How Alcohol & Melatonin Affect Sleep (+ Why You Should Never Combine Them)
Alcohol is clearly dangerous to mix with medications like blood thinners, mood stabilizers, pain relievers, and antibiotics—but what about supplements like melatonin? Here's what to know about how alcohol and melatonin affect the body individually and when taken in tandem.
Alcohol & sleep.
Many people turn to a glass of wine or two to help them relax before bed, as drinking alcohol in moderation has a sedating effect at first. However, as the night goes on, this effect wears off.
"While it can maybe help people fall asleep, it disturbs sleep—especially in the second part of the night. It's not an effective sleep aid to turn to," Fiona Baker, Ph.D., the director of the Human Sleep Research Program at SRI International, says of alcohol.
That's because as alcohol gets metabolized in the night, it disrupts essential deep sleep stages like REM sleep1. Baker adds that it can also increase body temperature and heart rate, contribute to inadequate hydration, and lead us to need to use the bathroom—all things that will further disrupt sleep quality.
"Although alcohol makes you sleepy and might help you fall asleep, the sleep you're getting is worse," says sleep doctor Daniel I. Rifkin, M.D. This fragmented sleep is one of the reasons you might wake up feeling tired and groggy after a night of drinking—despite spending the same amount of time in bed as usual.
Melatonin & sleep.
Like alcohol, melatonin is often used for its relaxing properties to get the body ready for bed. Nicknamed "the hormone of darkness," melatonin is a hormone that gets synthesized in the body when the sun goes down. Using electronics and bright lighting at night, or traveling to a new time zone, can disrupt your natural melatonin production—sending your circadian rhythm, or internal clock, out of whack and causing you to feel wide-awake when you want to be asleep.
Taking supplemental melatonin can help reset your internal clock, making it helpful when you're acclimating to a new sleep-wake schedule. However, there is limited evidence that melatonin supplements improve sleep quality, and it may be dangerous to take nightly—especially in high doses.
Mixing melatonin and alcohol.
It turns out, neither melatonin nor alcohol will do much to improve your sleep quality—especially when combined.
Besides canceling each other out in a way, Rifkin adds that "they both have a sedating effect, so taking the two together could be dangerous." He notes that the combination can lead to dizziness and overwhelming fatigue, plus further sleep fragmentation.
Melatonin and alcohol are both processed in the liver, so combining them can also be taxing on the body—especially for those with existing liver health considerations.
Potential interactions with melatonin and alcohol:
- Fragmented sleep
- Brain fog
- Increased heart rate
If you're looking to improve sleep quality, lasting lifestyle shifts will be safer and more effective than short-term fixes (that don't even fix much, anyway) like melatonin and alcohol.
Experts agree that one of the most important things you can do for your sleep is to get into a rhythm of going to bed and waking up around the same time every day. This will help keep your internal clock steady and reliable and ensure melatonin production is consistent. Getting sunlight in the morning and keeping things dark (and screen-free) at night will also support your body's natural production of melatonin.
Other habits to get into for better sleep include not eating or exercising late at night, keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, and releasing stress before bed through practices like journaling or meditation. If you do drink alcohol, experts recommend limiting it to a few drinks at least four to six hours before bed if you can.
There are also plenty of sleep aids that can replace your melatonin habit and do more to actually improve sleep quality.* Here is mbg's list of the best nonhormonal options (we're partial to our melatonin-free sleep support+ supplement, which contains magnesium bisglycinate, jujube, and PharmaGABA®).
If you've made all these shifts and are still struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, consult with a doctor to get to the root of the problem.
We can count alcohol and melatonin as things that we might think are supporting our sleep—but are actually really messing with it. These two substances are also dangerous when combined, so getting your nightly routine in check and cleaning up bedtime hygiene will be a much safer way to ensure overall sleep quality.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.