Sleep: The Ultimate Nootropic

sleep and nootropics NZT-48 Limitless

In the film Limitless, NZT-48 was the ultimate nootropic. In reality, sleep is the ultimate nootropic.

In the popular movie Limitless, Bradley Cooper discovers that taking a pill known as NZT-48 quickly makes him a genius for about 24 hours, capable of recalling anything he has ever seen or heard and applying the most advanced big data style analysis to it instantly to give him an extensive advantage in any situation. Amongst biohackers who study Nootropics, (compounds that improve cognitive function or memory) Limitless and NZT are a part of the basic lexicon.  While the film is science fiction, the quest for shortcuts to rapid mental supercharging is very real and most in the field can readily tell you about a few things that will give you measurable results.  The closest drug to NZT is probably Modafinil, which I discovered over a decade ago well ahead of most present day biohackers because I was suffering from sleep disorders and was also learning to fly. (Modafinil is routinely used for Excessive Daytime Somnolence or EDS, a sleep disorder, and is also issued to military pilots to maintain alertness on long combat missions)  Since then, I have kept abreast of pretty much everything being analyzed by the biohacking community from Adderall to trans-cranial direct current stimulation. (literally applying electric current to your brain through your skull) After a decade plus of observing, trying, testing and comparing as many of these techniques, supplements, drugs and other things as possible, I have found that nothing can compare to the benefit of high quality sleep applied consistently.  Nothing.

There is a very good reason for this.  In all of nootropics, the objective is the same: to improve brain function, memory, and health with few or no negative side effects.  Medical science recently learned that the primary function of sleep is the maintenance of the brain.  Recently, a leading neuroscientist proclaimed that the brain is actually 20 times more active while asleep than when awake.  So, what is it doing when we sleep, and why?

All known species sleep, so it is a fair assumption based on Darwinian evolutionary principles that sleep is a necessary function as opposed to something randomly evolved.  The most critical thing we have learned about sleep is that, during certain phases of sleep, cerebral spinal fluid circulates through the body and brain some 20 times faster than when we are awake and, in doing so, flushes waste products from the brain which are a natural byproduct of cognitive processes while we are awake. In the same way that a car’s engine must expel exhaust gasses while operating, the brain must output Amyloid beta and Tau proteins.  In the same way that exhaust gases are harmful in the engine and must be expelled, Amyloid beta and Tau are highly damaging to the brain and must be flushed.  In fact, these waste proteins accumulate as plaques on the structures of the brain and, in sufficient quantities, are what cause Alzheimer’s and several other deadly diseases.  When you wake up after a 4 hour night of bad sleep, that sluggish feeling in your mind and inability to find the word you need or remember what you want to do next are a direct result of your brain’s cleaning cycle having been cut short and your brain feeling the damage.  If that cleaning time isn’t made up, damage begins to take place that can and will have long-term, irreversible effects.

Studies have shown conclusively that subjects who look at new material once and get a good night’s sleep retain the information better and perform better on recall and analysis tests than subjects who got much more time to study but were deprived of sleep.  I always found in college that stopping and getting a decent night of sleep seemed better than pushing myself all night, but now it has been scientifically demonstrated. This is a very important finding.


There is some talk in scientific circles of the possibility of developing new breeds of drugs that would flush harmful proteins from the brain, reversing Alzheimer’s disease or giving you the benefit of a full night’s sleep in much less time.  I am inclined to wonder if the later can be achieved, but no doubt we will gain some amazing treatments and nootropic drugs in this manner in the future.  Until then, however, NZT-48 only exists on a movie screen, and proper sleep is the best nootropic on Earth, period.






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