By Sherkiya Wedgeworth

Blog archive

Popping pills to stay awake?

We’ve all recently learned the devastating news that Red Bull doesn’t “give you wings,” and now there is more bad news for those who try to beat the Sandman: That pill you likely swallowed along with that highly caffeinated sugary drink won't lift you off the ground either.

Some workers take over-the-counter drugs to help them stay awake during shifts, or to get to sleep when it is finally time for some shuteye, but researchers have found only a small number of trials that tested over-the-counter and prescription drugs indicated  that the OTC pills used by shift workers actually work, and some are even harmful to your health.

According to a Cochrane review of 15 trials involving 718 people, in nine trials, the OTC hormone drug melatonin helped shift workers sleep roughly 24 minutes longer during the night or day, compared with placebos, but it did not help them get to sleep any faster. Another trial of the hypnotic drug zoplicone showed it was no more effective than placebos for helping workers sleep during the day.

Other trials looked at caffeine and modafinil and armodafinil, prescribed for sleepiness, and found that caffeine reduced sleepiness during night shifts when workers took a nap before their shift, and that while modafinil and armodafinil increased alertness and reduced sleepiness, they also caused headaches, nausea and a rise in blood pressure.

"For lots of people who do shift work, it would be really useful if they could take a pill that would help them go to sleep or stay awake at the right time. But from what we have seen in our review, there isn't good evidence that these drugs can be considered for more than temporary use and some may have quite serious side effects," lead author of the review, Juha Liira, who is based at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, Finland, said.

He added, "It's curious that there's such a clear gap in the research," said Liira. "It may well be that studying the effects of these drugs or others drugs in properly designed trials would be seen as unethical because workers should not need drugs to get along with their work. So the studies just haven't been done or if they have, our review has not been able to identify relevant data." 

Posted on Oct 30, 2014 at 6:20 AM

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