Maintaining Alertness and Performance During Sleep Deprivation: Modafinil Versus Caffeine

Tomas Thorne

Last Updated: February 2, 2023

Modafinil Blood Pressure


RATIONALE: The performance and alertness effects of modafinil were evaluated to determine whether modafinil should replace caffeine for restoring performance and alertness during total sleep deprivation in otherwise healthy adults.

OBJECTIVES: Study objectives were to determine (a) the relative efficacy of three doses of modafinil versus an active control dose of caffeine 600 mg; (b) whether modafinil effects are dose-dependent; and (c) the extent to which both agents maintain performance and alertness during the circadian trough.

METHODS: Fifty healthy young adults remained awake for 54.5 h (from 6:30 a.m. day 1 to 1:00 p.m. on day 3) and performance and alertness tests were administered bi-hourly from 8:00 a.m. day 1 until 10:00 p.m. day 2. At 11:55 p.m. on day 2 (after 41.5 h awake), subjects received double blind administration of one of five drug doses: placebo; modafinil 100, 200, or 400 mg; or caffeine 600 mg ( n=10 per group), followed by hourly testing from midnight through 12:00 p.m. on day 3.

RESULTS: Performance and alertness were significantly improved by modafinil 200 and 400 mg relative to placebo, and effects were comparable to those obtained with caffeine 600 mg. Although a trend toward better performance at higher modafinil doses suggested a dose-dependent effect, differences between modafinil doses were not significant. Performance enhancing effects were especially salient during the circadian nadir (6:00 a.m. through 10:00 a.m.). Few instances of adverse subjective side effects (nausea, heart pounding) were reported.

CONCLUSIONS: Like caffeine, modafinil maintained performance and alertness during the early morning hours, when the combined effects of sleep loss and the circadian trough of performance and alertness trough were manifest. Thus, equivalent performance- and alertness-enhancing effects were obtained with drugs possessing different mechanisms of action. However, modafinil does not appear to offer advantages over caffeine (which is more readily available and less expensive) for improving performance and alertness during sleep loss in otherwise normal, healthy adults.


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