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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Medicine: Jet lag is a disorder? But then what about ...

At Mind Hacks, we learn (April 7, 2009) from Vaughan that “Drug company pushes jet lag as a medical disorder”:
The Wall Street Journal's health blog reports that drug company Cephalon are trying to get jet lag recognised as a 'circadian rhythm sleep disorder' in an attempt to promote their stay-up-forever drugs modafinil and armodafinil.

Modafinil, under the trade name Provigil, is currently a big seller for the company owing to the fact that it deletes the need for sleep and improves concentration typically without making the person feel particularly 'wired'.

It's licensed for the treatment of narcolepsy but is widely used by people without a prescription to stay awake and fend off mental tiredness.
But as it happens, the patent is running out, and competitors can easily produce the product cheaper.

He charges,
Because in many countries drug must be approved for a medical problem, Cephalon are trying to get jet lag classified as a disorder so they have a whole new market for their compound.
Hmmm. This story certainly brings back memories. Many years ago, I had a college roommate who took a more primitive version of this sort of wakey wakey - just a super jolt of caffeine, and it was sold over the counter. Under especially heavy stress due to exams, she took far too many and ... well, she ended up having to continue her studies later.

I had a different view myself: I always insisted on lots of sleep during exams because a really tired person might not know when she is studying inefficiently. I also usually stopped studying 24 hours before a given exam (having reviewed the material thorough beforehand, of course).

The interval gave the material time to "settle" in my mind, to ensure that the central ideas emerged clearly. Why be confused by a forest of facts and factoids whose hierarchical relation to the central ideas is uncertain or unimportant? Good idea, bad idea, I don't know. But I performed very well on the essay questions, because my responses were formed around central ideas.

Question: Jet lag is uncomfortable, but if it is a disorder, what about ennui and frustration over long, uncomfortable, annoying rides on overcrowded transit buses and subways, where you are shoved into the elbow of someone you've never met for twenty minutes? At least on a plane, you are guaranteed your own seat.

My view: If one reacts negatively to what is really abnormal, that is not a disorder, it's a sign of healthy functioning. And, I'd stay well away from the "stay awake" pills.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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