Steroids For The Brain – How I Used Modafinil To Study For 19 Hours Straight

bradley cooper studying in limitless
I take a look around – everything seems different, yet I cannot put my finger on it. I’m completely surrounded by women but I barely pay them any attention.

There is too much to do, besides, the last thing I need right now is to make eye contact with a woman holding a shoe.

Shit needs to get done.

Sadly, my efforts are disrupted by the continual efforts of the fairer sex to gain my attention.

“Excuse me; do you have this in an 8?”

I cast a quick glance in her general direction – almost snatching the shoe from her hand as I do so.

“Hang on, I’ll just check” are the words that spill from my lips.

“Do you have clown feet or something?” are the words that form in my mind.

I return, passing the shoe back to her with an apologetic shake of the head. I’m not really sorry of course. I’m just programmed by society to act this way.

An hour passes by in an instant. My labour only grinds to a complete stop when I notice the savagery that lies before me.

Rush hour has passed, and with it, the remnants of a war zone.

Kids, this is what happens when you don’t go to university and end up working in a female shoe department.

Ten minutes later the place was restored to its former ‘glory’.

Three hours later; I have cleaned every shelf, unboxed the delivery, tidied the stockroom, rearranged the furniture and waited hand on foot (literally) to what seemed like a screaming horde of women. I didn’t miss a beat – this shit was easy.

I hated my job with a passion.

Yet, I was on fire!

What the hell is Modafinil?

Modafinil is a prescription drug that was initially created as a means to treat narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. Over time it has been proven to be effective in treating ADHD, Chronic fatigue syndrome and even negating the effects of cocaine withdrawal among recovering addicts.

Interestingly, Modafinil has also been used by the United States Air Force as their drug of choice to keep pilots awake and alert for significant periods of time. A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that sleep deprived subjects who were administered a typical dose improved their alertness and reaction time for 88 hours.  Pilots who used caffeine only showed an improvement for up to 24 hours. Yet, in contrast to other stimulants such as caffeine and amphetamines – Modafinil has no physical side effects.

As you can imagine, not having the jitters is pretty important when in charge of a piece of equipment totalling several hundred million dollars. Other governments have also commissioned research into the benefits of Modafinil, including the British army and the Indian Air Force to name but two.

Speaking of jitters; a group of male surgeons and doctors were given Modafinil after a night of supervised sleep deprivation. Following the study carried out by Professor Barbara Sahakian; they all reported becoming more efficient, less impulsive and better with tasks requiring attention – which I would assume, should be pretty much everything they do.

A drugged up, sleep deprived medical professional… confidence personified right there.

However, in recent years this drug has built a solid reputation as the king of cognitive enhancers and has overtaken Adderall as the weapon of choice for students looking for ways to improve their learning capabilities and extend their study sessions. The theory is that up to a quarter of students at leading institutions have experimented with Modafinil and an investigation at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities seems to support this belief.

So how does it work?

Alongside the already established effects on our ability to remain awake and alert, largely through an elevation of hypothalamic histamine levels and its effect on norepinephrine, Modafinil has many other benefits including a potential 10% increase in memory retention through its influence on the neurotransmitter, glutamate.

It also blocks dopamine transporters and thus increases the amount of dopamine in the brain. If you’re wondering why this is a good thing, it’s because dopamine helps to link the task at hand to the reward (or pay off). Basically it’s responsible for our motivation levels and is the reason why we’re able to drag ourselves to work every day in the hope of receiving money at the end of the month.

What are the side effects?

On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be any. Well, obviously there are the usual risks of an allergic reaction or a possible conflict with other types of medication that are prevalent with all drugs. But with regards to noticeable side effects – nothing. At least in the short term, anyway.

It’s not addictive and if one was slipped into your morning tea without you realising, you wouldn’t have any idea that you had taken anything. There doesn’t seem to be any withdrawal symptoms, even after prolonged use so what’s the catch?

As Modafinil is fairly new (as far as medications go) it’s not surprising there has been little research into the possible long term effects.

But let’s look at this logically. Continually staying up past your bedtime won’t just make your parents angry… it could permanently damage your sleep architecture. 

We should also be careful using any drug which modifies the way our brain releases dopamine and serotonin. Substance abuse ruins lives and running dry of these two chemicals is one of the major factors in addiction.

Ok, Modafinil isn’t addictive in the classic sense of the term but do you really want to be playing Russian roulette with your brain?

Who knows? It could be totally safe. Or it could be slowly turning the world into an episode of The Walking Dead. Time will undoubtedly tell.

That’s if mobile phones don’t get there first.

My first experience taking Modafinil

May 2010. I forget the day – probably a Thursday.

It always seems to be a Thursday…

The scene at the beginning of the article described the first few hours after popping my first Modafinil pill.

I remember having watched the movie, Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper as a guy who took a drug called NZT-48 that allowed him to achieve incredible mental feats in learning and productivity. Obviously fictional, I wondered if something similar actually existed – a real life limitless pill…

I showed this movie to a friend of mine and he felt the same way. After some digging he discovered Modafinil and whilst not in the same league as the fictional NZT-48 – it was the closest thing to it.

He ordered a batch online and swore by the stuff. After failing three driving tests, he used Modafinil on the fourth and totally nailed it.

Was it a coincidence?

I didn’t care. As far as reviews go, that was pretty convincing. I was intrigued – I asked him to send me some and a few days later – they arrived.

I say ‘they’, it was 2 pills. But still, I felt like a kid at Christmas.

That morning I took half (100mg) and set off to work, totally unaware of how my day would turn out.

It’s hard to explain the effect it has. The internet informed me that it takes about an hour to kick in but 2 hours later I still hadn’t ‘felt’ anything. Obviously convinced that my friend was talking bollocks, I cursed the inevitable hard slog ahead and promptly forgot all about it.

It’s easy to do. For a drug that was supposed to turn me into a machine – it’s a sneaky bastard. It’s subtle, operates in the background, doing its thing with minimal fuss and fanfare. You simply forget it’s in your system. Until, that is – when you look back over your day and you realise exactly how much you have accomplished.

That first day was a weird one. For a start I was actually praised at work… that never happens. Secondly I was able to shut out the incessant daily whining of my intolerable supervisor and her minions, and lastly, I didn’t feel mentally fatigued at the end of the day.

Usually I return home and slump in my room for an hour and dream of a better life. This time I immediately made myself dinner and prepared for the gym.

I always want to hit the gym after work but usually I just can’t be bothered. Not this time. I’m motivated.

The workout was fantastic. Normally I will spend about 30 minutes hitting the weights – managing around 10-12 (so-so) sets before quitting in moderate disgust. With Modafinil in my system I stayed for almost an hour, only leaving when my muscles were begging for mercy.

I sent my friend a message;

“I feel like Bradley Cooper!”


Holy crap is that the time?

Hours turn into minutes.

With Modafinil, time distortion is perhaps the most noticeable effect. It seems like an hour has passed when in fact, you look at the clock and it’s triple that. It’s not like you switch off at all, or have no concept of time itself. It’s the tunnel vision. There is a task that you want to accomplish and barring any major distraction, you find a way to get it done.

Then there is the dramatic improvement in vision. I say dramatic – again it’s subtle, but when you notice it… wow.

Life becomes HD. Not that shitty 720 ‘HD’ they try to pass off on TV – but real 1080p ‘I can see how hairy your face really is’ High Definition.

That foggy, blurry, even hazy vision we all get late in the day when our brains have given up all hope of salvation – is eliminated. It doesn’t matter what time it is either, it’s gone. Pop a pill at 9am and by midnight your vision will still be functioning at 100%.

It’s strange, but it’s cool.

Aside from that, I barely noticed anything else with regards to physical symptoms. I went to the toilet more than usual – which seems to be a common occurrence with other Modafinil takers, but I don’t see any medical reason why this would be the case. Appetite also seems lower but I attribute this to the fact we are paying less attention to our stomachs.

Actually, I can attest to this right now. I put the kettle on roughly 45 minutes ago as I felt like having a nice cup of tea – however, I am still writing. I feel thirsty, and every 5/10 minutes or so I remember that I really want a cup of tea… but I can’t stop writing.

I feel like I should continue. It’s subtle but it’s there. They say gravity is the strongest force in existence but even the humble flea can disregard the laws of physics by jumping 30 times is own height.

That’s Modafinil in a nutshell. There is no ‘force’ keeping me motivated – it’s just there. I feel completely normal – yet something has changed inside my brain because the desire to finish this article is stronger than my desire for tea.

I’m not entirely sure it can keep me away from chocolate, but we’ll see.

My 19 hour study session

Fast forward almost 4 years and here we are. Or, there we were…? A few weeks ago my first, proper Modafinil batch arrived in the post and I was eager to test this stuff out for real.

Yes – I had 6 weeks of studying and an assignment to finish in 3 days.

What’s life without the adrenaline rush of leaving everything until the last minute?

I took 100mg (again, half) at roughly 8am and ran myself a bath. I planned out my day and what I wanted to accomplish; running it through my mind and setting arbitrary, yet attainable goals.

It was 9am.

I opened my laptop, gathered my course materials and started to read.

Just like that, it was 11am. I wasn’t entirely sure this stuff was working but I couldn’t argue with the lack of movement. I fidget at the best of times but the fact I have planted roots and barely looked away from the screen in 2 hours is testament that everything is fine and dandy.

I think it was 2pm before I had my first mini break. I went to the toilet and had a quick 5 minute check on today’s football news.

I carried on until 5pm. It was at this point that it hit me. I have just completed a full working day equivalency of studying – and more astonishingly, I wasn’t mentally fatigued. Ok, I stifled a yawn or two but that feeling soon disappears.

You know that whirring noise your laptop makes when it’s boiling hot inside? Modafinil is like the fan. It keeps everything going even when your own little hard drive is performing its ‘hamster on a wheel’ routine.

The plan was to use all 3 days to complete my assignment, but by 9pm I had already finished the course materials and completed the most difficult question.

In 12 hours, not only had I read 6 weeks’ worth of Javascript and PHP, but it actually made sense.

Aside from allowing myself the obligatory toilet break and a 20 minute gap to chuck a quick pizza in the oven, I continued until almost 4am before I could feel my brain waving the white flag.

Without Modafinil, I would have given up by Noon, but it’s now 4am! Unfathomable.

I could have taken another 100mg and kept myself going until the following evening, but while I’m all for a little experimenting – I couldn’t help but worry that my brain would start oozing out of my ears.

So I went to bed… and slept like a baby.

Final thoughts and points to remember

  • Those expecting a ‘high’ will be disappointed. You may not even notice anything. It seems to work better for those who lack motivation or find it difficult to concentrate for prolonged periods of time.
  • You can sleep at any time with modafinil in your system; however it will just feel like you don’t want to. Your eyes may not be sleepy, but your brain will still need its 8 hours so try and keep to a normal wake/sleep cycle.
  • If you have no interest in doing something, Modafinil won’t help. Think about it this way; I want to learn German, so it can help me to study for several hours longer than I would be able to manage without it. I have no desire to learn Italian, so no amount of Modafinil will keep me from losing focus and giving up. Does that make sense?
  • It’s not a long term solution to a short term problem.


I am not a medical professional. I am just an idiot who writes on a blog.

Everything in this article is a combination of stuff I have found on the internet and from my own personal experience. The information contained within is for entertainment purposes only.

If you have a medical issue then you should see a doctor. If you want to purchase supplements or drugs from the internet then do so at your own risk. It’s your money and your body – nothing to do with me or anyone else.

There are a lot of stupid people in this world – their club has enough members. Go and find something else to do.

And before anyone asks; No, I will not give you any links to websites that sell such things.

Final, final thoughts

This guide is my way of sharing my experience and to hopefully provide you with enough information to give you a head start in continuing your own research, if you so desire.

At 2,600 words, it was a long one – but thanks for reading.

Phew! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put the kettle on…


About Jamie

Jamie is a guitar teacher and writer who hates the typical 9-5 existence. After quitting his job to enter the world of guitar tuition, he created this blog to document his thoughts and struggles as he takes on societies norms armed with nothing more than his cheeky wit and undeniable charm - Give his Facebook page a like, add him on Twitter or follow his Google+ page and he will repay you with even more awesome words!


  1. You’re the second blogger that has an article about this. The first one knocked down an eBook of his when he took it for the first time.

    I can’t help being intrigued.
    SEBASTIAN recently posted..A Life Without FearMy Profile

    • Yeh it’s strange. Using Google, I have only come across maybe 4/5 personal experience articles on the subject. The rest were from major news sites such as BBC, Guardian etc. Knocking out a whole eBook is crazy…

      I’m trying the full amount today, 200mg – see if there is any added benefit or whether there are vastly diminishing returns.

  2. Drugs that enhance how the brain works are awesome, but I’d be concerned about a drug that hasn’t been researched to the fullest. It has no side effects and no withdrawal symptoms? Is it too good to me true?
    Razwana recently posted..Why customer service comes from the heart, even in the face of idiotsMy Profile

    • Well I would assume that over the last 10 years, various governments would have discovered anything dodgy by now, especially as they have been feeding it to their soldiers over this time. That and people take it daily for various conditions too. Hmm – Oh well; If you believe the news then everything from eggs to watching too much reality television will give us cancers and rot the body and mind!

      Thanks for dropping by Razwana!

  3. I loved watching Limitless when it first came out and never believed such a drug would even exist.
    I don’t think i’d have the guts to take the pill to be honest in case it left me with permanent side effects lol I always seem to get paranoid whenever I take a drug that’s supposed to make me feel better.
    Would you ever take it again?
    Onder recently posted..180-Day Cold Approach Challenge (Week 4) – Dating Mistakes Guys MakeMy Profile

    • Hey, I take it whenever I have those days when I have tons to do and no motivation. Or if I have a deadline and I need to stay up late to get an assignment finished or something.

  4. Point on, am about to test-drive these myself, also.
    Walt @ Found Success recently posted..The Rigid ‘Concept of Luck’My Profile

  5. Funny story, Jamie!

    Definitely does make me want to try it 😉

    “the last thing I need right now is to make eye contact with a woman holding a shoe.”

    — Great line.
    Ludvig Sunström recently posted..Comment on The Real Reason Why You Should Focus on Leaving a Legacy by MarcellusMy Profile

    • Remember; it’s only funny ‘cos it’s true! 🙂

      Thanks Ludvig – if you do try, let us all know how you got on with it.

  6. This sounds very interesting but it would be nice to see some more studies based on long-term effects. Like you said, messing with the way we sleep is a recipe for disaster. But, if taken occasionally, I would bet the benefits outweigh the risks.
    Don @ Breath of Optimism recently posted..What Is Your Why?My Profile

    • Hi Don, you’re right, I think about the potential benefits outweighing the risks.. but where is the line? There has to be a line. That’s why I think it’s important people do their own research before doing anything.

  7. Sounds like the kind of thing that would make me completely dismiss building self discipline. I would definitely become an addict, haha. Imagine all the shit I could get done. But on the other hand, imagine if I gradually built my ability to focus without the drug to similar levels. Seems more rewarding, no? Haha. I’ll have to try it at some point though, interesting stuff.
    Ragnar recently posted..No More Dreaming – A Mindful Approach To Becoming A Doer (And A Challenge For You)My Profile

    • Hey Ragnar, I don’t think it’s addictive in any way so you shouldn’t feel the need to rely on it. Think of it like having a nap before a big night out. You wouldn’t do it every time, but if you’re feeling tired or low on energy, it’s nice way to feel refreshed for the nights activities.

  8. Interesting post man. A bunch of folks who read a site I write on, as well as friends of mine, have suggested that I try things like modafinil and nootropics for focus and attention, but I agree with what you said to Don, that you have to know where to draw the line. I’ve personally always preferred to tackle big problems with mindfulness and other natural methods, because I’ve found stuff similar to modafinil to always catch up with me. Though caffeine does help 😉
    Chris Bailey recently posted..The best latte I’ve ever hadMy Profile

    • Hey Chris, Mindfulness is great but it can’t keep you awake functioning at 100% through the night 😉

      Seriously though, you’re right – natural is better in the long run and we should all do what feels best for us. Thanks for dropping by!

  9. Very interesting, I learned quite a bit about this – and I haven’t read/heard anything about this drug before. I’m glad you mentioned Limitless since that’s what it reminded me of.

    It seems like it’s too good to be true, which usually means it isn’t. But I’m not willing to dismiss it as of yet. I’d like to try it out on my own. My biggest concern is that it will interrupt my sleeping patterns since that’s pretty important to me. Although if what you say about it is true in that you can sleep while on it, I think it would be ok.

    I’m going to put modafinil on my list of things to try to see if they work. I’ll see what happens.
    sTeve recently posted..6 Things I Loved About Mardi Gras in New OrleansMy Profile

    • Hi Steve, yeh it won’t disrupt your sleep pattern any more than jet lag would, but it doesn’t keep you awake if you don’t want to stay awake. It’s too subtle to be in the ‘too good to be true’ bracket. It’s the gentlest of nudges, a push when you are feeling tired and need a lot done.

  10. Same, better or worse than aderall?

    Nice post. 🙂
    Rob McNelis recently posted..No Yelling: 7 Awesome SEO tactics and how to start a contracting business (short interview)My Profile

    • Hi Rob, well, I haven’t tried Adderall so I can’t possibly say, but remember, it’s a controlled substance and as it’s a physical stimulant, it comes with a whole host of positive negative sides.

  11. Hello Jamie,

    Limitless is a great movie! What an interesting post, honestly I had no idea a drug like the one you wrote about was actually out their. I’ll have to look into it even more. Thanks for the good information.

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