Modafinil (Alertec) for sleep apnea

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Modafinil (Alertec) for sleep apnea


Generic NameBrand Name

Modafinil (Alertec) is taken as a pill once a day to decrease sleepiness during the day.

How It Works

Modafinil works by affecting chemicals in the brain. The effects improve alertness and memory.

Why It Is Used

Modafinil is recommended to relieve extreme sleepiness in people who are using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy to treat sleep apnea but are still sleepy during the day.

How Well It Works

In people with sleep apnea who used CPAP, treatment with a type of modafinil improved alertness, reduced tiredness, and improved memory.1, 2

Side Effects

The most common side effects of modafinil are:

  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Back pain.
  • Nervousness and anxiety.
  • Upset stomach and diarrhea.
  • Inflammation of the tissues in the nose (rhinitis).
  • Problems sleeping (insomnia).
  • Dizziness.

Rarely, modafinil can cause:

  • A dangerous skin rash that needs immediate medical treatment.
  • A severe allergic reaction, such as swelling of the face, tongue, or throat.
  • Mental health problems, such as hallucinations,mania, or thoughts of suicide.

When side effects occur, they are usually mild to moderate.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Modafinil is recommended only after continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy alone does not get rid of daytime sleepiness in a person with sleep apnea. The CPAP therapy should continue during modafinil treatment.

Modafinil may interfere with birth control methods that use a form of estrogen (ethinyl estradiol), such as birth control pills, the birth control patch, and the vaginal ring. You may need to use another form of birth control while you are taking modafinil.

Some other medicines may be affected by modafinil, including warfarin, cyclosporine, and tricyclic antidepressants (such as clomipramine and desipramine). Before you start modafinil therapy, tell your doctor about all of the other medicines you are taking.

People with severe liver disease may need a lower dose of modafinil.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Hirshkowitz M, et al. (2007). Adjunct armodafinil improves wakefulness and memory in obstructive sleep apnea/hypopnea syndrome. Respiratory Medicine, 101(3): 616–627.
  2. Black JE, Hirshkowitz M (2005). Modafinil for treatment of residual excessive sleepiness in nasal continuous positive airway pressure-treated obstructive sleep apnea/hypopnea syndrome. Sleep, 28(4): 464–471.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Mark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised December 8, 2009

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.