Wake Up, Little Susie
Can we sleep less?
9 a.m.-7 p.m.: I work like a fiend again. These have been the two most productive days I've had in years. Idea for new Provigil ad slogan: "Bosses' Little Helper."
1 a.m.: Again I'm alert through the late evening—so alert that I infuriate my wife by chattering at her long past her bedtime. This time, when I do conk out, I sleep deeply.
Day 3, Wednesday
7 a.m.: My one-man clinical trial starts to fall apart. Everyone says modafinil is not addictive, but I wake up worried about how long my supply will last. I count the pills and realize I have only five and a half left. That's just an 11-day supply. I remember that I offered a sample to a friend yesterday. I am annoyed—one day less for me. I start to cut up the remaining pills, wondering if I can divide them into thirds instead of halves.
I realize that maybe I can find a different supplier. I log onto the Internet to see if I can get modafinil on the sly. I find it cheap at the Discount Mexican Pharmacy. I feel delighted and relieved. Then I feel terrified that I am delighted and relieved. "Discount Mexican Pharmacy"?!
7:30 a.m.: I end my experiment after two days. I am acting like a lunatic. I stash the remaining pills in a distant corner of the medicine cabinet. I calm myself with the reminder that I have 11 more great days to look forward to.
So is modafinil a drug for future superpeople? Maybe. There are good reasons for doubt, though. The drug is approved only for treating narcolepsy, and doctors are not going to prescribe it like aspirin anytime soon. Though patients don't seem to get addicted to modafinil or to build a tolerance, according to Walsleben, the drug has been in use for only 10 years, and no one knows for certain that it's safe over the long term. (Cephalon and other drug companies, incidentally, are working on even more powerful wakefulness drugs, but none is on the market yet.)
I loved taking modafinil for two days. I worked supernaturally hard and well. But I'd be afraid to make it a habit. I'll use it again for a special occasion—when I am late for a deadline, perhaps. In the meantime, I'll just yawn my way through the midafternoon.
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.