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Beginners Guide to Modafinil for Shift Work Sleep Disorder

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Modafinil is one of the most popular medications used by people all over the world to treat varying degrees of SWSD. Although it is effective and has a relatively fewer risk of side effects, there are several things worth learning about before starting treatment with it.

Modafinil for Shift Work Sleep Disorder

In this guide, you will find out everything you need to know, including the possible risks and best tips for effective use.

What Are Modafinil Pills?

Modafinil belongs to a class of drugs commonly called wakefulness-promoting medications. It was developed in France and was used as an experimental treatment for narcolepsy in 1986. In 1998, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it under the brand name Provigil for use in reversing the symptoms of narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) [1].

But modafinil pills do more than treat sleep disorders – they have strong cognitive enhancing benefits. This is why many healthy individuals take it off-label to gain a competitive edge in school or at work. As a cognitive-enhancing drug, it is believed to:

  • increase alertness;
  • boost memory;
  • improve mental processing speed;
  • improve mood;
  • increase focus.

Although drug regulatory bodies discourage the drug’s use for off-label treatment, many people continue to take it for the aforementioned benefits.

At this point, it is worth noting that although modafinil is safe and has a high success rate, using it incorrectly may cause side effects such as nausea, headache, stomach upset, and insomnia, among others. The pills are only to be taken by individuals who are 17 years of age and over.

Consult your doctor before starting treatment with it.

What Is Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD)?

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a sleep disorder that often affects individuals who work odd shifts, i.e., shifts outside the typical 9 am to 5 pm time. People who experience it typically find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep when they intend to. The condition is so common that about 1% of the United States population potentially suffers from it. This translates to around 3.75 million Americans [2].


Simply put, SWSD is caused by a misalignment of the circadian rhythm or the biological clock. During the day, light entering the eyes causes the brain to produce cortisol – a hormone that induces the feeling of wakefulness and alertness. As the sun sets towards evening, the decreased light intensity or darkness prompts the brain to produce another chemical called melatonin, which induces a feeling of sleepiness [3].

Sleep Disorder

People who work odd shifts remain exposed to bright light during times their biological clocks would normally prompt them to sleep. Such continuous exposure eventually affects the sleep-wake cycle and ultimately causes SWSD.


The common symptoms of shift work sleep disorder are excessive sleepiness during the day and difficulty sleeping or staying asleep. Others include:

  • lack of energy;
  • moodiness;
  • feeling exhausted even after sleeping;
  • difficulty concentrating;
  • trouble with relationships.

It is advisable to seek medical attention upon noticing these symptoms, as the disorder can increase the risk of exposure to accidents at work or while driving [4].


The diagnosis of shift work sleep disorder typically begins with your doctor asking a series of questions about your work shift and sleep patterns. They may require you to provide information regarding the quality of your sleep for at least 7 days, your drug history, and any drugs you may be taking currently.

The doctor may also decide to conduct a sleep study to confirm if you’re actually suffering from SWSD, as its symptoms are similar to those caused by narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea. The sleep study may require you to sleep in the clinic overnight. While there, your heart rate, breathing, sleep disturbances, and overall sleep quality will be monitored via monitors that may be placed on your face, chest, or fingers.

If the doctor finds that you’re suffering from SWSD, they may then explore the best treatment option for you [4].


The treatment of shift work sleep disorder may range from making some changes to your routine after work and creating an enabling environment for quality sleep to taking drugs.

For starters, try to minimize exposure to light on your way home from your work shift each day to prepare you for sleep. Encourage your family members to minimize noise and skip tasks like vacuuming that cause noise during the time you’re supposed to go to bed. Don’t forget to keep the room dark to help promote melatonin production.

Take Modafinil

For drug treatment, the Food and Drug Administration has two prescription medications – modafinil and armodafinil approved for treating the condition [5]. Because the drugs are also used to treat other conditions, they’re to be taken exactly as prescribed to get the best result. In most cases, they’re to be taken about one hour before work.

Some people succeed in adapting to night shifts and sleeping well during the day, but it is challenging and can often take time. Be sure to treat SWSD as soon as it’s diagnosed, as it can cause major health concerns.

Modafinil for SWSD: Tips for Effective Use

Modafinil is a highly effective treatment for SWSD; however, how it is administered will determine whether or not it will be effective. It must be taken correctly to get the best out of it.

Looking to take modafinil for shift work? Here are some tips for its effective use:

The Right Dose

The ideal dose for modafinil is between 100 mg and 200 mg per day. No more than this should be taken as it can increase the risk of side effects. It is advisable to start with the 100 mg tab if you’re new to the drug, and only move to the 200 mg tab if you find it ineffective.

Do not crush, split, or dissolve modafinil tabs in water, as you could mistakenly alter the dosage in the process. Let your doctor help you determine the best dosing for you.

Get the Timing Right

Modafinil is effective, no doubt, but the time of administration can make a real difference. For SWSD, take it 1 hour before the start of your work shift. Note that popping the pill much later could increase the difficulty levels of sleeping when you plan to. Always take this drug on time!

Drink Lots of Water

Headache is one of the common side effects of modafinil, and many users suffer from it. However, what many people do not know is that simply drinking enough water throughout the day can help prevent headaches. Always drink water when on this drug, lots of it.

Drink Water

Avoid Interactions

Some individuals like to combine modafinil with coffee or other smart drugs to achieve faster results or increased cognitive-enhancing benefits. While such mixtures sometimes work, they raise the risks of interaction occurring. Interactions can render modafinil or one or more of the drugs it is combined with to be ineffective; it can also increase the risks of side effects.

Do not combine this smart drug with other drugs or cognitive-enhancing substances unless you’re given the green light by your doctor or healthcare provider [6].

Possible Risks of Taking Modafinil to Cure SWSD

Modafinil is an effective medication for SWSD treatment. Although researchers at Oxford and Harvard Universities have called it “the world’s first safe ‘smart drug,’” there are some risks associated with taking it. These are the mild or more serious side effects that can result from its use.

The common negative effects include headache, insomnia, nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, and diarrhea. They mostly occur when certain individuals take modafinil for the first time. The good news is that they’re usually mild and tend to disappear without medical attention, as the body adjusts to it [7]. Note that besides taking it for the first time, another thing that may lead to these sorts of adverse effects is long-term use. This is why it is important to be on the lookout for symptoms and inform your doctor as soon as possible.

More serious side effects can also result from modafinil use. However, they’re associated with incorrect use. Some of them include chills, fast heartbeat, dry mouth, chest pain, and vomiting, among others. These negative after-effects can get serious; do well to seek urgent medical attention as soon as detected.

So, Does Modafinil Treat Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

Yes, modafinil does a good job in treating shift work sleep disorder; and vs. Adderall, it is a much better option as it poses a far fewer risk of side effects. Although it may sometimes not restore sleepiness to normal daytime levels, it improves the symptoms and helps boost performance during the day [8]. Note that it is a prescription medication and should therefore be used exactly as prescribed by a doctor.

Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before starting treatment with it.


  1. Modafinil. Retrieved: April 5, 2022.
  2. Shift Work Sleep Disorder: a Top 10 List. By Adam Pedowitz. Retrieved: April 5, 2022.
  3. Shift Work Disorder: Overview and Complications. Written by Danielle Pacheco, Staff Writer. Medically reviewed by Dr. Anis Rehman, Endocrinologist. Retrieved: April 5, 2022.
  4. Shift Work Sleep Disorder: Treatment, Diagnosis, Disability, and More. Written by Ana Gotter. Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH. Retrieved: April 5, 2022.
  5. What Treatments Are Available for Shift Work Disorder? Written by Danielle Pacheco, Staff Writer. Retrieved: April 5, 2022.
  6. Modafinil (Oral Route) Proper Use. By IBM Micromedex. Retrieved: April 5, 2022.
  7. Modafinil: MedlinePlus Drug Information. Retrieved: April 5, 2022.
  8. Modafinil for Excessive Sleepiness Associated with Shift-Work Sleep Disorder. By Charles A. Czeisler, Ph.D., M.D., James K. Walsh, Ph.D., et al. Retrieved: April 5, 2022.