Graveyard shifts and all-night cram sessions are probably some of the worst things you can do to your brain and body. I know because sadly I've done both more times than I can count. It is well known in the sleep field that chronic sleep deprivation accelerates the adverse effects of aging (damn these premature wrinkles), causes emotional dysregulation, and significantly impairs memory.
However, Chua et al. over at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore seem to have discovered a miracle drug that helps sleep-deprived individuals protect episodic memory; memory consisting of autobiographical events such as times, places, and associated emotions. They found that Donepezil, a cholinesterase inhibitor, reduced episodic memory impairment in 24 hour sleep-deprived healthy young subjects.
The authors suggest that Donepezil works by improving attention as well as enhancing memory encoding in sleep-deprived individuals only (subjects received no benefit from the drug when they were well rested). Future studies should further investigate Donepezil and other cholinesterase inhibitors' effects on memory functioning of Alzheimer's disease patients as many of them seem to have comorbid sleep disorders.
Remember Adderall, the popular psychostimulant procrastinating college students use to take during all-nighters? Could Donepezil become the new and improved fad? Only time will tell...
Chuah LY, Chong DL, Chen AK, Rekshan WR, Jian JC, Zheng H, & Chee MW (2009).Donepezil improves episodic memory in young individuals vulnerable to the effects of sleep deprivation. SLEEP, 32, 999-1010.
Chuah LY, & Chee MW (2008). Cholinergic augmentation modulates visual task performance in sleep-deprived young adults. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 28 (44), 11369-77 PMID: 18971479