Friday, January 4, 2008

Never having to sleep? I say, where’s the money?

I read, with great relish (hold the pickles and mayo), Brother Bill Hudgins’ blog about Orexin A, the mind-stimulating drug that could eliminate the need for sleep.

Considering the possibilities of how it could be used – or misused and abused – in our industry, quite honestly I am scared. Scholars are trying to find ways to wring more work out my already overtaxed body.

Comparing the results of tests with lab monkeys may seem distant. But given the quality of some of the latest rounds of driving students I’ve seen shaving fenders and clipping light poles, perhaps that’s not a good indicator. I think the monkeys win a skill test. Plus they don’t need to fill out a logbook, nor need Orexin A to be our equal.

The tests were done by UCLA and, having been a 20-year resident of California, I may add that they have about as much credibility in my world of trucking as if an LSD guru told me it’s true.

There are just some things that we should stay away from. There is no replacement for sleep. It is the body’s way of replenishing and healing the day’s loss of nutrients and wear and tear. No drug will take the place of Mother Nature. Don’t give me more hours to work. Give me more money for the too many hours that I give already.

The military has considered the options and will assess. I have some past experience with that military logic. I can fondly remember when “Uncle Sugar” gave me a bottle of Dexedrine tablets, all in the interest of completing the mission, the cargo must arrive, yadda, yadda, yadda. “No excuses, sir. I’ll be there with the ice cream in time for the officers’ mess party.” Military and logic in the same sentence are a tough pairing. Trust me on this one. I have the T-shirt.

While I certainly don’t want to shoot the messenger who brings the news, sometimes it is the news that bears being shot right between the eyes. UCLA can keep the powdered motivation. They can turn it into a self-help aid for students cramming for a quiz on the realities of the real world.

Like Brother Bill, I’ll stick to my Starbucks and my 10 hours off between Line 3 entries.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

How would never having to sleep change your life?

Scientists at UCLA are experimenting with a naturally occurring brain chemical that could turn into a “sleep replacement” drug. Click here to read about it.

The chemical, called Orexin A, appears to eliminate the effects of sleep deprivation without any other impact on the brain. This has been tried only on monkeys so far, so one has to wonder if our allegedly more complex brains would be otherwise affected. There are concerns about impact on other body systems, such as heart and lungs, since chronic sleepiness is linked to cardiovascular ills.

The article notes the military is keenly interested in this, for keeping soldiers alert for long periods, as well as pilots on long missions. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how this could vastly affect many professions, especially trucking. If a quick snort of Wake-Up Juice makes you good to go – and maybe better than a few restless sleeper hours in a noisy truckstop – the entire industry will be turning up their noses at this stuff, literally.

Me, I’m not selling my stock in Starbucks right yet. Simply switching the brain back to awake doesn’t mean the whole body and psyche will also restart. Seems like if nature had wanted us to stay up for weeks on end, She would have engineered our brains to pump out a constant supply of this chemical. We should be very careful about trying to second-guess her.

In the words of the poet Samuel Coleridge (From “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” about another member of the transportation industry):

Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,

Beloved from pole to pole!

To Mary Queen the praise be given!

She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven,

That slid into my soul.