Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in humans. However, it is increasing in popularity as a supplement as a sleeping aid. When taken in its correct dose, melatonin is very effective. But what if you have been drinking and want to take melatonin? What are the risks? These are important questions to consider when taking any drug or combining drugs. Melatonin and alcohol are both common substances. While the combination is not deadly, there are potential risks to consider. It is important to consider this with any substances.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycles our bodies naturally develop. Melatonin releases during the night or evening as the light around us decreases. Long before the abundance of technology, there was no exposure to artificial light such as that produced by our cellphones and laptops. Historically, the setting sunlight and onset darkness were the only things to help the release of melatonin. Light stimulates the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which resides in the hypothalamus part of the brain. With light exosure, the SCN sends signals to the brain to release certain hormones such as cortisol, increase body temperature and prevent the release of melatonin. However, without light, the SCN essentially allows for the release of melatonin.
Most of us know the news reports and medical journals advising us to avoid cell phone use before bed. It is because that artificial ‘blue’ light keeps the SCN active. This is preventing the release of melatonin and making sleep more difficult to achieve. Melatonin is also a very powerful antioxidant and is known to regulate fat cells in the body.
Melatonin is an over-the-counter drug found in most vitamin aisles in stores. There is no need for a prescription. It is usually sold in its pill form, although liquid melatonin is available.
Melatonin Abuse and Addiction
Most people use melatonin to help them fall asleep and there are no well known cases of melatonin abuse. Some individuals experience a decrease in natural melatonin production as they get older. Thus, they take melatonin pills to supplement what their body is already producing. In addition, the supplement is seen as a helpful aid in dealing with jet lag. Generally, melatonin supplements are considered to be safe for short and long term use. Currently, there is little risk of developing an addiction.
There are no well documented cases of melatonin abuse or addiction. There is no risk of developing a dangerous tolerance as there is with other substances. Subsequently, if you take the same dose everyday you feel essentially the same effects. Although, some feel it is less effective after long-term use. Still, anyone with a family history of addiction, or for themselves, should discuss with a doctor.
How Much Melatonin is Too Much?
While melatonin is a naturally occurring chemical, it is important to take the correct amount. Too little is not enough to help you fall asleep. Further, with too much there are potentially negative effects. It is also possible too much interferes with your sleep cycle. Melatonin does not work the same for everyone. If you are looking for ways to sleep, consider speaking with a medical professional to find solutions.
Can You Overdose on Melatonin?
While it is important find balance with anything, there are no known cases of melatonin overdose. It is possible that taking too much causes unwanted side-effects such as extreme drowsiness and can cause very vivid dreams. In some cases, taking excessive dosages have been reported to little effect and rather made it more difficult to fall asleep.
Other effects of melatonin include:
- Low-blood Pressure
- Tiredness the following day
Mixing Melatonin and Alcohol
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It has sedative effects on the body after just a few drinks. Even though alcohol seems to do essentially the same job as melatonin, mixing the two substances is never recommended. For some, alcohol helps with sleeping. However, it also promotes the release of stress hormones in the body that causes restlessness during sleep. Also, some studies show that alcohol inhibits the natural release of melatonin in the body. It potentially therefore interferes with any supplementation of the hormone. If you need to take melatonin, it is recommended that you wait around 2-3 hours after your last drink to consume melatonin. It is best not to combine another sedative with alcohol, a substance with potentially deadly sedative effects.
The Bottom Line
Melatonin is a rather harmless but useful supplement. Many people rely on it to have a good night’s rest. Some also rely on alcohol to achieve the same effects. Some refer to this as a ‘nightcap’. However, they frequently find that their sleep is more restless. Mixing the two substances is not likely to have deadly consequences as seen when mixing other drugs with alcohol. However, there are still potential negative side effects. Both are sedatives which is where some of the danger is.
Generally, mixing various substance with alcohol is a bad idea. Alcohol is the most abused drug in the world. Yet, the common usage makes it difficult to recognize when it is abuse or addiction. Few also recognize the dangers of alcohol. Further, its interactions with other drugs are potentially deadly. It is always best to discuss interactions of any substances with a medical professional if possible. Someone dealing with alcohol abuse or addiction is at risk. They likely do not realize the danger though of mixing something like melatonin with alcohol. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol abuse, please contact us today.
Suprachiasmatic nucleus and melatonin – Neurology
Blue light has a dark side – Harvard Health Publishing
Significance and application of melatonin – NIH
Alcohol and Fatigue – Harvard Health Publishing
Alcohol and Sleep: What you need to know – Psychology Today