LOS ANGELES – For truckers on the road, students crashing for tests or workers on the graveyard shift, a pill that keeps you awake and alert even when you miss sleep could sound like a miracle drug.
"This drug definitely has improved their daytime alertness, reduced the level of sleepiness, and reduced the level of needing for naps," said Dr. Jeremy Cole of the Northridge Hospital Sleep Evaluation Center.
This stay-awake drug is Provigil, and for years doctors have been prescribing it only for people diagnosed with the sleep disorder narcolepsy.
But now the manufacturer wants the Federal Drug Administration to approve the drug for wider use, claiming patients are kept alert without the jittery side effects of stimulants like caffeine.
"Provigil is a drug that has given me my life back from the standpoint that my energy level has soared," Susan Krieg, a Provigil user, said.
But Gary Herrera, a delivery driver, disagreed. "You need sleep," he said. "As far as a drug to stay awake, it doesn’t appeal to me at all."
With a buzz like this, health experts wonder if Americans will turn Provigil into the newest recreational drug.
"On occasion when I needed that extra boost — needed to be up for whatever purpose — fine, it's something I would most likely take," businessman Pete Salomone said.
But prospective users like Salomone should be educated on all of the effects this drug can have and discuss it with their physician first. Provigil, like other stimulants, has the potential for abuse, according to the Physician’s Desk Reference online.
"It can alter your mood, perception, thinking, and feelings, providing an artificial 'lift' and potentially leading to a certain degree of dependence (although discontinuation of the drug does not produce physical withdrawal symptoms)," reported PDR.net. "Make a point of taking only the prescribed dose: Never increase the dose or take additional doses."
And a warning to all those truck drivers looking for a safe way to stay up late for the long haul: "Provigil may impair your judgment, thinking, or motor skills. You should not drive a car or operate hazardous machinery until you know how this medication affects you."
Many sleep specialists are going to be reluctant prescribing a drug just so someone can sidestep a full night’s rest, especially since studies show one in three Americans don’t get enough rest already.
"There is a reason why all animals sleep," said Cole. "It is a growth promoting event. It is a healing event. It protects and preserves brain function. If we start eliminating the need for sleep with other medicines we may find out down the line there are some serious consequences."
If approved, Cole says he’ll assure his patients case by case, before prescribing Provigil. But with drugs so easily available on the Internet, FDA doctors may lose some sleep themselves in deciding whether it should be available for anyone who wants to cheat the sandman.
Fox News' Amy C. Sims contributed to this report.