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The Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Melatonin

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The Risks of Mixing Alcohol and Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by your body that signals it is time to sleep. When people struggle to sleep, it is frequently recommended that they try resetting their sleep patterns. Some people use alcohol to help them sleep. While it may make you feel sleepy and dose off faster, from there, it causes disruptions to your sleep cycles, and there are no benefits. Mixing melatonin and alcohol counteract each other as melatonin is a sleep enhancer and alcohol is a sleep disrupter. Combining the two can also result in experiencing negative side effects.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone your body produces naturally. The pineal gland in the brain converts serotonin into melatonin. This process is cyclical and light-dependent.[1] This is why exposure to light at night can block the body’s melatonin production. Melatonin helps coordinate the body’s circadian rhythms and promotes sleep. 

Melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening as it gets darker, telling your body it’s time to get ready to sleep. As you are exposed to daylight in the morning, your body stops producing melatonin, so you can be awake and alert to start your day. 

Despite the lack of FDA approval and regulation, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) endorses melatonin’s therapeutic use as a first-line approach for treating insomnia. Melatonin is beneficial in treating: [2]

Side Effects of Melatonin

Common side effects of short-term melatonin use are mild and can include: [3]

The long-term side effects of melatonin have not been researched sufficiently to determine their potential health consequences.

Cautions When Using Melatonin

Synthetic melatonin is sold in the United States as a dietary supplement to support sleep. However, it has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a drug for the treatment of any specific health condition. Since melatonin is sold as a supplement, it is not regulated to the level of pharmaceutical drugs. This lack of monitoring of supplements, including melatonin, has resulted in varying supplement concentrations despite what is reported on the label. For example, thirty-one different melatonin supplements were tested, and the concentrations ranged from −83% to +478% of what the label claimed the content level was.[4]

Before taking any supplement, you should discuss its use with your healthcare provider. This is particularly important if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications. Just because supplements are sold over the counter and online does not mean they are safe; they can interact poorly with some medications and may have varying concentrations.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Sleep?

Alcohol use influences sleep in several ways. Initially, alcohol’s sedative effects cause sleepiness and sleep.[5] This has led to the misconception that alcohol can be an effective way to self-medicate for insomnia. While it may speed up how quickly you fall asleep, it is not effective at maintaining sleep, and most people spend more time awake throughout the night after consuming significant amounts of alcohol. 

Consuming alcohol before sleep changes rapid eye movement pattern sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). There is also a consistent deterioration in sleep quality among people who have consumed alcohol before sleep.

How Do Alcohol And Melatonin Interact?

Mixing melatonin and wine or alcohol of any kind can have negative side effects, and you should not take them at the same time. The most common reported, while often mild, can be dangerous in certain situations.[6]

There is also a possibility that mixing alcohol with melatonin can affect your breathing. Alcohol can relax your airway muscles when you are sleeping, which can worsen sleep apnea symptoms. If you are in deep sleep because you also took melatonin, it may be harder to wake up if your breathing is restricted due to sleep apnea. 

These complications can be avoided by not consuming alcohol while taking melatonin, taking a proper dose of melatonin, and taking melatonin around the time you wish to sleep.[7] 

At a minimum, taking alcohol and melatonin at the same time is counterproductive. Alcohol disrupts your sleep-wake cycle and your quality of sleep, while melatonin enhances and promotes sleep. If you take them both at the same time, the alcohol eliminates the sleep benefits of the melatonin.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol and Melatonin

You should not combine alcohol and melatonin. While it is unlikely to be fatal, as melatonin has a low toxicity rate, it can cause negative side effects. It is, therefore, not recommended to combine alcohol and melatonin.

Studies have shown that alcohol use disrupts the body’s natural melatonin secretion, leading to changes in circadian rhythms.[8]  Alcohol is already a known sleep disrupter as well. If you are having difficulties sleeping and consume alcohol regularly, it may be beneficial to eliminate alcohol to improve sleep patterns.

No, there are no sleep aids that are safe to take with alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, slowing your body functions down. This can be life-threatening as some sleep aids are sedatives, and alcohol also has sedative properties. They can multiply the sedative effects of each other and have an increased risk of overdose.

Melatonin has a half-life of 1-2 hours.[9] This means it will be mostly eliminated from your system in 5-10 hours. This range is based on the dose taken and how fast your body processes and eliminates melatonin. For most people, this is 5-6 hours.

If you have become reliant on alcohol or melatonin to be able to sleep, you may have developed a dependency. If you believe you or a loved one has an alcohol addiction, there are treatment programs available to help. These can be inpatient or outpatient, depending on the person’s need.

Seeking Options for Healthy Sleep

Sleep is a basic need for physical and mental health. Sleep problems are common. However,  you should work with your healthcare provider to find ways to establish healthy sleep rather than self-medicating with supplements or alcohol. The use of melatonin and alcohol at the same time is counterproductive and possibly dangerous. They should not be taken at the same time. 

Before starting any medication or supplementation, you should seek medical advice from a healthcare professional.

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