told, modafinil would simply aid alertness. And aid alertness it did. We’re talking something more than a caffeine high, a mere sugar rush, or a Red Bull shot to the arm. The pulse quickens, focus sharpens, and perceptions of time and space become…..profoundly enhanced. All this caused me to consult with Google, at which point I learned that modafinil remains the drug du jour among upwardly-mobile Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who burn the midnight oil.
The above experience wasn’t unpleasant in the slightest, especially for one who endures debilitating bouts of insomnia. That said, modafinil worked a little too well for me, as it induced 72 hours of lucid but artificial wakefulness—3 days of legendary productivity mind you. But alas, I continue to resort to Red Bull as the stimulant of choice.
To the wakeful, insomnia feels like the loneliest affliction in existence. But an estimated third of Canadian adults suffer from chronic insomnia. Recent data shows, in the past decade, a tenfold increase in the number of prescriptions written for sleeping pills. And sleep is now emerging as the latest casualty of the COVID-19 crisis. Too many anxious nights are aggravating both physical and mental health problems, explaining why insomnia is now a leading driver of disability.
If you count yourself among the vast legion of insomniacs, Dr. Mathew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ is highly recommended. Why We Sleep is a guidebook that can radically improve your sleep and help you live your life more fully, claims that I can personally attest to.