Struggling on 4 hours sleep, man tests drug for shift work sleep disorder

At 33, Joe Kim is kind of a professional designated driver.

When you can't drive, he and his crew will give you where you need to go.

"We call it kind of a ride-sharing service," Kim says.  "Because we're [also] taking the client's car home."

For that last 7 and a half years, Kim who runs his own company of 14 drivers,  has been driving from dusk to dawn. Then, there is more work to do.

"I have to see that the bookkeeping is done," Kim says.  "I've got to make sure that the hours are properly accounted for, that the staff is properly paid."

He gets by on just 4 hours of sleep a day, half what most sleep experts recommend.

"You can drink so much coffee and energy drinks, or just stick your head out the window to stay awake, but eventually those don't work," he says.

After one all-nighter, in which Kim recorded a series of short videos, he says the lack of quality sleep is taking its toll on his body.

"I was really drowsy, I had to doze off a few times," Kim says.  "I had to actually pull over on the highway, just because I was a little tired."

Neurologist and sleep specialist Dr. Michael Lacey, Medical Director of NeuroTrials Research Inc. in Atlanta, says Joe has something known as "shift work sleep disorder."

It's a problem for people who work overnights, rotating and early morning shifts.

Kim's work-at-night, sleep-during-the-day schedule has thrown off his hormones and body clock.

"It is not a natural phenomenon for someone to go completely against the grain and kind of fly in the face of mother nature if you will," Dr. Lacey says.

So, when Joe needs to sleep, he can't.

"The end result is that you have cumulative and significant sleep debt and sleep deprivation," Dr. Lacey says.  "And, sleep deprivation can cause some very serious medical problems."

Going without sufficient sleep can cause concentration problems, fatigue, depression, and it raises your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. To try to head that off, Joe Kim has volunteered for a study at NeuroTrials to test an experimental new drug for people with shift work sleep disorder.Dr. Lacey says the test medication is a non-amphetamine, designed to stimulate wake-promoting transmitters in the brain to help shift workers stay alert on the job.
You would take it as-needed, he says, and it's designed to stay in your system for only about 6 or 7 hours.

"So that the person, when they get off their shift can now fall asleep without the difficulties because of the medication no longer in their system."

Joe Kim really hopes the trial medication will help him. Because, after a long night, he's beat.

"Physically I'm just worn out," Kim says.  "If I could find a floor, and there is enough space, I'll sleep, I'll try it."