Melatonin and alcohol: Sleep is paramount for physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It is a vital time when the body rejuvenates, repairs tissues, and consolidates memories. Quality sleep supports cognitive function, immune health, and mood regulation, ensuring we wake up refreshed, focused, and ready to tackle the challenges of each day.
Melatonin, often called the “sleep hormone,” regulates our circadian rhythm, helping us fall asleep and wake up at the right time. Melatonin production is pivotal to our well-being, as researchers identify short sleep duration with higher chances of death from any cause.
One substance that impedes melatonin’s purpose is alcohol. Many associate drinking with passing out or getting tired and falling asleep, but sleep quality during alcohol consumption can be poor and disrupted. Drinking alcohol leads to fragmented and restless sleep. As the body metabolizes alcohol, its sedative effects wear off, causing disruptions in sleep stages, particularly REM sleep.
In the 21st century, with growing anxiety and cellphone use before bed, sales for melatonin pills are at an all-time high. Alcohol consumption is also trending upward, growing steadily before the pandemic and spiking during it. The intersection of these two trends means many individuals will take melatonin pills and drink simultaneously.
Since they impact sleep, melatonin and alcohol have various interactions you should be aware of. At GateHouse Treatment, our number one priority is your wellness and recovery. This goal involves informing you about the less-discussed life-destroying elements of substance abuse. This article explores the intriguing relationship between melatonin and alcohol, examining how alcohol affects melatonin levels, sleep patterns, health implications, and potential interactions between the two.
1. Melatonin and its Role in Sleep Regulation
Why do we get sleepy when it’s dark out? This feeling results from the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which follows the light-dark cycle of the day. Our bodies have evolved to be diurnal, meaning they are more active during daylight hours and tend to rest and sleep at night.
A small, light-sensitive region in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) primarily controls sleep-wake cycle regulation. Light enters the eyes and stimulates special cells called photoreceptors, which relay this information to the SCN. In response to light exposure, the SCN sends signals to various body parts, including the pineal gland.
It is the pineal gland that produces melatonin. Its secretion is closely tied to the light-dark cycle and helps regulate our sleep patterns. As it gets dark in the evening, the lack of light stimulates the pineal gland to release melatonin into the bloodstream. This increase in melatonin signals to the body that it is time to wind down and prepare for bed. The melatonin levels continue to rise throughout the night, promoting restful sleep.
2. Alcohol Consumption and Sleep
Despite its role as a central nervous system suppressant, alcohol leads to very low-quality sleep. Its soothing effects while awake vanish, and the adverse effects during its metabolization take primacy. Alcohol consumption suppresses REM sleep, a critical stage of the sleep cycle associated with dreaming, memory consolidation, and emotional regulation. Reduced REM sleep can lead to cognitive impairment and affect mood and memory.
On top of that, it can reduce or fragment sleep in several ways. The higher body temperature brought on by drinking makes it challenging to attain optimal restful temperatures. Since it relaxes the muscles in the throat, it can cause snoring and sleep apnea, impairing oxygen reaching the brain, leading to poor sleep and grogginess. Its diuretic effect means more bathroom trips and an earlier wake-up time. In every category, alcohol generates lower-quality sleep.
3. Melatonin and Alcohol
Melatonin and alcohol’s relationship is adverse; the two don’t get along. Their interactions involve multiple physiological pathways, significantly affecting the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Understanding this interaction requires delving into the chemistry of alcohol and melatonin and how they influence each other’s functions.
Inhibition of Melatonin Production
Melatonin production is regulated by the body’s internal clock, with alcohol disrupting this process. Serotonin, the neurotransmitter known for its role in mood regulation, appetite, and other physiological processes, also serves as a melatonin precursor. When the sun goes down, the pineal gland will turn serotonin into melatonin.
Research suggests that alcohol, responsible for this end-of-day conversion, can inhibit the enzyme’s activity, arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT). This inhibition results in reduced melatonin synthesis and secretion. Additionally, alcohol can affect the expression of the genes involved in melatonin synthesis, further contributing to decreased melatonin levels.
Impact on Melatonin Receptors
Alcohol can also influence melatonin receptors in the brain. Think of receptors in the brain as tiny “lock and key” systems that help brain cells (neurons) communicate with each other. When one brain cell wants to send a message to another, it releases special chemicals called neurotransmitters, which act like keys. The receptors are like locks that only specific keys (neurotransmitters) can open.
When the correct key (neurotransmitter) fits into the receptor’s lock, it triggers a signal in the receiving brain cell. This signal can either make the receiving cell more excited and active or calm it down and make it less functional.
Melatonin exerts its effects by binding to specific receptors known as MT1 and MT2 receptors. These receptors are in various brain regions regulating sleep and other physiological processes. Studies have shown that alcohol consumption can modulate the activity of these receptors, altering their sensitivity to melatonin signals. This interference may disrupt the body’s response to melatonin, further affecting the sleep-wake cycle.
Problems with the GABAergic System
Alcohol’s sedative effect comes from interacting with the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that reduces neural activity, promoting relaxation and sleepiness. Essentially, it’s what calms you down and slows you down.
Interestingly, melatonin also interacts with GABA receptors, enhancing GABAergic activity and promoting sleep. However, when alcohol is present, its sedative actions may override the enhancing effect of melatonin on the GABAergic system. The presence of alcohol doesn’t let melatonin do its job, potentially leading to disrupted sleep patterns and reduced sleep quality.
4. Mixing Melatonin Pills and Alcohol
Although the overlayed effects of alcohol and melatonin lead to low-quality sleep, overlapping their consumption will lead to severe drowsiness. Melatonin suppresses alertness and inhibits brain activity. Alcohol is a central nervous system suppressant. It won’t be easy to control your body or get out of bed if needed.
Additionally, if you are on medications like Xanax that further depress the body’s functions, mixing alcohol, melatonin, and a third substance can be fatal. Melatonin and alcohol intake increase the risk of accidental cross-drug overdoses. It’s for these reasons and the disruption of sleep that we don’t recommend combining melatonin and alcohol.
5. Melatonin and Alcohol: The Addiction Problem
The consequences of long-term disruption in melatonin levels due to alcohol consumption extend beyond sleep disturbances and mental health issues. Melatonin is a potent antioxidant that helps protect cells from oxidative stress, contributing to various health benefits. Prolonged alcohol consumption and the associated decrease in melatonin levels can leave the body more vulnerable to oxidative damage, potentially leading to chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, liver damage, and an increased risk of cancer.
Moderation and mindfulness in alcohol consumption are vital to preserving the body’s natural melatonin production and promoting restorative sleep. Additionally, seeking professional help for alcohol addiction is critical to maintaining short- and long-term health. Your body needs sleep like a plant needs water, don’t deprive it.
GateHouse Treatment and Alcohol
At GateHouse Treatment, we have the best available care for beating your alcohol addiction and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We offer therapies like outpatient, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, family therapy, telehealth, and medication-assisted programs that allow you to focus on your treatment. GateHouse believes in holistic wellness, meaning we don’t only address addiction itself but its underlying symptoms. Our alcohol detox program has safe housing and expert support to guarantee our recovery.
Begin your new life and call (855) 448-3588 OR reach out through our website for a free consultation.
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