London, Oct. 30 (Reuters): Party animals and sleepy shift workers may soon be able to stay alert by popping a pill designed to help people with narcolepsy, New Scientist magazine said today.
Provigil is already approved in more than 20 countries for treating excessive daytime sleepiness associated with narcolepsy, a rare disorder that makes people fall asleep involuntarily.
Results from a clinical trial of 209 shift workers showed the potent stimulant helped those with “shift work sleep disorder” — excessive sleepiness caused by odd working hours, the drug’s manufacturer, Cephalon, announced last week.
New Scientist said the trial was part of Cephalon’s attempt to get approval for expanding the range of conditions the drug can be used for. Critics of a more widespread use fear it could prompt healthy people who are simply sleep-deprived to use the drug, giving them a false sense they can cheat their need for sleep.
Experts said people with demanding careers and lifestyles were starting to ask for Provigil to help them stay alert. “It’s happening already,” said Thomas Scammell, a sleep expert at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess sleep disorders clinic. Sleep deprivation leads to cognitive impairment and can seriously disrupt the immune and hormone systems.
Paul Blake of Cephalon acknowledged Provigil’s limitations. “The drug isn’t a replacement for sleep,” he told New Scientist.
The shift workers’ trial is the latest in a series of studies about Provigil’s potential. One study of helicopter pilots showed the drug helped them stay alert and capable of performing complex tasks for almost two days without sleep.