Modafinil is an alerting substance that is considered safer than amphetamine with fewer side effects. Although modafinil has been used successfully to treat narcolepsy, relatively little is known about its ability to ameliorate fatigue and declines in mental performance due to sleep deprivation (SD) in a normal population. Forty-one military subjects received either 300 mg of modafinil, 20 mg of d-amphetamine, or placebo on 3 separate occasions during 64 hours of continuous cognitive work and sleep loss. Three drug treatments were given: at 23.30 hours and 05.30 hours during the first and second SD nights, respectively, and once at 15.30 hours during the third day of continuous work. Subjective estimates of mood, fatigue and sleepiness, as well as objective measures of reaction time, logical reasoning and short-term memory clearly showed better performance with both modafinil and amphetamine relative to placebo. Both modafinil and amphetamine maintained or increased body temperature compared to the natural circadian cycle observed in the placebo group. Also, from subject debriefs at the end of the study, modafinil elicited fewer side-effects than amphetamine, although more than the placebo group. Modafinil appears to be a good alternative to amphetamine for counteracting the debilitating mood and cognitive effects of sleep loss during sustained operations.