"Nightwork—meaning all jobs that are executed during nighttime—increased as cities became connected to electricity in the early twentieth century, and as economies became more connected globally through the internet. In the current 'gig economy' — dominated by those jobs in which people are paid by the task, rather than receiving a fixed salary — work never stops. Part of this 'performance' has to do with adapting to the different temporal demands of the labor market—in other words, the management of sleep and wakefulness. As Crary (2013, p. 17) notes, our modern economies '[undermine] distinction between day and night, between light and dark, and between action and repose … the planet becomes re-imagined as a non-stop work site or an always open shopping mall of infinite choices, tasks, selections, and digression.'

"But working at night is not necessarily good for us. Melatonin, the hormone involved in the regulation of our biological clock, is released when we are exposed to daylight. Our bodies follow circadian rhythms of approximately 24-hour cycles, and as Kamps warned me, these rhythms have an impact on our mental and metabolic health (Roenneberg et al. 2003).

"Humans have a long history using chemicals to tinker with our circadian rhythms, with caffeine being the most ubiquitous substance used to stay awake, one that is accepted globally as beneficial despite its addictive properties. Historians trace the use of coffee back to the fifth century, in the Sufi monasteries of Mocha, now known as Yemen (Weinberg and Bealer 2001). Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system by blocking the action of adenosine (which causes drowsiness) on its receptors. The popular food writer Pollan (2020), in a recent analysis of caffeine, suggests that without this substance the industrial revolution wouldn’t have happened. Studies in sports medicine attest to caffeine’s positive effects in adults, including increased endurance and strength, improved reaction time, and delayed fatigue (Graham 2001; Sökmen et al. 2008). Adverse effects of caffeine, if taken in high amounts, include disturbed sleep, increased blood pressure, and physical addiction. Caffeine is considered safe to ingest up to about 150 mg per day (or two cups of coffee).

"In addition to caffeine, those working at night often resort to cocaine and amphetamines for stamina and to stay awake. The use of cocaine for endurance goes back to the Incas in Peru who for thousands of years have chewed coca leaves for this purpose. The alkaloid cocaine, derived from the plant, was only isolated in the mid-nineteenth century. Amphetamines were discovered shortly thereafter by chemists. In On Speed Rasmussen (2008) traces the history of this category of drugs, showing how early twentieth-century pharmacies in the United States sold invigorating tonics containing cocaine and nasal decongestants containing amphetamines. Its first major use was during World War II, when soldiers used it to boost their performance and alertness, and to suppress appetite (see also Braswell 2005; Rawson et al. 2006). In Japan, it was given to soldiers before they performed their 'kamikaze' suicide bombing missions; in England, 73 million amphetamine tablets were made available to pilots so they would not fall asleep (Braswell 2005). Three years after the war, in 1948, the Japanese Ministry of Health prohibited the production of both tablet and powder form of methamphetamine. Similar moves were made in the United States but, interestingly, the medical establishment continued to defend its legal status and deny its addictive potential. It was only when its use grew further, and more evidence about its addictive potential came to light, that the United States finally passed the 1974 Drug Control Act (Rawson et al. 2006)."


Hardon A. Chemical 24/7. Chemical Youth. 2020;183-213. Published 2020 Oct 14. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-57081-1_6