How Effective Is Modafinil for Depression?

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  • Written By: Sarah Kay Moll
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2019
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Modafinil (brand name Provigil®) is a type of medication called a “wakefulness promoting agent” used to treat excessive daytime sleepiness caused by sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. In addition, preliminary studies show that modafinil for depression may be an effective treatment. More research is needed, however, on treating depression with medications like modafinil.

This medication changes the amounts of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals regulate levels of sleepiness and alertness or wakefulness. Modafinil affects feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness, and therefore is useful for sleep disorders that can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness. Narcolepsy and sleep apnea are two disorders treated with wakefulness promoting agents like modafinil.

Modafinil for depression is typically well-tolerated and side effects are usually mild. Some of the most common side effects include dizziness, headache, nausea, and diarrhea. This medication may also cause difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, as it is intended to promote feelings of wakefulness.

Depression is a mental illness characterized by a sad or depressed mood that is present more often than not and lasts for more than two weeks. Depression can cause sleepiness, excessive sleeping, and fatigue. Modafinil may help alleviate these symptoms, and when used in conjunction with medications like antidepressants, may be an effective treatment.


Bipolar disorder is another mental illness that can cause depression, as well as episodes of mania, an intense euphoria or “high” feeling. This type of bipolar depression is often accompanied by fatigue and excessive sleeping. When used with other medications for bipolar disorder, some studies show modafinil may improve depressive symptoms in bipolar depression.

Another type of depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is caused by seasonal changes. As the days get shorter in the wintertime and people are exposed to less sunlight, some people feel symptoms of depression. Preliminary studies show that modafinil for depression caused by seasonal changes may be effective, however, more research is necessary to find a definitive answer.

In addition to fatigue and sleepiness, depression may cause cognitive side effects. For example, a person with depression may find it difficult to make decisions or think clearly. Modafinil for depression may also help with these cognitive difficulties.

Modafinil for depression may be effective, however, it is not meant to treat depression on its own. It is typically used in addition to other medications, such as antidepressants. This is a relatively safe medicine and typically well-tolerated, but it is important to consult a physician before beginning any new medication.


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