Insomnia is fairly common among those who drink alcohol, especially persons with an alcohol use disorder. Experts believe that up to 91 percent of people struggling with alcohol use have sleep difficulties. When getting to sleep becomes problematic, it can be tempting to consider over-the-counter sleep aids, such as melatonin. However, it is imperative to be aware of potential side effects and drug interactions if you drink alcohol before experimenting with sleep remedies.
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the pineal gland, located in the middle of the brain. Melatonin is produced when an individual’s environment is dark. The eye’s retina transmits information to the brain about the brightness level in their surroundings or lack thereof—when dark, the pineal gland becomes activated and creates melatonin. This is why melatonin is relatively low during the day. They start to increase shortly before bedtime, peak between 2-4 a.m., and thereafter steadily decrease.
Melatonin can also be found as an over-the-counter supplement to help regulate sleep. It is widely available in grocery stores, drug and health food stores, and online shops. Side effects are rare, and there is no evidence that the substance can be harmful. Even in excessive doses, melatonin does not appear to be toxic.
Combining Melatonin With Alcohol
Although melatonin is generally safe when used independently, it is always best to check for drug interactions when combining psychoactive or intoxicating substances. Because alcohol is known to adversely affect sleep and melatonin is a common sleep remedy, it is vital to verify the safety of mixing these two substances before doing so.
Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol With Melatonin
Melatonin does not have any known interactions with alcohol, but drinking does decrease the amount of melatonin the brain produces. How much melatonin you end up creating depends on how much alcohol has been consumed. The more a person drinks, the less melatonin they will make naturally. However, some research has shown that those who drink regularly may find that taking melatonin supplements does not improve their sleep.
OTC Sleep Aids and Alcohol
Although melatonin does not appear to interact with alcohol, the same cannot be said for other sleep remedies. Many over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids contain central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which can be hazardous when used in combination with alcohol. Some OTC sleep aids include:
Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine: These antihistamines can cause sedation and can be found as active ingredients in everyday OTC products such as Benadryl, Aleve PM, and Unisom. It should not be used in conjunction with alcohol due to an increased risk of dizziness and drowsiness.
Valerian root: This is an OTC herb is found in some sleep supplements. Like other sleep remedies, it should not be combined with alcohol due to an increased risk of dizziness and drowsiness. Furthermore, valerian root can be toxic to the liver. Because both alcohol and valerian can cause damage to the liver, it is best to avoid using the substances in conjunction.
Alcohol’s Effect on Sleep
Those who experience sleep disturbances might posit that a drink or two might help them get better rest. Although drinking can help a person fall asleep more rapidly, their sleep quality is likely to be less-than-ideal. This is because alcohol tends to increase the number of awakenings and disturbances a person has while asleep. Drinking also increases the amount of light sleep and reduces the amount of deep sleep and REM sleep.
Furthermore, alcohol can worsen other sleep-related conditions that can interfere with your rest, such as sleep apnea. For these reasons, individuals who have such issues should avoid drinking.
Tips for Improving Sleep
There are several actions one can take to improve sleep without the use of substances. Some strategies include the following:
- Waking up at the same time each day to get the body used to a consistent pattern
- Going to bed at the same time every night
- Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine
- Keeping naps short and only taking them in the early afternoon
- Following a nightly routine to get the body used to winding down
- Dimming lights before bed to help the brain produce melatonin
- Reducing drinking
If a person has come to resort to drinking alcohol as a means to cope with stress, it can be challenging to cut back—even if he or she is motivated. This habit can result in further tension and lead to a snowball effect. Fortunately, help for alcohol addiction is available.
Finding Help for Substance Abuse
If you or a loved one is battling alcohol dependence, you do not have to fight your addiction alone. Our professional medical staff at Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery are experts in treating alcohol use disorders as well as any co-occurring mental health conditions. We offer alcohol detox services and inpatient and outpatient rehab to help you address your reliance on alcohol.
Our programs feature various corrective services and activities, including psychotherapy, counseling, group support, art and music therapy, aftercare planning, and more.