Cognitive performance at night exhibits a substantial drop, typically before dawn. One of the means of dealing with this phenomenon, as well as with the accompanying sleepiness during sustained wakefulness, is the administration of stimulants. The most widely used and well-documented stimulants are caffeine, amphetamines, and modafinil. Of these, amphetamines are the least recommended, as they may severely affect behavior. Caffeine and modafinil seem to produce relatively milder side effects and usually only at high doses. Previous comparison studies have revealed equal efficacy of both the stimulants in maintaining alertness and performance during sustained wakefulness.
However, these studies used relatively high, and thus not completely safe, doses of these drugs (600 mg caffeine and 400 mg modafinil). Therefore, the aim of the present study was to assess the efficacy of a low and medically safe dose of caffeine (200 mg) and modafinil (200 mg) in maintaining cognitive performance during sustained wakefulness.
A flight simulation task was chosen for the assessment of the stimulants in a counter-balanced, within-subject design under four different conditions: baseline (no drugs), placebo, caffeine (200 mg), and modafinil (200 mg). The equal effectiveness of both drugs in abolishing the nocturnal drop in cognitive performance, as well as of oral temperature and blood pressure, supported the use of low doses of caffeine and modafinil for the maintenance of alertness in healthy subjects during sustained wakefulness.