Insomnia is common in people who drink alcohol, especially those with an alcohol use disorder. Experts believe that up to 91% of people struggling with alcohol use have trouble sleeping. When sleep seems impossible, it can be tempting to turn to over-the-counter sleep aids to get a good night’s rest. One common treatment is melatonin. If you drink alcohol, however, it is very important to be aware of potential side effects and drug interactions before you choose a sleep aid.

What Is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, a small gland in the middle of the brain. The brain makes melatonin only when a person’s surroundings are dark. The eye’s retina sends information to the brain about the environment’s brightness. When it is bright, the pineal gland does not get activated. When it is dark, the pineal gland becomes active and produces melatonin. This is why melatonin levels are low during the day. They start to increase before bedtime, reaching a peak between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. and then decreasing.

Melatonin is also sold as an over-the-counter supplement to help regulate sleep. It is widely available in drugstores, grocery stores, health food stores and online shops. Side effects are rare with melatonin, and there is no evidence that the substance can be harmful. Even at high doses, melatonin appears to be nontoxic.

Mixing Melatonin and Alcohol

Even though melatonin is generally safe on its own, it is always best to check for drug interactions when mixing substances, including alcohol. Because alcohol is known to affect sleep and melatonin is a common sleep aid, it is important to verify the safety of combining the substances beforehand.

Side Effects of Combining Alcohol and Melatonin

Melatonin does not have any drug interactions with alcohol, but drinking decreases the amount of melatonin your brain produces. How much melatonin you end up producing depends on how much alcohol you have had. The more you drink, the less melatonin you naturally make. However, some studies have shown that taking melatonin supplements — particularly if you struggle with alcohol — may not improve your sleep.

OTC Sleep Aids and Alcohol

Although melatonin does not have an interaction with alcohol, the same cannot be said for other sleep aids. Many over-the-counter sleep aids contain central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which can be dangerous when combined with alcohol. These include:

  • Diphenhydramine: This antihistamine is a sedating CNS depressant and the active ingredient in Benadryl and Aleve PM. It should not be mixed with alcohol due to an increased risk of drowsiness and dizziness.
  • Doxylamine: Like diphenhydramine, this sedating antihistamine should not be mixed with alcohol due to increased risks of drowsiness and dizziness. Doxylamine is the active ingredient in Unisom.
  • Valerian: This over-the-counter herb is found in some sleep supplements. Like other sleep aids, it should not be mixed with alcohol due to an increased chance of drowsiness and dizziness. Further, valerian can be toxic to the liver. Because both alcohol and valerian can harm the liver, it is best to avoid using the substances together.

Alcohol’s Effect on Sleep

If you have trouble sleeping, you may wonder if a drink or two might help you get better rest. Although drinking can make you fall asleep faster, your sleep is likely to be of poor quality. This is because alcohol can increase the number of awakenings and disturbances you have while sleeping. Drinking also increases the amount of light sleep and decreases the amount of deep sleep and REM sleep. As a result, you may not feel well-rested when you wake up the next morning. Further, alcohol can exacerbate other sleep-related conditions that can interfere with your rest, such as sleep apnea. For these reasons, you should avoid drinking if you are having sleeping problems.

Tips for Better Sleep

You can take many actions to improve your sleep without substances. Some strategies include:

  • Waking up at the same time every day to get your body used to a consistent pattern
  • Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and nicotine
  • Going to bed at the same time each night
  • Keeping any naps short and only taking them in the early afternoon
  • Following a nightly routine to get your body used to winding down
  • Dimming your lights before bed to help your brain produce melatonin
  • Reducing drinking

Mental Health Check During Times of Stress

Stress, whether from daily life or from unexpected stressors like COVID-19, can take a toll on your sleep and mental health. Some people have turned to drinking alcohol or using sleep aids as a way to cope with anxiety about the unpredictable. However, holistic approaches can help promote better sleep and improve mental health without turning to substances.

Ways of reducing stress and improving sleep that don’t involve drinking or sleep aids include:

  • Taking deep breaths
  • Stretching
  • Meditating
  • Eating healthy meals
  • Exercising

If you have come to rely on drinking as a way to cope with stress, it can be difficult to cut back — even if you want to. This can cause further stress and lead to a snowball effect. Fortunately, help for alcohol addiction is available.

Finding Help for Substance Abuse in Florida

If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol, you do not have to fight your addiction alone. Our professional medical staff at The Recovery Village at Baptist Health are experts in treating alcohol use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. We offer alcohol detox services, inpatient and outpatient rehab to help you address your reliance on alcohol. Contact us today to learn more about individualized recovery programs that can help you start living a healthier, alcohol-free life.

FAQs

  • What happens if you take a sleep aid with alcohol?

    Most over-the-counter sleep aids contain CNS depressants, which can intensify the effects of alcohol. This is also true of prescription-strength sleep medications. It is best to avoid drinking if you take a sleep aid. Melatonin is one of the only sleep aids that does not have a drug interaction with alcohol.

  • Does alcohol affect your sleep?

    Alcohol can result in poor quality sleep because it can cause you to be easily roused and awakened during the night. Further, it decreases the amount of deep sleep and REM sleep you get.

  • Does alcohol affect melatonin?

    Alcohol decreases the amount of melatonin that your brain naturally produces. The more you drink, the less melatonin your brain will make. This can interfere with your sleep cycle.

  • Is it bad to take melatonin with alcohol?

    Melatonin does not have a drug interaction with alcohol. However, melatonin may not help you sleep if you drink.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.