What Is Modafinil Used For?

Written on December 16, 2022 by | Reviewed by William Gallagher, MNeuroSci

Modafinil, marketed as Provigil in the USA and Alertec and Modalert in other countries, is a popular prescription drug used to treat such conditions as narcolepsy, shift-work sleep disorder, and excessive daytime sleepiness associated with obstructive sleep apnea/hypopnea syndrome.

It is also a prescription smart drug/Nootropic commonly used by students and professionals during their work or school day.

It is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that has wakefulness-promoting effects.

One of the main mechanisms of action of modafinil is inhibiting the reuptake of dopamine by means of strengthening dopaminergic pathways from the retina to the hypothalamus.

The release of dopamine following modafinil use can last up to 36 hours, leading to an increase in energy levels & motivation for hours after ingestion.

This enables users to perform longer & more extensive tasks without feeling exhausted/drowsy. Such effects are also accompanied by enhanced mental energy that can be compared with that experienced when using caffeine.

The Use of Modafinil in Society

Doctors sometimes prescribe modafinil off-label to treat depression or other conditions; however such usage is not approved by the FDA.

In addition, people have used modafinil off-label to enhance learning & memory in healthy people and to treat ADHD.

However, there have not been any human clinical trials on modafinil's effectiveness for these purposes; thus it is unclear whether these off-label uses are effective or safe.

Modafinil is well known for producing a less severe crash when its effects begin to fade, compared to substances such as caffeine.

The duration of the stimulating effect is also longer than with caffeine, typically lasting between 12 & 15 hours.

It shares many similarities with another popular nootropic - Adrafinil - but has better bioavailability (98% vs 70%).

Modafinil also has fewer adverse side effects than its counterpart, whereas many users experience mild headaches when using Adrafinil.

7 Of The Most Common Things Modafinil Is Used For

Below I have made a shortlist of the 7 most common things that Modafinil can be used for. So without further ado, let's just get straight into it, shall we?

1. Used for Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to stay awake even when you want to be awake.

Modafinil appears to improve wakefulness in people who have this disorder, and has been approved by the FDA for this use.

Modafinil can help reduce excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy. When it is taken as prescribed, there are usually no side effects that will keep people from being able to function normally during the day.

It helps them avoid the fragmented sleep and lack of alertness that are common with narcolepsy. The most common side effect is a headache.

Modafinil improves wakefulness in about 80% of people who have narcolepsy, but doesn't work in all cases. Narcolepsy may also be treated with medications along with lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise during the day and avoiding caffeine after noon time.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also help if an underlying thought process or behavior pattern causes the symptoms of narcolepsy to develop.

2. Used for Sleep Apnea and Other Sleep Disorders

Modafinil has been approved by the FDA to treat sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which the airways of your throat relax during sleep, causing breathing to be interrupted or stopped, and sometimes taking place again during the night.

Modafinil can treat symptoms of sleep apnea that are caused by enlarged breathing airways in your throat.

It is a wake-promoting agent approved for long-term use to treat daytime sleepiness caused by other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and shift work disorder.

Modafinil inhibits monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A), an enzyme that deaminates neurotransmitter chemicals in the body’s nervous system including dopamine and norepinephrine, into less harmful forms of the chemicals that carry signals between nerve cells.

The amount of this conversion varies with each person’s genetic profile.

When people with certain genetic variations are using Modafinil, the reduced amount of the chemicals they carry is sometimes not enough to prevent sleepiness from occurring.

Therefore, as described above, one can take Modafinil to bring up the level of these enzymes in their bodies so that they can metabolize these chemicals normally.

3. Used for Fatigue

Fatigue is a state of overwhelming tiredness and exhaustion. It can be caused by physical, mental or emotional conditions or conditions that limit your ability to perform physical activity.

For some people fatigue may last for days or weeks at a time during times when they need to work or study very hard.

Modafinil increases alertness by improving wakefulness and vigilance capabilities in people who have difficulty staying awake because of extreme fatigue from mental and/or physical exertion for several days in a row (exhaustion).

People who have chronic fatigue syndrome also report an improvement in their daily lives after starting Modafinil treatment compared with medication that is used as a treatment for high blood pressure.

Modafinil improves wakefulness and mental alertness in some people who have extreme fatigue caused by prolonged sleep loss, a lack of sunlight, emotional stress, depression or other conditions.

4. Used for Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder is the fear of being negatively evaluated by other people and it may prevent you from participating in normal daily activities.

Most often the disorder can be managed with medication. In some cases, this may not be enough to help you overcome your fear, so long-term treatment with Modafinil may also be appropriate.

Modafinil can help people with social anxiety disorder better handle their day-to-day lives by reducing fear and increasing self-confidence.

Because Modafinil is used to treat excessive sleepiness caused by narcolepsy and social anxiety disorder, it is not known if Modafinil will cause dependence on the drug or lead to inappropriate behavior when it is discontinued or switched to a different drug.

However, many people report no withdrawal symptoms when stopping treatment with Modafinil after long periods of time (more than a year).

5. Used for Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift workers are people who work at different times of the day and night, or people whose jobs include using equipment in the middle of the night.

Some people with shift work disorder have trouble getting enough sleep or losing sleep during the period that they are usually asleep.

Modafinil helps improve wakefulness, alertness, and performance in shift workers by providing stimulation that motivates them to stay awake during their normal waking hours.

When it is used to treat excessive sleepiness caused by narcolepsy, Modafinil can help decrease daytime somnolence without causing impaired driving skills or other central nervous system defects.

Modafinil improves wakefulness in some shift workers who have difficulty staying awake for long periods of time due to extreme fatigue caused by mental and/or physical exertion for several days in a row (exhaustion).

People who have chronic fatigue syndrome also report an improvement in their daily lives after starting Modafinil treatment compared with medication that is used as a treatment for high blood pressure.

6. Used to help with memory in people with Alzheimer's disease

It has also been used to help with memory deficits in people with Alzheimer's disease, but this use has not been approved by the FDA.

Modafinil may improve cognitive function and quality of life in these patients.

There are no side effects that have been identified when using Modafinil at a dose of 100-200 mg per day in the short term (up to 3 months).

Modafinil is currently used off-label as a treatment for some symptoms of Alzheimer's disease such as excessive daytime sleepiness or weight loss.

However, its usefulness for this purpose has not yet been proved or disproved by clinical trials that compare it to other drugs or placebo groups.

7. Used for Cocaine Addiction

Modafinil is also used as a treatment for cocaine addiction.

Although Modafinil is commonly associated with excessive sleepiness, some people using it say that it reduces their desire to use cocaine.

It is not known how this works or if it will help with other drug addictions.

Modafinil is currently being investigated as a potential treatment option for methamphetamine dependence, as well as potential treatments for other addictions such as nicotine and marijuana.

Studies investigating the effectiveness of Modafinil on cocaine addiction found that the withdrawal symptoms experienced by those who were treated with Modafinil were less severe than those who were treated with a placebo (sugar pill).

Additionally, less craving was reported in patients treated with modafinil.


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12681523/ (Modafinil and cocaine: a double-blind, placebo-controlled drug interaction study)
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2654794/ (Mechanisms of modafinil: A review of current research)
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18729534/ (Approved and investigational uses of modafinil : an evidence-based review )
  4. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0227818 (The off-prescription use of modafinil)
  5. https://www.livescience.com/51919-modafil-improves-attention-learning.html ('Smart Drug' Modafinil Actually Works, Study Shows)