18 Modafinil Alternatives That Actually Work

Written by Salma Younas | Last updated on August 4, 2023

Do you feel sleepy during the day? Maybe your mind does not allow you to focus effectively on work? These are problems that are becoming serious issues in the modern day - and many people are turning to pills and drugs to help them out. 


One of these drugs is known as modafinil. It’s not a nootropic, but some people use it as a cognitive enhancer. In this case, you’re using it for off-label purposes, but if your doctor deems it appropriate, then it might be helpful for you. 

With this said, there are some concerns about taking modafinil, so why not look at modafinil alternatives that could be safer? That’s exactly what we are going to cover in this article. 

An Increasing Demand For Cognitive Enhancers

cognitive enhancer

We are living in an ever-changing world and things like stress and exposure to certain chemicals are becoming big concerns for the general public. With all of these things comes an increasing demand for pills and supplements that improves cognitive function. 

There are several drivers behind the fact that people are starting to turn to cognitive enhancers. Thus, we should really first take a look at why this increasing demand is happening right now.

First, we need to consider the fact that the world has gotten quite complex. With the constant introduction of new technologies and markets, people need to work hard to earn a living.

Your workplace’s expectations of you may also be changing constantly. 

And with all of this, you may start to experience stress and even develop depression. In fact, it is estimated that at least 5% of the worldwide adult population has depression [1]. 


Stress and depression can both have a negative impact on your cognitive function [2]. If you are constantly stressed, and you feel depressed, then these mental feelings can make it hard to focus on what is important. 

You may find that your productivity at work declines. And your memory also starts to suffer. 

A cognitive enhancer is something that people often turn to in the modern day when they find themselves in this type of situation. As the prevalence of chronic stress, depression, and anxiety disorders increases, so will the demand for cognitive enhancers. 

Medical care has been improving a lot in the past few decades. Diseases that weren’t possible to effectively treat years ago can now be managed and the progression can be slowed.

What does this mean? Well, it means people are able to become older - and that brings us to the topic of the aging population. 

Now, while anyone can experience some brain fog, memory problems, and poor concentration, these problems are especially prevalent among older individuals. 

memory problems

As you grow old, there are changes that happen to your body - and this includes your brain. Thus, this particular factor also drives the increase in the demand for cognitive enhancers that can help the aging population ward off memory problems. 

In recent years, self-awareness and self-care have also been increasing in popularity. People are spending more time and effort to take proper care of themselves. The many advancements in skin care products and other items are contributing factors. 

When we take better care of ourselves, it is easier to notice “faults”. Maybe you didn’t really notice your cognitive functioning declining before. But, now that you’re focusing more on yourself, you find that you don’t focus as well as you should 

That’s only one example of how people are becoming aware of the mental “blocks” they are experiencing. And this is also causing people to turn to cognitive enhancers and similar drugs or supplements that can help them overcome these problems. 

These are some of the main reasons why more and more people are turning to drugs that focus on improving their cognitive functions.

Understanding Modafinil

Now that we’ve taken a closer look at why so many people are turning to cognitive enhancers today, let’s focus on one in particular - known as modafinil. 

First of all, it’s important to note that this is technically not a “cognitive enhancer”. It is actually a pharmaceutical drug that was developed to assist in the treatment of specific conditions. 

Some people have conditions that cause problems with their sleep. Take sleep apnea, for example. You may have brief pauses in breathing while you sleep - and this makes you wake up frequently during the night. You also don’t get quality sleep. 

What happens the next day? Well, you’ll feel tired and sleepy. You won’t be able to focus due to the tiredness, and all you want to do is take a nap. This can become an issue with your work and personal life. 

Modafinil was developed to counter these “daytime” effects of conditions like sleep apnea. If you take the drug, it may help to make you feel more awake and reduce the onset of daytime sleepiness. This can be a major step in helping you get back to life. 

Okay, so where does modafinil fit in when we talk about cognitive enhancers? 

Truth is, just like many other drugs, modafinil has some off-label uses. If you have problems with your cognition, your doctor may decide to prescribe this drug for you. 

To get a better understanding, we should really take a closer look at how modafinil works. This will shed some light on why it might sometimes be prescribed for cognitive enhancement even if you don’t have a condition like sleep apnea or narcolepsy

There are a couple of brand names that make modafinil. So, your prescription may not be specifically for “modafinil”, but rather for Modavigil, Modiodal, Alertec, or Provigil. 

When you take this drug, it will essentially work on neurotransmitters in your brain. In particular, it’s effective at increasing norepinephrine and dopamine levels. Both of these neurotransmitters have important roles to play in your brain. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in motivation, attention, and even movement. Norepinephrine plays a role in things like mood, alertness, and focus. 

When levels of these two neurotransmitters increase, you may feel more awake, your mood may improve, and you could find that your cognitive functions are enhanced.

Additionally, modafinil also works by blocking the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine. Furthermore, it has been found that it also seems to increase activity in certain brain regions that are involved in your wakefulness. 

Compare the effects of modafinil to that of some common nootropics that are on the market. You’ll notice similarities - which explains why some people may turn to this specific drug when they are looking to use a cognitive enhancer. 

Why Consider Modafinil Alternatives?

Modafinil is considered to be a relatively safe drug. In fact, most people tolerate the medication well, but this isn’t always the case. So, why should you consider looking at modafinil alternatives?

We’ve established the fact that the drug is effective. But what about the potential side effects it can cause? And, you also have to consider the fact that it’s a prescription drug in many countries. 

Your doctor may not be willing to prescribe it if you don’t have sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or another condition that causes excessive daytime sleepiness. 

sleep apnea

To help you understand why it is a good idea to consider all of your options, including modafinil alternatives, we should consider the potential side effects that the medication can induce. 

Headaches, dizziness, and nausea are all common side effects. Luckily, they are usually mild and go away on their own. There are other side effects that can be more problematic. 

If you take the drug too late in the day, it may cause you to still experience its effects when you need to go to sleep. This can result in insomnia - making it hard to fall asleep. This can promote or worsen daytime sleepiness and fatigue. 

sleep deficiency

Sleep deficiency can also lead to a number of other problems and negatively affect your health. 

Some people may find that modafinil helps to improve their mood. There is, however, an opposite effect that happens in certain cases. When you have anxiety and depressive disorders, there is a chance that the medication could worsen your symptoms 

In those who do not have these conditions, anxious and irritable feelings may sometimes develop when they take modafinil. 

Apart from these, other side-effects that can also develop include:

  • Constipation

  • A fast heartbeat

  • Dry mouth

  • Hallucinations

  • Seizures

These, as well as the fact that modafinil can sometimes reach for high prices, are some of the reasons you should first consider what alternatives are available to you before deciding which cognitive enhancer you want to use. 

Factors To Look For

There really are no generic solutions when it comes to cognitive enhancers, nootropics, and similar products - one specific option that will work perfectly for everyone who uses it. That’s why you have to understand what you need to look for in these pills and supplements. 

Now, there are a lot of products on the market that might serve as excellent alternatives to modafinil. Some of these products use natural ingredients, whereas others may rather turn to synthetic chemicals that are produced in a laboratory. 

While you assess the diverse range of modafinil alternatives that are available, you should keep the factors we discuss in this section in mind. 


The very first thing that you HAVE to consider is the ingredients that each of these alternative options use. You may feel a bit overwhelmed when you look at all of the nootropics and cognitive enhancers on the market. 

By taking a step back and first assessing the ingredients that each uses, you give yourself an opportunity to filter down to a more concentrated list. 

When it comes to the ingredients, try to look for supplements that do not have a lot of different ingredients that it mixes into one product. It makes it harder to determine if there are potential side effects or interactions that could happen. 

Once you find options that have a smaller list of ingredients, it’s time to start researching the active compounds that they use. Look for information and studies on how these ingredients affect cognition, memory, focus, and related factors. 

You also have to assess the safety of the ingredients. Make sure the combination of ingredients that are used won’t interfere with each other. Another thing to be wary of is allergies. Don’t buy a product with ingredients that could cause allergic reactions to you. 

Dosage Information

Even when the product you opt for contains the right ingredients, if the dosage is wrong, then it may not work as you expect. This is why you also have to consider the dosage information of each supplement. 

You’ll need to do some research to find what the most appropriate dosage is for specific ingredients when it comes to improving cognitive functions. The product should not contain too much or too little of the ingredient. 

If the dosage is too low, you may not experience noticeable improvements. On the other hand, if the dosage is too high, it might increase the risk of unpleasant side-effects. 

Supply And Price

The cost of nootropics and cognitive enhancers varies significantly from one product to the next. This is also something that you have to take into consideration. 

When it comes to considering how much the supplement will cost you, you have to keep in mind the price per container and how long this container will last. 

Many supplements come with enough pills, powder, or liquid for a one-month period. On the other hand, there are some supplements that may only include a sufficient supply for a week or two - these can turn out to be more expensive. 

When you take these factors into consideration, you’ll have a much easier time determining which supplement or synthetic drug might be the best solution for improving your cognitive functions. 

If you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medication, check in with your doctor before you decide to start using one of these products. Take a complete list of the medication and supplements you use with you. Your doctor can help to determine if there is a risk for interactions. 

Natural Alternatives To Modafinil

When you want to find an alternative to modafinil, it’s important to start by looking at some of the more natural choices that are available. While pharmaceutical options might offer greater potency, they also often come with greater risks for side effects. 

There are several natural plant extracts that are useful when it comes to improving mood, memory, focus, and attention. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at a couple of natural alternatives that you can turn to. 



Let’s start with a natural alternative that’s great for those who want a boost in energy. Remember we mentioned that one of the main uses of modafinil is to promote wakefulness in people with certain conditions that affect their sleep?

Thus, it only makes sense that we include an alternative to modafinil that can produce a similar effect. And this is where Theacrine comes into the picture. It’s actually a plant-derived chemical and it has similar properties to caffeine [3]. 

The great thing about theacrine compared to caffeine is the fact that it’s less addictive and the effects of this natural compound tend to last longer. Plus, it also has less of an impact on your sleep. 

In addition to its energy-boosting properties, theacrine has also been found to possess anti-inflammatory and even antioxidant characteristics. This adds to the number of potential benefits that this particular modafinil alternative could offer you. 


If you’re looking at natural alternatives to Modafinil, you’ll sometimes find options that turn to animal sources instead of plants. And Cerebrolysin is one of these. 

This is actually a natural supplement that contains certain proteins, as well as a variety of amino acids. Now, these natural compounds are actually derived from the brains of pigs. 

Cerebrolysin works on a number of pathways in your body. This includes your nerve growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, ciliary neurotrophic factor, and the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor. 

Through its impact on these pathways, Cerebrolysin seems to improve cognition and memory [4]. It may also help to protect against memory loss and some studies suggest it’s useful for reducing anxiety symptoms too. 

Bacopa Monnieri

bacopa monnieri

When it comes to using natural plant-based options for improved cognition, Bacopa Monnieri is a name that often comes to mind. It’s actually very popular in Ayurvedic medicine. 

This particular plant extract is rich in a specific compound known as bacosides. When you take a supplement that contains Bacopa Monnieri extract, it will usually include isolated bacosides. 

These compounds have been associated with a number of potential health benefits, including improved cognitive function. Additionally, the compounds may help to provide support for your overall mental performance. 

Bacosides also show the potential in producing an anti-inflammatory effect in your body and it poses as an adaptogen. This means these compounds help to improve your body’s resilience against stress. 

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba

This is another popular herb that is included in a large variety of herbal preparations. Ginkgo biloba is often used to help the body reduce the impact of stress. Additionally, some people also use it to help them with anxiety. 

The use of Ginkgo biloba has also become rather popular amongst the aging population, as the extract could potentially help to reduce mild cognitive impairment. This can be seen even in individuals who have Alzheimer’s disease. 

The extract also offers additional health benefits, such as improving your blood circulation. 


Choline Natural Sources

When it comes to natural alternatives to Modafinil with the purpose of cognitive enhancement, you’ll often find choline listed. Many people actually stack choline with other nootropics. 

It’s important to note that your body does make choline naturally, but only in very small amounts. Thus, your diet should provide you with more choline to support certain bodily functions. 

Taking a choline supplement could potentially help to provide improvements in cognitive function. 

Prescription-Based Alternatives To Modafinil

One thing to keep in mind with Modafinil is the fact that it is a prescription drug. This means in many countries, including the United States, you won’t find it sold on the shelves of the local pharmacy. Your doctor needs to provide you with a prescription for the drug. 

Apart from Modafinil, there are a couple of other prescription drugs that can offer similar benefits. Some of these are also used to treat specific conditions, but may sometimes be used off-label as cognitive enhancers. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of these prescription-based alternatives that can be used instead of Modafinil. 



First up is Bupropion [5], another prescription drug that some people tend to use as a cognitive enhancer. While Modafinil is approved by the FDA for sleepiness in people with narcolepsy and sleep apnea, Bupropion is used for depression. 

Depression is a common condition that affects a lot of people, as we have already noted if you revert back to previous sections. Now, Bupropion actually has a couple of off-label uses too. 

Sometimes, doctors prescribe this drug to patients when they want to stop smoking, for example. The prescription drug may help to reduce cravings for smoking and limit the withdrawal symptoms you experience. 

The drug has a couple of side effects, though. You may experience insomnia if you use Bupropion. There are other neuropsychiatric side effects that have also been linked to the use of Bupropion. 



Also known as duloxetine, this is another pill that doctors often prescribe for patients when they have mental health conditions. It can be used for both depression and anxiety disorders. 

Apart from its use in the treatment of depression and anxiety, Cymbalta is sometimes prescribed for patients who have pain. 

While the drug is effective, it carries a risk for a withdrawal symptom known as discontinuation syndrome. This is an important thing to keep in mind when you consider modafinil alternatives. 

Synthetic Alternatives To Modafinil

Apart from natural and prescription-based alternatives to Modafinil, you also have to keep in mind the fact that there are a couple of synthetic options available too. These synthetic options contain ingredients that scientists create in a laboratory. 


Many people turn to Bromantane due to the potential benefits it can offer. It’s an excellent synthetic alternative to Modafinil and may actually have a better safety profile associated with it. 

One important thing to note about Bromantane is the fact that it is actually an adaptogen. Now, adaptogens are substances that actually make your body more resilient to stressful conditions. 

For example, the adaptogenic properties of Bromantane may make you more resilient to strenuous exercise sessions. This could potentially help to improve your physical performance and allow you to work out for longer periods of time. 

Bromantane is also known for providing numerous productivity-enhancing benefits, such as improving your focus and boosting your mood. It may also be helpful for people who have anxiety and works on physical energy too. 

Apart from these factors, Bromantane also seems to offer neuroprotective effects. This means it does not only act as a cognitive enhancer but may also protect your brain against certain conditions. 


The racetam family of drugs has become quite popular in the nootropic market. There are many types of racetams, with piracetam being the “original” one. 

This is also another synthetic alternative to modafinil. Some people tend to avoid using synthetics because they are not as strictly regulated as the pharmaceutical options that are prescribed. 

With this said Phenylpiracetam is actually quite a potent nootropic [6]. Many people would consider it a very powerful alternative to options like modafinil. The good thing about racetams is that they have gone through many scientific studies. 

Phenylpiracetam is a rather new option in this particular family of nootropics. It is also one of the more powerful options and is great for both cognition, as well as to improve physical performance. 

One thing to consider with Phenylpiracetam, however, is the fact that some people build up a tolerance to the synthetic compound rather quickly. When this happens, the same dose you are used to will no longer have a similar impact. 

You’ll need to gradually increase your dose to continue experiencing the benefits, but taking too much of the compound may increase the risk of more unpleasant and serious side effects. 


This particular synthetic option is great for those who are new to nootropics and cognitive enhancers. Perhaps you want to give these supplements a try, but you do not want something too potent to begin with. 

Sulbutiamine is one of the milder options that are available. It is a compound that synthetically binds two vitamin B1 molecules together.

One of the primary ideas behind this combined B1 molecule is to create a compound that is fat-soluble. And with this particular supplement, the molecule is able to go past your blood-brain barrier. 

That means it can provide certain effects in your rain. It may help to improve the functioning of your brain in general and also be useful if you experience fatigue. Sulbutiamine is also useful for improving memory. 

One important factor that you do need to keep in mind, however, is the fact that Sulbutiamine is still a very new product on the market. This means there is only a limited number of studies that have looked at its efficacy and safety profile. 

Plus, many of the studies that do exist right now have been conducted on animal subjects, such as laboratory rats. This makes it difficult to say whether or not it is a good long-term solution. 

What Is The Best Modafinil Alterantive?

There isn’t really a fixed answer to this question. 

It all comes down to what you expect from the product and why you want to use it. Will you use a modafinil alternative to treat daytime sleepiness caused by problems like narcolepsy and obstructive sleep apnea?

Or do you rather want to use one of these alternatives as a solution for brain fog, poor concentration, and problems with your memory? The answers to these questions will shape a foundation that you can use to get a more concrete answer. 

When it comes to improving overall cognition, Bromantane is considered an excellent alternative. It is a man-made drug that primarily functions as an adaptogen - but it also has the potential to boost your energy and improve your productivity. 

Phenylpiracetam is also considered one of the best modafinil alternatives by some people. It’s great for improving both cognition and your physical performance, plus there are cases where it improves sugar metabolism and helps with weight loss. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is safer: modafinil or armodafinil?

Both are well-tolerated, but armodafinil has a longer half-life that can assist in preventing a sudden drop in chemical levels in your body.

With modafinil, this sometimes happens, which can lead to dizziness, nausea, and headaches as side effects. 

What is better than Provigil?

It depends on what condition you need to treat. For daytime sleepiness caused by narcolepsy, you may find that Nuvigil is a better choice, as the effects of this drug tend to last longer.

Sunosi is also good for people with sleep apnea and narcolepsy that have trouble staying awake during the day. 

Is sunosi better than modafinil?

Sunosi is newer than modafinil, and its half-life is shorter. This makes it good for people who experience anxiety and insomnia when they take modafinil.

With this said, there are more studies on modafinil and its potential effects in the human body, which is something to keep in mind. 


When it comes to cognitive enhancers, there really is no shortage on the market. These drugs promise to help improve everything from how well you can focus to your ability to recall memories without any problems. 

Modafinil is one of these drugs that are sometimes prescribed off-label as a cognitive enhancer, but it is important to weigh the pros and cons of the drug before taking it. This helps to ensure you know what to expect. 

There are several modafinil alternatives available, including natural and herbal supplements. Be sure to explore all of your options before you decide on which cognitive enhancer you want to use. 


  1. Depressive disorder (depression). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression 

  2. The impact of clinical depression on working memory. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16571468/ 

  3. Theacrine - Uses, Side Effects, and More. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1280/theacrine 

  4. Cerebrolysin: a review of its use in dementia. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19848437/ 

  5. Bupropion. Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/bupropion.html 

  6. Phenylpiracetam. Retrieved from https://examine.com/supplements/phenylpiracetam/ 

About the author 

Salma is an experienced community pharmacist who's worked at multiple well-known pharmaceutical companies including Dynatis Limited and Medipak Limited

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