If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.
Photo by Lt. Col. John Hall

Stay Awake Without Prescription Drugs

Your job supports the mission which means you might have to work even when you’re tired. You may find yourself looking for ways to stay awake. Remember that misusing prescription drugs to “get the job done” puts you and the mission at risk. There are prescription drugs that can help you stay awake (like stimulants), but you cannot take these without a prescription from your health care provider. For a Service member, these medications may also be limited by Service branch and career field.

Know what kinds of prescription drugs are often misused, and learn tips to stay alert without them, so you can keep your career in check and the mission on target.

Common medications that are misused to stay awake

Prescription drugs used to increase alertness are known as stimulants. You may have heard them called “go pills” or “uppers.” These can include:

Generic name: Also known as:
Dextroamphetamine-amphetamine Adderall®
Methylphenidate hydrochloride Ritalin®
Dexmethylphenidate hydrochloride Focalin®
Modafinil Provigil®

Proper use of prescription stimulants

In some cases, your health care provider may prescribe you a drug to help you stay awake and alert for a long period of time. For example, during a long flight or extended mission. There are many requirements you must meet in these cases and you will likely need permission or approval from medical and your leadership.

In addition, talk to your health care provider and check your Service branch policy before taking any over-the-counter drugs or supplements for alertness. These drugs may cause you to pop positive on a drug test or have other unintended consequences.

Safe ways to stay awake

To stay awake and get the job done without misusing prescription drugs, try the following:

  • Start with caffeine. Coffee, tea, cocoa and caffeinated gum all have caffeine and can give you a boost. It’s best to consume caffeine 30-60 minutes before you need to be alert. Be sure to understand safe levels of caffeine consumption.
  • Move around. If you can, get some quick movement to help increase alertness.
  • Take a nap. Not on the job, but when you can. Even a 15-20-minute nap before a shift or exercise can help keep you awake.
  • Get quality sleep. Your schedule might not allow for enough sleep, so make sure any sleep you do get is quality rest. At least 30 minutes before bed, put away electronics and reduce liquids, especially alcohol.

There are many safe ways to increase alertness. Talk to your health care provider about what options might be available and figure out what works best for you so you can stay mission ready.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.