Massively reduced casualties—how could anyone oppose that? In the face of these numbers, sleep modification, if practical, ceases to be an option. It becomes an obligation. Foregoing it begins to feel as derelict as failing to supply our troops with adequate body armor.
But is it practical? Will it harm our brave young men and women? Relax. Our brave young men and women are already doing it. The report notes:
The use of supplements, primarily to ameliorate sleep deprivation and to improve physical performance, is report[ed] to be common among US military personnel. This behavior is a cultural norm in the US and is recognized, but not endorsed, by the US military. For instance the PX at most military bases stock popular supplements.
The part about the military not "endorsing" these chemicals is pretty rich. The armed forces are up to their eyeballs in research on drugs to facilitate sleep reduction. The report cites a recent study, conducted by the Military Nutrition Division of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, which
involved tests of the effects of caffeine on performance for a group of Navy SEALS, following 72 hours of intense training activity with almost total sleep deprivation. A variety of metrics were used, including computer-based tests of reaction speed and mental acuity, psychiatric self-assessment surveys, and marksmanship tests. The test was to determine the optimal caffeine dose to ameliorate the effects of fatigue and stress.
The study concluded that caffeine "significantly improved visual vigilance, choice reaction time, repeated acquisition, self-reported fatigue and sleepiness."
But caffeine was only the beginning. "The US military … has a long-standing effort in tracking and evaluating popular supplements," says the report. "To date, 86 proposed ergogenic and cognitive aids have been evaluated." These apparently include "amphetamines and modafinil," which "are known to be effective for combating the effects of sleep deficit." But the hot target now is a class of chemicals called ampakines. On this subject, the report cites several studies funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, particularly a paper called "Facilitation of Task Performance and Removal of the Effects of Sleep Deprivation by an Ampakine (CX717) in Nonhuman Primates." The report notes that the study found
a clear improvement in performance, correlated with changes in fMRI patterns, when the monkeys were treated with ampakines. … Repeating the tasks with sleep-deprived monkeys that had been administered ampakines … restored performance to levels comparable to or better than those for well-rested monkeys without ampakine treatment.
Clearly, we're well on our way to systematizing sleep reduction. But we don't want to be accused of starting the pharmaceutical arms race. So let's blame it on somebody else. Let's say we're doing this research not to enhance our troops, but to prepare for the possibility that our enemies will enhance theirs first. Accordingly, the report advises the armed forces to
Monitor enemy activities in sleep research, and maintain close understanding of open source sleep research. Use in-house military research on the safety and effectiveness of newly developing drugs for ameliorating the effects of sleep deprivation, such as ampakines, as a baseline for evaluating potential activities of adversaries.