MY NOTES -- While packing stuff for a move closer to work, I stumbled across some medical documents from decades ago that explains how to keep pilots awake for three days. I have the documents because I was a monkey in the box. Now you can get those same "cognitive enhancing" drugs prescribed for a variety of maladies. The best known is modafinil.
I've seen modafinil used to treat narcolepsy, the condition that causes people to suddenly fall asleep. When I took it, I surpassed the 72-hour-awake time frame and flew a jet across the Atlantic three times in two days. On the same aircrew, the guy who limited himself to coffee became a jittering mass of jelly. He lost his ability to mentally calculate fuel loads and wind drift while me and my drugs stayed the course.
The "Atlantic Drug Flights" proved that "with the help of modafinil, sleep-deprived people can perform even better than their well-rested, unmedicated selves. The forfeited rest doesn't even need to be made good".
This is well-document military research easily available through HUMROO and its collaborators. As a subject, I discovered I could stay awake for 40 hours, sleep my normal 5 hours, and then recycle again.
Now it's an open secret that many Type-A performers user modafinil to stay on task while poring over tech specs or legal briefs. Use modafinial alongside ritalin and you get superior concentration--needed currently during the Leaving Cert Seasons here in Ireland. Ritalin acts on the nicotinic receptors that smokers have long exploited. The drugs work and so confident is the US military in them that they're prescribed to ensure mission accomplishment on sorties spanning more than 40 consecutive hours across more than three time zones. (I don't think that's classified anymore because I know the numbers in the parameter have changed since 1992.)
However, these are drugs that sharpen memory so if you're emotionally charged with shrads of post-traumatic stress in your life, you will live more on edge if you do these drugs. From New Scientist:
Gary Lynch, at UC Irvine, voices a similar concern. He is the inventor of ampakines, a class of drugs that changes the rules about how a memory is encoded and how strong a memory trace is... What looks to be an improvement could have hidden downsides... The drug acts only in the brain, claims Lynch. It has a short half-life of hours. Ampakines have been shown to restore function to severely sleep-deprived monkeys that would otherwise perform poorly. Preliminary studies in humans are just as exciting. You could make an elderly person perform like a much younger person, he says. And who doesn't wish for that?
Kate Douglas -- "11 steps to a better brain"