Perchance to Dream: Pathology, Pharmacology, and Politics in a 24-Hour Economy

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The lack of sleep is a significant problem in the modern world. The structure of the economy means that 24 hour working is required from some of us, sometimes because we are expected to be able to respond to share-price fluctuations on the other side of the planet, sometimes because we are expected to serve kebabs to people leaving nightclubs, and sometimes because lives depend on it. The immediate effect is that we feel groggy; but there may be much more sinister long-term effects of persistent sleep deprivation and disruption, the evidence for which is significant, and worth taking seriously. If sleeplessness has a serious impact on health, it represents a notable public health problem. In this article, I sketch that problem, and look at how exploiting the pharmacopoeia (or a possible future pharmacopoeia) might allow us to tackle it. I also suggest that using drugs to mitigate or militate against sleeplessness is potentially morally and politically fraught, with implications for social justice. Hence, whatever reasons we have to use drugs to deal with the problems of sleeplessness, we ought to be careful.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-305
Number of pages11
JournalCambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
Issue number2
Early online date6 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2018


  • drugs to mitigate sleeplessness
  • pharmacopoeia
  • sleep deprivation
  • sleeplessness


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