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Updated on August 9, 2022

Melatonin and Alcohol Interactions

Key Takeaways

  • Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body. It’s also available as a sleep aid supplement.
  • Alcohol can disrupt the circadian rhythm and cause poor sleep quality.
  • Mixing melatonin and alcohol is not recommended. The combination can produce side effects like extreme drowsiness.  
  • Instead of taking supplements or medications, people can get a good night’s sleep with sleep hygiene techniques. 

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Melatonin and Alcohol Interactions

Insomnia is usually described as difficulty falling or staying asleep. To overcome insomnia, some people may resort to alcohol or sleep aids like melatonin supplements.  

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone. It regulates your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). It’s increasingly produced at night to signal to your body that it’s time to sleep.1, 2, 3, 4

Melatonin is also available as a non-FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-approved, over-the-counter (OTC) supplement. It’s used to treat conditions like:3, 4

  • Primary and age-related insomnia
  • Other types of sleep disorders
  • Neurodegenerative disorders
  • Jet lag
  • Anxiety before and after surgery

Although melatonin supplements are considered safer than sleeping pills, their effectiveness is under debate. 

Studies say melatonin helps people fall asleep faster by 7 minutes, stay asleep 8 minutes longer, and have better sleep quality.

Some research says melatonin may help people who have trouble falling asleep but not those with difficulty staying asleep.5 Others say melatonin supplements are too weak to be recommended as a sleep aid.4, 6

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) lists melatonin as a first-line treatment for insomnia despite the lack of FDA approval.3

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How Alcohol Affects Your Sleep

Alcohol has a sedative effect and can cause  asleep. However, this effect disappears after a few hours. 

As a result, alcohol can produces the following adverse effects:1, 7, 8

  • Disrupted circadian rhythm 
  • Decreased REM (rapid eye movement) sleep
  • Suppressed deep sleep 
  • Increased wakefulness at night
  • Poor sleep quality

Sleep cycles through various stages of REM and non-REM sleep. Most of the dreaming happens in REM sleep.7, 9

Consuming alcohol to cope with insomnia may also lead to a self-medicating cycle. This may make people dependent on alcohol in the long run.1, 7

Moreover, binge and sustained drinking can cause drinkers to develop poor sleeping habits and irregular sleep-wake schedules.7

Does Alcohol Affect Melatonin Production?

Some studies show a correlation between low melatonin levels and heavy alcohol consumption in specific populations. How this happens is not fully understood.10 

Moreover, available studies only look at natural melatonin, not the supplemental form.

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Effects of Drinking Alcohol then Taking Melatonin Supplements

Drinking alcohol may render melatonin ineffective. Alcohol disrupts your sleep-wake cycle while melatonin promotes it.

Alcohol may amplify some of melatonin’s effects. Combining alcohol and melatonin could lead to extreme drowsiness, increasing the risk of injuries or accidents. People may also experience dizziness and anxiety when they take them together.1

An alcohol-melatonin interaction can affect the liver and liver enzymes. This can lead to side effects like:1

  • Trouble focusing 
  • Flushing (redness in the face)
  • Swelling of feet and hands
  • Abnormally rapid heartbeat
  • Breathing problems
  • Loss of consciousness

How to Safely Use Melatonin

Here are some guidelines on the safe use of melatonin:

Take Only the Recommended Dosage

Because the FDA does not regulate melatonin, effective dosing is not well-defined. The usual dosage ranges from 0.1 to 10 mg, taken up to 2 hours before bedtime.3

Talk to Your Doctor Before Taking a Melatonin Supplement

Mention if you:11

  • Take other medications that may interact with melatonin
  • Have any allergies or allergic reactions to certain medications or supplements
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Have diabetes or high blood pressure and take hypertension medications
  • Have an autoimmune disorder, depression, or a seizure disorder

Melatonin supplements are not recommended for people with dementia. Melatonin may cause more daytime drowsiness in older people.4

Take Melatonin Occasionally or For Short Periods 

If it isn’t effective after 1 to 2 weeks, talk to your doctor about looking deeper into your sleeping problem.11

Buy Only USP-Verified Melatonin Supplements 

The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) evaluates supplements to ensure they meet apropriate manufacturing standards.This helps ensure quality and accurate dosage of each tablet. In one study, the melatonin content of 31 supplements varied from -83% to +478%. 

Some supplements also contain serotonin, a hormone that can be dangerous even at low levels.3, 4

7 Ways to Improve Your Sleep

You can explore ways to improve your sleep hygiene instead of taking melatonin or other sleep aids. Sleep hygiene refers to practices that create optimal conditions for you to sleep well.

Here are some sleep hygiene techniques:2, 7, 11, 12, 13

  1. Turn off or dim your lights and use dark shades in your room: Creating a dark space to sleep will help your body produce melatonin.
  2. Turn off blue light sources before bedtime: These include TVs, smartphones, and computers. Blue light can block natural melatonin production.
  3. Follow a consistent sleep schedule: For instance, go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time every day.
  4. Avoid large meals, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine before bedtime.
  5. Keep your naps short: Naps can disrupt your sleeping schedule at night. Take them in the early afternoon. 
  6. Optimize your bedroom for sleeping: Purchase comfortable pillows and a properly firm mattress, set the thermostat to a cool temperature, and sleep in a quiet room. 

Exercise: Being active during the day can make you easily fall asleep at night.

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Resources

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  1. Varanasi, Swathi, and Alyssa Billingsley. “Can I Drink Alcohol With Melatonin?GoodRx Health. June 21, 2021.
  2. Grivas, Theodoros B, and Olga D Savvidou. “Melatonin the "light of night" in human biology and adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.Scoliosis vol. 2 : 6. 
  3. Savage, Rosemary et al. “Melatonin.” In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Updated 2021 Aug 15.
  4. Melatonin: What You Need To Know.National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). January 2021.
  5. Auld, Fiona et al. “Evidence for the efficacy of melatonin in the treatment of primary adult sleep disorders.Sleep Med Rev vol. 34 : 10-22.
  6. Costello, Rebecca et al. “The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature.Nutrition journal vol. 13 : 106. 
  7. Colrain, Ian et al. “Alcohol and the sleeping brain.Handbook of clinical neurology vol. 125 : 415-31.
  8. Britton, Annie, Linda Ng Fat, and Aidan Neligan. “The association between alcohol consumption and sleep disorders among older people in the general population.Sci Rep vol. 10 : 5275.
  9. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). August 13, 2019.
  10. Kühlwein, Eva, Richard Hauger, and Michael Irwin. “Abnormal nocturnal melatonin secretion and disordered sleep in abstinent alcoholics.Biol Psychiatry vol. 54,12 : 1437-43.  
  11. Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work?Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  12. Tips for Better Sleep.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). July 15, 2016.
  13. Suni, Eric, and Nilong Vyas. “Sleep Hygiene.” Sleep Foundation. March 11, 2022.

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