Nobody knows why do we need to sleep. So, I am thinking of inventing handwavy pill, which "cures" our need to sleep. However, it does not cure it forever. If taken as prescribed, you can defer your need to sleep by 6 days, you need to sleep every seventh day.

In other words, you can go up to 160 hours without feeling sleepy, drained or with any effect to your concentration. After 7 days, no matter how many pills you keep taking, you start feeling sleepy. Same "sleepy" as after one hard day.

Edit: Same "sleepy" applies in cases when you stop taking the pills during the prescription cycle, or you forget to take the pill as prescribed. My idea so far is, that such pill would be taken every 8 hours and if you miss taking the pill by 2 hours, then taking any other pills has no effect on you and you get naturally sleepy and need to sleep in about next 8 hours (does not matter if it's broad daylight by then).

When you take "normal" sleep, you can then continue for another 6 days of taking this pill. So, basically, you need to sleep every 7th day for usual time (8-ish hours). This applies also for cases where you forgot/stopped taking the pills.

This pill was tested on people and approved by medical regulations. This pill has no known side effect and my story idea is to have this pill be absolutely without any side effects.

Edit As regarding bodily functions and energy needs: Your body behaves during the pill taking cycle as "being awake" (even in night hours). If you forget to eat, you will feel same side effects as if forgetting to eat during normal day.

Now it's time to sell the pill. The price is 1000 USD per 7 day package and I am going to target the markets where society naturally focuses on personal productivity: USA and Japan.

Question: What would be social impact of this pill being in market?

P.S.: For the scope of this question, the pill is made of Unobtainium and I own patents both for the pill and the Unobtainium itself.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It might be worth reading Nancy Kress' Beggars in Spain. It has some other themes mixed in, but one of the driving forces behind the societal changes is genetically removing the need for sleep. $\endgroup$ – T.J.L. Nov 19 '15 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ I will probably stick to body's natural mechanism of providing rest i.e. sleep. Its better to stick to what nature has designed for our bodies to rest. I want to live like a human and not a robot even if it is at cost of having a little less money. Life is complicated anyways because of the advancement in technology. So such a pill if introduced can lead to as suggested by earlier posts such as long working hours,less work life balance and I guess this won't work without side-effects. Even if it does I am happy to lead my life using nature's design rather than human's need of extra money and c $\endgroup$ – user15447 Nov 19 '15 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ Extrapolate on your usage of the word defer. That word means that all the need for sleep still exists, but is being put off to later. For example that would mean after skipping 5 straight 8 hour sleeping sessions at the end of it you'd need to sleep for 40 hours straight to make up the sleep that's been deferred. If that's not how it works then you might want to clarify and not use that word. If that is how it works...then the answer is simple: we pretty much can already do that with caffeine, it just doesn't add any actual productive time, because the sleep is only deferred :) $\endgroup$ – Jimbo Jonny Nov 19 '15 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ @T.J.L., that story was a great read! $\endgroup$ – John Walthour Nov 19 '15 at 22:10
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It doesn't last 160 hours, but Modafinil can stave off sleep with few side effects and is often used as an anti-jet-lag drug. Here's a Telegraph article on one reporter's experience. $\endgroup$ – Schwern Nov 19 '15 at 22:35

13 Answers 13


As a societal impact, there would be more establishments, such as restaurants/take out food, that are open 24 hour, as people up all the time would still need to eat & drink.

This would mean that more service people would likely be hired to work these shifts, but as they are now busier they would not be classed as "unsociable hours", therefore higher pay for night shifts etc would rarely be available, perpetuating the "rich get richer, poor get poorer" scenario that Dawny33 mentions.

Other places, such as "nightclubs" in the inner city may now be open 24 hours (they would have to be rebranded as 24 hour clubs, though that name isn't particularly catchy), as rich young socialites would become true 24-hour party people.

The pills themselves would likely become status symbols (look at me, I can afford not to sleep!)

They would also likely cause weight gain if not managed properly. Whilst people are awake 24 hours, thus need to eat & drink for 24 hours, I'm guessing people would not be less tired from physical activity.

This would lead to a lot of time doing nothing, but not having the benefit of having your body slow down like it does during sleep (unless this is worked in with how the pill works), so you would be having 4-5 meals a day to maintain energy levels, but a similar amount of exercise as people do now.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure about the weight-gain part. I think that'd only happen if you eat junk food. There'd be more hours in the day to snack on bad food. $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes Nov 19 '15 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ "look at me, I can afford not to sleep!" - from my college days, I remember seeing a lot of people who managed to avoid a lot of suffering due to poor sleep habits, by virtue of being rich (house close to campus, reserved parking, high standard of nutrition). There is almost an entire class of student that holds drug fueled parties all night and succeeds in class during the day, and they tend to be the ones in fancy cars with big greek letters on their clothes living in big mansions. $\endgroup$ – Darren Ringer Nov 19 '15 at 17:43

Here are some effects which I can foresee:

  1. Rich getting richer would get prevalent and rampant: As the pill has a hefty price, the rich would definitely buy and use it, owing to its effect. They become more productive and work better. And in turn, more money. So, the band of difference between the rich and the poor would expand frighteningly fast.
  2. Increase in number of working hours: Now, as you can remain productive and awake for a longer time, the working hours in the companies would be stretched longer, of course with an increased salary too. Result: More money for companies, more money for employees, less work-life balance and increased conflicts.
  3. Instant hit with military and defence: The reasons are obvious.
  • $\begingroup$ Linked to your point (2), the current trend for shops, businesses and places of entertainment to be open all hours would accelerate. The concept of "opening hours" might disappear entirely. $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Nov 19 '15 at 12:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This means No night driving hikes for Uber drivers. Now, that'll be sad. That pill ain't so good actually :D $\endgroup$ – Dawny33 Nov 19 '15 at 12:16
  • 24
    $\begingroup$ You argue that only the rich can afford this pill, and hence only they would get the benefit from its allowing increases in productivity, and the divergence between rich and poor would increase. I disagree. Pill or no pill, there's only so many hours in anyone's day to exchange for money; which is why the richest people make money from royalties or investments which make them money while they sleep. The beneficiaries of the pill would be the next rank down: well paid middle class people like lawyers or accountants who do still earn by the hour, so can be helped by having more hours. $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Nov 19 '15 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Lostinfrance Hmm, nice point. Then, the gap between the top two bands would decrease and the bottom two bands would increase rapidly (Assuming 3 bands) $\endgroup$ – Dawny33 Nov 19 '15 at 12:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, the lives of those at the very top, e.g. Bill Gates, wouldn't change much. Ditto the lives of those at the bottom who can't afford the pill. (Although even in the bottom band there would be an increase in the numbers of night shift service jobs.) The lives of those who can just afford it would change drastically and not always for the better. It might become a sign of authenticity not to use the pill although you obviously can afford it, rather like some people today who could afford to eat in posh restaurants every night still prefer to cook from scratch using organic ingredients. $\endgroup$ – Lostinfrance Nov 19 '15 at 12:35

First of all, just because there is debate about exactly what sleep does doesn't mean that anyone is claiming that sleep is not necessary. I don't think there is any debate in the scientific community whether sleeping is an important activity. There is a condition called fatal familial insomnia where suffers lose their ability to sleep. After a few years, they begin to suffer from dementia and eventually die.

However, if your pill really did cure the need for sleep without side effects, at that price it wouldn't be affordable for most people. However, it would probably be very popular among ceo's/executives, and in the military. The ability to stay up for days to get things does is very important in those fields.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note that for anyone making more than \$1000/(6 hours * 5) = $33/hour (assuming a 5-day work week and 6 extra hours of work per pill), these pills would not only be affordable, but would actually save people money. Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure CEOs and executives aren't the only ones making more than $33/hour. $\endgroup$ – Ajedi32 Nov 19 '15 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think you will be able to reliably get whatever working hours you want. And I don't think people will want to spend the majority of the extra money they earn on the pill. It's a lot of work for little reward. $\endgroup$ – womp Nov 19 '15 at 15:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Maybe. But assuming that pill is commonplace, I imagine that giving people the option to work overtime would also become more common. Also, it really depends on how much over the \$33/hour mark a person is at. At exactly \$33/hour it wouldn't be worth it, but what about more highly paid professionals making more like \$50 or \$80 per hour? The equation also changes quite a bit depending on exactly how many extra hours the pill allows someone to work each day, whether they work on weekends, and whether or not they take the pill on days they're not working. $\endgroup$ – Ajedi32 Nov 19 '15 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ There is tax to be considered as well... besides this is basically what my first post said anyway. I said ceo/executives, obviously any professional who gets paid a lot of money could consider using it as well $\endgroup$ – womp Nov 19 '15 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ A pretty good rule of thumb is that you'll work about 2000 hours per year working full-time. So \$33/hr is about equivalent to a salary of $66K, which is nowhere near executive compensation territory. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Nov 19 '15 at 19:23

The first problem is something we already know, the human brain needs sleep to recuperate and deal with input it gathered throughout the day/awake cycle.

It is known that a dream cycle is needed to help keep us SANE, and the US military experimented with a drug on soldiers to speed up the dreaming state so they could stay awake longer on patrols. LSD.

We also have plenty of drugs that can keep someone awake and artificially alert for long periods of time.

The problem comes in all the wear and tear on the body and the mind. Including that lack of sleep changes your GENES! So your miracle drug would have to encourage healing (and other sleep processes) of both during a wake cycle. And if this is the case, then the drug would really never 'require' sleep.

However, as to things that would make a change to society? At 1000/week, not much really. That is $52K a year, that is somewhere around the average yearly income in the US, which means most people make much less. Businesses won't double or triple your salary to get you to be awake around the clock, and if they do, they would require you to work 16 hour days or more, so as the worker you get no more benefit, only the business you are working for might.

Now it might become useful for short-term periods, in specialty areas. Military out on patrols would be much safer and better off (for up to 6 days) with this drug, or they would have to stagger who sleeps when in groups of 7, so only one person is asleep at any one time.

I could see day traders using this to play the markets 24 hours a day around the world and be able to keep up the changing trends.

College students might splurge on it when nearing finals, to allow for studying and partying.

Certain political leaders would use it to keep up with world events.

Japan? They might embrace it whole-hardheartedly, and instead of giving 16 hours a day to the company, they could bump it up to 22, giving them an hour or two a day to date or say hi to the family, since producing more children might become something needed when everyone works all the time.

There production and innovation would go through the roof and they would slowly die off because no one would be taking the time to have sex.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for addressing the hurdles which my pill needs to overcome. It really seems, that I invented proper proper magic here $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Nov 19 '15 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek Yes, you did! $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Nov 19 '15 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ In regards to Japan; basically what is happening now, except with sleep time now as work time. I could see it happening too. A few companies over here, really are that horrible. $\endgroup$ – The Wandering Coder Nov 24 '15 at 2:14

One interesting side effect would be the development of social structures to help maintain the circadian rhythm of individuals without sleep. The decrease in sleep would reinforce the circadian rhythm less, and that could have all sorts of interesting consequences that we know very little about (see the examples of people who were put in a room without automatic lights).

We may find a natural development of daytime activities and nighttime activities that are tailored to remind the body about the circadian rhythm, reinforcing it more. We may also see more natural lighting, such as large East facing windows, to have the sun help us more with maintaining that rhythm.


Something which assists in staying awake for days at a time... probably not much more society-changing than was the development of Modafinil.

While many of the details of why we sleep, and the evolutionary origins of sleep, are not definitively proven, this is not the same as saying that we don't really need sleep. Sleeping one night a week is unlikely to be enough to maintain proper health - the side-effects of sleep deprivation are more than just from being tired. The chemical soup that is a brain requires occasional downtime and the flushing of sleep in order to maintain a healthy balance.

This could be very popular for a wide variety of workers, not just the most affluent, but the high price will limit usage to particularly vital time periods. Your pill may be too expensive for most people to use 312 days a year, but a few days of overtime might be worth it. Certain laboratory experiments needing days of attention, unexpected economic changes prompting use by traders, diplomats responding to political events, medical staff responding to periods of high-need, power-grid failure bringing linesmen and engineers to round the clock work, server crashes or intrusions, cramming for important exams, dealing with rough weather, or any number of other temporary periods of intense workload could prompt temporary use to get through that immediate issue.

The high price would strongly limit the impact of society as a whole - it is too expensive for most people, and those who could afford it are likely to be those who are capable of understand the health implications and make better long-term evaluations, and to highly value the long-term benefits to memory and clear thought which sleep brings (though immediate boosts are tempting). Currently existing drugs of this type are comparatively cheap, but tend to be controlled substances to legally restrict such use, though they have still become popular 'study drugs'.

The true limiter would not likely be the financial cost but the physiological one (as well as legal restrictions which come from that). It is possible that the reduced recuperation could see higher prevalence of conditions like Lewy body dementia or Pick's disease and at considerably younger ages. Unfortunately people are very poor at evaluating long-term risks for immediate gain (see smoking or other drug use). Increasing the risks of Alzheimer's and bringing onset to much earlier ages is fairly remote to most people's thinking. The young and affluent would be especially prone to abuse of this drug - rich 20-somethings could live a wild life of around the clock debauchery, while the true cost comes as they develop serious neurological conditions by the time they are 50.


While I don't have a complete answer for this, I do have to agree with previous points that have been made about the exploitation of the pill for military interests. The reasoning behind this is from an interesting article I coincidentally read right before I saw this question.

There's a pill currently being used by soldiers in Syria that removes their need for sleep for several days and also amps up their drive. Many soldiers have vouched for the effects of this pill and consequently, its production has seen a huge increase in the Syrian market. It's currently selling for under $20 per tablet. This article is definitely a good read to see a real world application of your question. (One thing that does differ from your described situation is that this pill causes side effects such as psychosis and brain damage) Here's the link to the article: The tiny pill fueling Syria’s war...


There is an entire sci-fi book about what would happen, called The Unsleep (http://www.amazon.com/Unsleep-Diana-Gillon/dp/B000KP89RQ). It delves into all types of social effects of people no longer sleeping that you probably never would have thought of. It's a bit dated by now but is still a very interesting read especially considering you're interested in the subject (I had no idea what it was about when I started it; it had been in a box of old sci-fi novels my uncle sent me and I randomly chose it before a trip.)

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Kurt, would you mind adding detail to your answer to indicate why this book is an appropriate answer? It would be unfair to expect someone to read the book to determine if it answers their question. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Nov 20 '15 at 3:44
  • $\begingroup$ You could, for instance, detail some of those effects...? $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Nov 20 '15 at 6:58

Can't believe no one has mentioned Cerebrospinal fluid and it's role in 'flushing' out the toxins that build up.

So, while you are offering some epic no sleep drug, there does, IMO, need to be a complimentary function in ensuring that that lump of grey matter is looked after healthily.

It seems as though you are talking about something similar to a theoretical super-long-release Modafinil.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This doesn't really seem to answer the question, which is about the "social effects" of such a pill, and which explicitly states that "this pill has no known side effect and my story idea is to have this pill be absolutely without any side effects." As I understand it, this means that part of the premise of the question is that all of these potential health problems are taken care of. I think you should edit your post to address the question that was asked: impacts of this pill on society. $\endgroup$ – sumelic Nov 20 '15 at 8:57

Modafinil does what you are talking about with deferring sleep but the numbers don't work the way you are doing it--we normally need about 8 hours/day of sleep. If you defer sleep for 3 days you'll need to sleep the whole 4th day to catch up.

Since it's on patent it's not over the counter (almost nothing starts out as over the counter) and probably never will be because while it's not addictive in the normal sense drug seeking behavior has been observed.

Even if it were over the counter I don't think you would see any appreciable social change--deferring sleep doesn't change the amount of sleep you need. It's a godsend for shift workers and it's useful for those who need to do something for longer than a normal waking cycle but it doesn't give you any more total time.


The pill costs \$1000 per six nights during which you can work all night. It's worth it from a financial point of view if you can earn more than \$167 per night of work. That's about \$21 per hour if you work 8 hours per night, which is just about the average hourly wage in the US.

One can imagine quite a lot of people in a situation where this would indeed make sense, from someone running a business to someone earning a just-above-average wage who's working through the nights to earn a little bit extra to keep a family afloat.

So basically there's going to be a possibly sizeable minority of people who take these pills on a regular basis and work both days and nights. I suspect that this would be pretty unpleasant for most people, but it's hard to say - maybe it's not too bad if the pill does a really good job of not making you feel drained or tired.

Other people who can afford it might simply work normal hours and enjoy whatever activities they like at night time from time to time. (I would probably do this if I could.)

Things get much more interesting if the pill is priced a bit lower. At half the price people on low wages can earn more by taking it constantly, and those are the people most likely to need the extra money. This would lead to a world that I don't think I would like very much. If lots of people are working 100+ hours a week and earning more money then supply and demand will mean that the cost of living goes up. Thus for more and more people, it will be impossible to get by without doing so. Taking the pills and working all night would be essentially compulsory - it would just be the new normal.

It's worth noting that in this scenario the company making the pills will sell an awful lot more of them - so if these pills existed I would expect this version to be what actually happens.


At the price of a weeks pills for $1000, the biggest change would be a bigger divide between the rich and the poor.

Let's say a person currently can happily work 8 hours, live 8 hours, and sleep 8 hours. Your proposal would remove the sleep 8 hours, freeing up the time for other activities, both social and money earning. My numbers are very rough, since many people work either more or less than 8 hours a day.

Lets look at earnings: Median household income in the US is $$51,939 per year (2013 numbers), or almost exactly $1000 per week. This means that half the households in the US earn less than $1000 per week, and many of these households already have people working more than 8 hours a day.

So for people in these homes, working an extra 8 hours would be losing money relative to the pill. For anyone taking home less than $$1000 a week, the pill would be a rare luxury. Some people would use it for important occasions, but they couldn't afford it regularly or they would go bankrupt. This is roughly half the population, although it could be a lot more if people are earning $1000 a week, but working more 8 hour days.

Then there's the middle ground. If you can earn more than $1000 by working during your extra 8 sleep-free hours, the pill might be worth while. You would be earning enough to afford pay for the pill, plus you'd have a little extra time for either earning an additional income, or for other pursuits including socializing with friends and family or furthering an education. But for a lot of people who have to work all their extra hours just to afford the pill, it wouldn't be worth while unless they really love their job. Otherwise, they are forced to spend extra time doing something they don't want, and get nothing out of it.

Now lets take the wealthy: If you bring home more than $$500 in an 8 hour workday, you can afford the pill by working just two nights a week. That means you have lots of extra time to do whatever you want, and even if you hate your job, the extra time might be worthwhile for the sake of the extra free time. If you can bring in more than $1000 per day, you can reasonably afford the pill for your entire family without, assuming 2-3 kids and a spouse.

What are the social implications of all this?

The most obvious consequence of all this is that the income gap between the wealthy and poor will increase. The wealthy will have more time to earn money and more time to educate themselves to further increase their earnings. They will be able to afford pills for their children, who will be able to spend more time studying in school, and especially in college.

The wealthy will also be living on a different schedule than everyone else. They will most often socialize with others who take the pill, further isolating themselves from contact with the poor. They will want to be able to walk into a restaurant or store at 3 am, and get the same service as they could at 3 pm.

The higher demand for 24 hour service would be detrimental to the poor group, who would take most of the new late night service jobs, but would still need to sleep 8 hours a day. Since school would probably still be held during the day, except for a few expensive private schools for the pilled up children of the elite, this would mean a whole lot of parents who see less of their children, and who struggle to get enough sleep during the day.

For the middle group, who can sometimes afford the pill, but have jobs where they aren't working directly for the wealthy, less would change. Some jobs would shift to the night-time to accomodate the pill takers, but a lot of the office work would remain during daylight hours, since that's when the kids are in school, and only the wealthiest can afford the pill for the kids. Nights would be a time to run errands and socialize with adult friends while the kids are asleep.

In short, the biggest consequence of the pill would be stratification of society. Further consequences would flow from that. With a cheaper pill, the results would be different.


I disagree with most of the answers here. I think there would be very little effect because of the price. I don't even think it would increase the gap between rich and poor.

At that price, I think almost no one would buy it regularly. It would be a luxury item. Even upper class people would think twice before spending $1,000 a week on it, because even if you can afford it , it's still a fine chunk of money, can you not think of something more fun or productive to spend it on?

Its most important contribution to society would be its leisure applications e.g. it could be an occasional treat, e.g. so people could attend week-long parties, or perhaps on "adult" holidays with all-night activities.

Even if you earn enough per hour that the ability to do the extra work would pay for it, would you want to? The $21 per hour that Nathaniel mentions is just to break even, in other words, working for free. You'd want to be paid double that to actually make it worth your while (more than double, in fact, to cope with the extra tax you're now paying, presumably it's not tax deductable), and I think your company would just prefer hire a second person to do the night shift. The same goes for the military.

Furthermore you don't mention whether it fights off tiredness for reasons other than lack of sleep. You might be tired after 16 hours of work, not because you didn't get enough sleep, but because you've been doing 16 hours of work every day (or even just for the last few days). So the extra 8 hours you're doing every day is not as valuable as the 8 hours of a normal day, and you're tired and pissed off...

The only people I see using it for work are people in really high pressure jobs (like CEOs and national leaders) or the occasional push for a looming deadline.


protected by Community Nov 20 '15 at 0:13

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.