As mental wellness and proper rest become a priority of the new generation, people have turned to Melatonin for better sleep at night. Melatonin and alcohol are commonly used as sleep aids, but is it safe to mix the two?
In this article, we examine the potential consequences of combining these substances and discuss the recommended guidelines for usage.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a type of hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness. Naturally produced melatonin is an agent of your sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) and signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep.
Meanwhile, melatonin supplements are made from animals or microorganisms or produced synthetically. This man-made form of the hormone is usually used to treat sleep disorders or jet lag. It also has little to no side effects, compared to stronger prescription sleep aids.
For this reason, the use of melatonin supplements has been rising among adults in the past two decades. This man-made form of the hormone is often used as a supplement to treat mild sleep disorders or jet lag.
The effects can include improved sleep quality, increased drowsiness, and reduced jet lag symptoms.
With that said, it is important to note that the benefits of melatonin may vary between individuals, and more research is needed to fully understand its effects. Talking to a doctor before taking any new supplements, including melatonin, is also important.
What Are The Typical Side Effects Of Melatonin?
Taking melatonin supplements is considered generally safe for short-term use. Unlike hypnotic sedatives like benzodiazepine or zolpidem, melatonin is not habit-forming, so you are unlikely to become dependent.
You also don’t develop a tolerance for melatonin after repeated use, and you can avoid the “hangover” effect often present in other prescription sleep aids.
While the effect and potency of melatonin vary per individual, potential side effects of taking melatonin supplements can include headaches, dizziness, and nausea.
Daytime drowsiness is also an often reported side effect.
Are There Any Serious Side Effects Or Risks?
While less common, serious potentially dangerous side effects of taking melatonin supplements can also occur. These include:
- Short-term feelings of sadness or depression
- Digestion problems like stomach cramps, diarrhea, and constipation
- Urinary incontinence (typically at night)
- Appetite problems
- Vivid dreams or nightmares
- Mood swings and irritability
- Confusion, disorientation, and overall reduced alertness
- Increased risk of falls
- Increased risk of seizures
Can I Drink Alcohol With Melatonin?
Since our body naturally makes melatonin, many people assume this makes it okay to drink alcohol while taking melatonin supplements. However, mixing melatonin and alcohol is a bad idea. The same is true for any prescription or over-the-counter supplement.
How Does Alcohol Interact With Melatonin?
When you drink alcohol, your body is busy processing and clearing it from your system. This process can disrupt the normal production of melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Additionally, alcohol can cause frequent waking during the night, leading to poor-quality sleep and leaving you tired and groggy the next day.
You can also experience side effects like extreme drowsiness, dizziness, increased anxiety, and raised blood pressure.
Combining melatonin and alcohol can also affect your liver and its production of enzymes. You can experience concentration problems, swelling in your feet and ankles, flushing, and a rapid heartbeat. You may also experience breathing problems or fainting.
Mixing melatonin and alcohol is also potentially dangerous because it can impact the muscles surrounding your airways. Breathing problems and further sleeping difficulty can occur, particularly if you have sleep apnea.
Why You Shouldn’t Combine Melatonin And Alcohol
Combining melatonin and alcohol can negatively affect your sleep, health, and overall well-being. Here’s why:
- Impairs sleep quality. While alcohol may help you sleep faster, it actually decreases the quality of your sleep. This can leave you feeling groggy and unrested the next day.
- Increases drowsiness. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, slowing down brain activity and causes drowsiness. Melatonin also causes drowsiness, so combining the two can lead to excessive drowsiness and even increase the risk of accidents.
- Interferes with natural melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Alcohol consumption can interfere with the body’s natural melatonin production, making it even more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Increases the risk of adverse reactions. Alcohol can increase the risk of adverse reactions when taken with any medication, including melatonin. This can result in interactions that can be dangerous or even life-threatening.
How Does Alcohol Affect People With Insomnia?
If you struggle with insomnia, drinking alcohol can make your sleep troubles worse.
While it’s true that alcohol can make you feel drowsy, it actually affects the quality of your sleep. When you consume alcohol before bedtime, you are likely to experience more disruptions during the night, and you’ll miss out on the deeper stages of sleep, like the REM stage. So even though you may think you’re getting more rest, your sleep will likely be restless and less refreshing.
Additionally, relying on alcohol for sleep can lead to a vicious cycle of self-medication. Alcohol is a depressant, but you might need caffeine to stay awake during the day. This can disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle, making it even harder to sleep without alcohol.
For those who struggle with heavy alcohol consumption, insomnia can be a persistent problem, even after they stop drinking. So it’s best to avoid using alcohol for sleep and seek alternative ways to get a good night’s rest.
Are Certain People More At Risk When Combining Alcohol And Melatonin?
Some groups may be at a higher risk for complications from combining alcohol and melatonin.
People Taking Prescription or OTC Medications
- Blood thinners. Blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), can interact with alcohol, potentially leading to serious bleeding. Melatonin has also been shown to have a similar effect on blood thinner.
- Anxiety medications. Mixing anxiety medications, such as alprazolam (Xanax), with alcohol can cause life-threatening drowsiness or trouble breathing.
- OTC sleep aids. Taking other OTC sleep aids, such as valerian root, diphenhydramine (Zzzquil), or doxylamine (Unisom), with alcohol and melatonin can lead to more severe drowsiness and a higher risk of accidental injuries.
Older adults may also be at a higher risk for problems when combining alcohol and melatonin. Alcohol is more intense for people over 65, so there’s a higher risk of interactions with medications and alcohol. Additionally, combining melatonin with alcohol could lead to a higher risk of falling, car crashes, and accidental injuries.
People Assigned Female at Birth
People assigned female at birth have a higher risk of complications from alcohol and melatonin because they have less water in their bodies, which leads to higher blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) even when consuming the same amount of alcohol. The research on this issue for transgender, non-binary, and intersex folks is limited, so it’s best to discuss your medical history with your healthcare provider.
When should I get medical attention?
Melatonin is generally considered safe, but there are some reports suggesting that taking too much of this supplement may raise the risk of seizures in people with a history of seizures. If you have a seizure after taking melatonin, it’s best to seek medical attention immediately.
On the other hand, drinking a lot of alcohol in one sitting can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be very serious and life-threatening. The more alcohol you consume at once, the higher the risk of alcohol poisoning.
If you or someone you know is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, such as confusion, loss of consciousness, vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, slow heart rate, or cold, pale, clammy, or bluish skin, call 911 right away.
Are There Any Sleep Aids That Aren’t Affected By Alcohol?
Sleep aid and alcohol are two substances that you shouldn’t mix. There is no known sleep medication that is completely unaffected by alcohol.
Alcohol in itself can have a significant impact on the quality of your sleep, even if it initially helps you sleep faster. It can interfere with the natural sleep cycle, causing you to wake up during the night and leading to drowsiness and fatigue the next day.
Drinking alcohol can also interact with or disrupt the effects of sleep aids, so it is not recommended to mix alcohol with any kind of sleep aid.
Mixing sleep aids and alcohol may also be potentially fatal. It may cause excessive drowsiness, respiratory depression, and even lead to coma or death. Therefore, it’s strongly recommended to avoid consuming alcohol when taking sleep aids or any medication that causes drowsiness.
What Else Can I Do To Improve My Sleep?
While taking a sleep aid like melatonin and other medications can help you overcome your sleeping problems, tweaking some of your habits can also get good quality sleep. Humans are creatures of habit, so keeping a good sleep habit can really make a difference in optimizing your sleep cycle.
Below are a few science-backed habits that can help you get better sleep:
- Stick to a sleep schedule.
- Have a comfortable mattress and pillow.
- Set a cool and comfortable temperature for your bedroom.
- Keep your bedroom a sacred space for sleeping (or sex), and avoid doing other activities like work in it.
- Block out light and drown out noise.
- Avoid large meals right before bedtime.
- Be physically active during the day.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol right before bed.
- Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes or an hour before bedtime.
- Limit your fluid intake before you lay to go to sleep.
How To Take Melatonin For Best Results
To take melatonin for best results, it is recommended to:
- Consult a doctor. Before starting melatonin, it is always a good idea to consult a doctor, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or take other medications.
- Determine the appropriate dosage. Melatonin doses vary and usually range from 1-10 mg, with most people taking 3-5 mg. A doctor can help determine the right dosage for your individual needs.
- Take it at the right time. Melatonin takes a few hours to take effect, and what it really does is signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. For this reason, it’s recommended to take melatonin around 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid using melatonin long-term. Melatonin is intended for short-term use, typically no longer than 4-6 weeks. It may be prescribed for up to 13 weeks for certain conditions like insomnia.
- Avoid alcohol and large meals before taking melatonin. Alcohol and large meals can interfere with the absorption and effectiveness of melatonin.
- Create optimal conditions for melatonin to do its job. After taking melatonin, make sure that you are keeping the lights low before bed. Avoid using your devices or television, and keep overhead lights low because bright lights can neutralize the effects of melatonin.
- Program your body to produce melatonin at the right time. If you want to regulate your sleep and correct your circadian rhythm, try getting exposure to daylight during the daytime. This will help your body recognize the proper time for sleep.
Please note: It is important to follow the instructions on the label and to not exceed the recommended dose.
While melatonin is a popular and effective sleep aid, there may be times when you can’t take it or prefer to try a different option. Here are some alternatives to consider:
- Valerian Root. This herb has been used for centuries as a natural sleep aid. It is believed to promote relaxation and calmness, helping you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
- Chamomile. Often used as tea before bedtime to help calm the mind and promote sleep, chamomile can also be found in many different supplements or food products. It has mild sedative properties that can help you sleep more easily.
- Lavender. This fragrant herb has been shown to have a calming effect on the body and mind, helping you to relax and fall asleep more easily. You can find lavender oil or sprays to use as a sleep aid, or add dried lavender to a pillow for a natural and soothing aroma.
- Magnesium. Magnesium is an important mineral that has been shown to have a calming effect on the body and promote relaxation. A magnesium supplement or a relaxing magnesium-rich bath before bed can help you fall asleep more easily.
- Passionflower. This herb has mild sedative properties that can help calm the mind and promote sleep. It has been used for centuries as a natural sleep aid and is considered safe for most people.
Remember, it’s always important to speak with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement or sleep aid. They can help you determine the best option for your specific needs and ensure that it is safe for you to use.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Melatonin can stay in your system for around 4 to 5 hours. However, certain factors like age, the melatonin dose, and whether it is a fast or extended-release formulation can affect how long melatonin stays in your body.
For young children, 1 mg to 5 mg may cause complications such as seizures and other complications. Please note that young children should only take melatonin if advised by a doctor.
For adults, the safe range is between 0.2 mg to 10 mg. Anything beyond 10 mg is not recommended and may cause an overdose.
There isn’t currently a definitive best dosage for melatonin, but a good rule of thumb is “less is more.” The standard dose for adults in scientific studies typically ranges between 1 mg to 10 mg. However, some people are more sensitive to melatonin so if you’re just starting out, it’s best to start small.
Try taking 0.2 mg to 3 mg before bedtime before moving up slowly and carefully if you find that it results in better sleep and minimal side effects. Be sure to speak with a healthcare professional for medical advice if your sleep problems persist.
While melatonin supplement is relatively safer than other sleep aids, you can still overdose on it. Taking too much melatonin can disrupt your sleep cycle and cause unwanted side effects. You should not take more than 10 mg as this can be considered harmful.
It’s also important to note that certain people may be more sensitive to the effects of melatonin and can experience side effects on doses that appear safe to others. Always be on the lookout for side effects, and follow professional medical advice.
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