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Sep 16, 2021
4 min read

Melatonin and alcohol: risks and side effects

If you sometimes take a natural sleep aid like melatonin to help you fall asleep, it is better not to take it if you’ve been drinking alcohol. Combining alcohol with melatonin can lead to adverse side effects. Alcohol use may also reduce your body’s natural melatonin production, causing poor sleep quality.

felix gussonePatricia Weiser PharmD

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD

Written by Patricia Weiser, PharmD

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Have you ever started to wind down for the night and picked up your bottle of melatonin tablets, only to remember that you drank a few glasses of wine earlier that evening? If so, you probably wondered if it’s safe to combine melatonin and alcohol. 

As a general rule of thumb, it is a good idea to avoid taking any sleep aids, including melatonin, after consuming alcohol. Read on to learn more about the risks of combining melatonin and alcohol.

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Side effects of combining melatonin and alcohol

Melatonin, also called the sleep hormone, is made by the pineal gland in your brain. Melatonin levels naturally rise and fall in your body in a 24-hour pattern that determines your sleep-wake cycle. It regulates your internal clock or circadian rhythm (Savage, 2021).

Melatonin is available over-the-counter as a dietary supplement. It’s a common natural sleep aid that people take to help with trouble sleeping due to jet lag, insomnia, or other sleep disorders. Overall, melatonin is considered a safe supplement when taken in the dosage range of 0.1 to 10 mg per day (Savage, 2021). 

Melatonin supplements do not usually cause negative side effects, but that can change if they are combined with alcohol. The following side effects of melatonin have been reported, especially in high doses and extended-release formulations (Savage, 2021):

  • Drowsiness
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares
  • Rash
  • Stomach upset

Alcohol causes some of the same side effects, especially in excessive amounts. So, taking melatonin with alcohol in your system can possibly make side effects like drowsiness more severe. 

Why combining melatonin with alcohol isn’t a good idea

To date, there haven’t been any rigorous clinical studies to explore the effects of consuming alcohol with melatonin supplements, so the advice against taking melatonin supplements with alcohol is based on how each of these substances affects the body and their potential to interact. 

Melatonin supplements are generally safe and do not usually cause severe side effects. But, mixing them with alcohol could raise the risk of becoming too drowsy beyond a safe level of sedation (Abrahao, 2017). 

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which is defined as a substance that slows down brain activity and its control over your vital functions. Consuming large amounts of alcohol or other CNS depressants can cause severe drowsiness, trouble breathing, and slowed heart rate—effects that can become life-threatening (Abrahao, 2017).

The other main concern of combining melatonin with alcohol is just the opposite problem: trouble sleeping. Drinking alcohol may make you feel sleepy at first, especially in excessive amounts. But, alcohol is known to interfere with your body’s natural sleep cycle, causing you to wake up frequently during the night. This can cause your sleep quality to suffer and make you feel exhausted the next day (Park, 2015; Ebrahim, 2013).

This happens because of alcohol’s impact on your body’s natural melatonin. Drinking alcohol is known to suppress or curb your brain’s natural production of melatonin. Research shows that even moderate alcohol consumption before bedtime causes melatonin levels in the body to drop within a few hours (Rupp, 2007). With less natural melatonin in your body due to alcohol, taking a melatonin supplement may not work as well (EMA, 2012).

Additionally, alcohol relaxes your upper airway muscles, increasing the risk of snoring-related sleep disruptions and other breathing problems during sleep, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) (Park, 2015).

So, it is best to take melatonin when there’s no alcohol in your system. Drinking alcohol with (or within several hours of) melatonin may reduce the supplement’s effectiveness and cause you to get less restorative sleep (EMA, 2012; Cederbaum, 2012).

How to take melatonin

Melatonin is a dietary supplement and does not have a standard dosage, as it’s not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Based on study data, melatonin doses of 0.1 mg to 5 mg are generally safe and modestly effective for sleep (Ferracioli-Oda, 2013; Costello, 2014). 

Be sure to follow the directions on the product label for how to take your melatonin supplement. Formulations can vary, with instructions ranging from 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime (Ferracioli-Oda, 2013; Savage, 2021).

To get the most benefit from a melatonin supplement and avoid unnecessary risks, avoid drinking alcohol with it. Instead, consider trying sleep hygiene tips to help improve sleep, such as limiting your pre-bedtime use of smartphones and other devices that emit blue light (Wahl, 2019). 

When to talk to a healthcare professional

It is best not to mix melatonin or any sleeping pills with alcohol. The combination may cause negative side effects. If you struggle with excessive alcohol use or frequently have trouble sleeping, consider seeing a healthcare provider. They can guide you with personalized medical advice and help you get started with therapy or find a treatment that’s right for you.

References

  1. Abrahao, K. P., Salinas, A. G., & Lovinger, D. M. (2017). Alcohol and the brain: neuronal molecular targets, synapses, and circuits. Neuron, 96(6), 1223–1238. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.10.032. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566861/
  2. Costello, R. B., Lentino, C. V., Boyd, C. C., O’Connell, M. L., Crawford, C. C., Sprengel, M. L., et al. (2014). The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature. Nutrition Journal, 13, 106. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-106. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4273450/
  3. Ebrahim, I. O., Shapiro, C. M., Williams, A. J., & Fenwick, P. B. (2013). Alcohol and sleep I: effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 37(4), 539–549. Doi: 10.1111/acer.12006. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23347102/
  4. European Medicines Agency (EMA). (2012). Summary of product characteristics: Circadin 2 mg prolonged-release tablets. Retrieved from https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/documents/product-information/circadin-epar-product-information_en.pdf
  5. Cederbaum, A. I. (2012). Alcohol metabolism. Clinics in Liver Disease, 16(4), 667–685. doi: 10.1016/j.cld.2012.08.002. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3484320/
  6. Ferracioli-Oda, E., Qawasmi, A., & Bloch, M. H. (2013). Meta-analysis: melatonin for the treatment of primary sleep disorders. PloS One, 8(5), e63773. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063773. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3656905/
  7. Park, S. Y., Oh, M. K., Lee, B. S., Kim, H. G., Lee, W. J., Lee, J. H., et al. (2015). The effects of alcohol on quality of sleep. Korean Journal of Family Medicine, 36(6), 294–299. doi: 10.4082/kjfm.2015.36.6.294. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4666864/
  8. Rupp, T. L., Acebo, C., & Carskadon, M. A. (2007). Evening alcohol suppresses salivary melatonin in young adults. Chronobiology International, 24(3), 463–470. doi: 10.1080/07420520701420675. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17612945/
  9. Savage, R. A., Zafar, N., Yohannan, S., & Miller, J. M. (2021). Melatonin. [Updated Aug 15, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534823/
  10. Wahl, S., Engelhardt, M., Schaupp, P., Lappe, C., & Ivanov, I. V. (2019). The inner clock-Blue light sets the human rhythm. Journal of biophotonics, 12(12), e201900102. doi: 10.1002/jbio.201900102. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31433569/