'Wake-Up Pills' Try to Replace Sleep

From the WebMD Archives


Small studies have shown that the compound helps people cope with chronic fatigue syndrome -- "it helps people feel more alert," she says. It could also help with jet lag.

Those all-nighters that people can't avoid -- that's what Moline looked at in her study. A group of 25 people, all between 40 and 59 years old, were kept up all night under supervision, then were randomly given either ENADAlert or placebo right before breakfast the next day. Researchers measured their sleepiness and gave them cognitive tests to perform.

Despite feeling sleepy, those taking ENADAlert still performed better than those who took the placebo. "They performed better in terms of performance efficiency -- they had higher numbers of correct answers per minute," Moline says. The effects of taking the supplement long term to compensate for chronic sleep deprivation have not yet been studied, she says.

Is it addictive? ENADA developer Georg D. Birkmayer, MD, PhD, reports that more than 1 million Americans have been taking the supplement on a daily basis for a number of years. "I have not heard of any effects related to addiction," he tells WebMD.

The Buzz on Modafinil

Available only by prescription, modafinil is only approved to treat narcolepsy, a disorder in which sleepiness is uncontrollable even during daytime.

"It's a good wake promoter," Walsleben tells WebMD. "It takes two hours to get going but has a half-life of 10 hours, so it works all day long. By evening, there are no after-effects that affect overnight sleep. It allows the sleep rhythm to be normal."

Extensive studies have shown that modafinil is not addictive because it works on different receptor systems than do amphetamines, she says. "There are very few side effects, if any, and there's little concern about abuse. People don't develop a tolerance to it. It's a really neat drug."

Military fighter pilots can stay alert for several days at a time on modafinil -- and perform mental tasks with "near normalcy," she says. The drug may also help people with depression and related psychiatric disorders, "people who get the doldrums and just can't get going."