US Air Force tests handheld nerve-stimulating device to zap tired soldiers into alertness

For years, some people who suffer from epilepsy and depression have found relief through implanted devices that stimulate the vagus nerve in the neck with pulses of electrical signals. More recently, handheld vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) devices that deliver the current through the skin of the user's neck have been FDA approved to treat migraines while research studies even suggest the technology can improve memory and learning in animals and humans. Now, the US Air Force has shown that zapping yourself with a handheld VNS device can wake you up if you're fatigued and help you stay on task. From IEEE Spectrum:

These benefits peaked 12 hours after simulation, with boosts to alertness lasting for up to 19 hours. There was no apparent effect the device had on how well or how long the volunteers slept after the experiment, says study lead author Lindsey McIntire, a human factors psychologist at defense technology company Infoscitex in Dayton, Ohio.

"There's chronic use of caffeine and energy drinks to make people perform better, but the more you use caffeine, the less effective it is. It only usually lasts a few hours, and it makes you jittery," [Air Force Research Lab biomedical engineer Andy] McKinley says. "The nice thing about this technology is that it's very easy to administer and its effects last much longer than we typically see with caffeine, and not only do they experience a performance improvement, but they feel better overall."[…]

There is no research that McKinley has seen that suggests that such techniques might lead to addictive behavior. Still, "I definitely think there should be guidelines on the number of doses per day a person should have," he says.

image: Lindsey McIntire