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Melatonin and alcohol are two commonly used substances, and while they can be relatively harmless when used on their own and in moderation, when used at high levels or when combined, they might be dangerous. We explore everything you should know about the combination of melatonin and alcohol and what the possible risks are.
Why Would You Combine Melatonin and Alcohol?
There are a few different scenarios where someone might combine alcohol and melatonin. In one situation, you could be doing it intentionally. You might think that that mixing melatonin and alcohol would help you sleep even better or feel more relaxed than just using one substance on its own.
You might also do it inadvertently.
For example, maybe you go out for a few drinks and then get home and decide to take melatonin before bed. Is this dangerous?
The short answer is that it depends, but it can be. To truly understand the risks of melatonin and alcohol, it’s good to know how each affects your body independently first.
How Does Melatonin Work?
Your body naturally produces melatonin, which is a hormone, in response to darkness. Melatonin plays a critical role in your internal clock and circadian rhythm.
When it starts to get dark outside, you’re naturally supposed to start to feel sleepy, but when you’re exposed to light at night, it may block your production of melatonin.
You can take melatonin in supplement form, and it’s a popular sleep aid. Around three million Americans report using melatonin to help them sleep, according to the CDC.
Your melatonin levels naturally rise around two hours before you would head to bed typically. You can help your body produce melatonin naturally by easing into bedtime with low lights and limited electronics. Blue light from screens like your phone can especially interfere with your melatonin production.
If you’re going to take a melatonin supplement before bed, you should typically have anywhere from one to three milligrams. People use it for occasional insomnia, jet lag and if they work the night shift.
You shouldn’t use melatonin for more than a few weeks, and some people shouldn’t take it at all. For example, if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you should speak to your doctor before using melatonin.
Overall, with your doctor’s approval, melatonin is considered a fairly safe supplement. It’s classified as a dietary supplement in the U.S., meaning it’s not regulated like over-the-counter or prescription medicines.
Melatonin could interact with other medicines such as those for epilepsy or blood thinners, so be cautious about melatonin if you take these.
Older people are also advised to be careful about their use of melatonin because it could cause daytime drowsiness and stay active for longer in people who are older compared to younger people. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine also advises against melatonin use by people with dementia.
How Alcohol Affects the Brain and Sleep
When you drink alcohol, it has a significant effect on your brain’s structures. When you first have alcohol, your brain starts to release dopamine, which is why you might feel happy when you’re drinking, at least initially.
Even with a low blood alcohol level, you may have reduced judgment and reaction times.
When you’re slightly impaired, your memory and reasoning are affected. After having several drinks, your occipital, temporal and frontal lobes in your brain start to be affected.
That’s why when you drink you might have blurred vision and slurred speech. You might lose your fine motor skills, deal with impaired judgment and mood swings, and even become nauseous or vomit.
Once you get to a blood alcohol level of around 0.18, you could have problems walking or standing. You could also experience impairment of your short-term memory because your hippocampus stops working.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning it slows brain activity down. It also has sedative effects inducing relaxation and drowsiness. However, when you drink excessively, alcohol is associated with poor sleep quality. You might fall asleep initially after drinking but then find you wake up in the night, for example.
As liver enzymes are metabolizing alcohol during the night, your blood alcohol level is going down, and that’s one reason you might have disruptions in your sleep.
Alcohol can disturb your deep REM sleep phase, and you may feel excessively tired the next day.
What Happens If You Combine Melatonin and Alcohol?
There tends to be an underlying assumption that supplements since they are natural, are inherently safe. That’s not always true, and the safety of any supplement can vary depending on the situation. Alcohol and melatonin, when combined, can cause serious side effects.
When melatonin and alcohol are taken together, the alcohol can strengthen or weaken the effects of the melatonin. Alcohol almost always interferes with medicines and supplements.
If there are any side effects of melatonin you experience, these will be amplified when you mix it with alcohol.
Some of the possible risks of mixing melatonin and alcohol include:
- Extreme drowsiness
- Increased fall risk
- Problems breathing
- Passing out
- Lack of coordination
- Poor sleep quality
- Daytime sleepiness
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Rapid heartbeat
- Strange dreams
- Feelings of depression
- Increased risk of dependence on one or both substances
Melatonin and Alcohol Frequently Asked Questions
Briefly answered below are some of the most common questions people tend to have about melatonin and alcohol.
What Happens If You Mix Melatonin and Alcohol?
If you mix melatonin and alcohol, you could have side effects like extreme drowsiness and lack of coordination. This could put you at risk of falling and hurting yourself or being in an accident.
Melatonin makes you sleepy, and alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, so when the two are combined, they can amplify the effects of one another.
If you’re older, it can take your body longer to process alcohol and supplements, so you might have higher concentrations of both melatonin and alcohol in your body which can mean you’re more at risk for side effects or hurting yourself.
What Happens When You Take Melatonin and Alcohol?
Along with the potential for side effects to occur when you take melatonin and alcohol, you may also find that your quality of sleep is disrupted. You’re likely taking melatonin so that it will help you sleep, but alcohol impairs your sleep. You might end up getting a poor night’s sleep and waking up throughout the night, so taking the melatonin will have been pointless, even if you don’t experience severe side effects.
It’s possible that if you take melatonin and alcohol at the same time, you might need emergency care because of shortness of breath or changes in blood pressure. If you have sleep apnea, you could be at more of a risk of experience severe alcohol and melatonin side effects.
Can You Overdose on Melatonin?
Taking melatonin and alcohol together can make the effects of both more severe, but can you overdose on melatonin on its own?
Technically, you can take too much melatonin, whether alcohol is involved or not. If you take too much melatonin, it can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. It can also cause other side effects.
Most adults can safely use up to 10 milligrams of melatonin, although you should check with your doctor about this.
Doses of 30 milligrams or more may start to be harmful.
If you were to experience an overdose of melatonin it might cause headaches, anxiety, diarrhea, joint pain and dizziness. You could feel groggy in the daytime, or you might have nightmares.
If you take too much melatonin, it can affect your blood pressure.
If you take melatonin with alcohol, it’s going to further interfere with your circadian rhythm and your body’s natural melatonin production.
You should not take melatonin and alcohol together. It can cause mild symptoms like anxiety or extreme drowsiness. It can also have a longer-term effect on your circadian rhythms, and you may be at risk of hurting yourself accidentally. For some people, taking melatonin and alcohol together can even lead to serious side effects related to breathing and blood pressure.