When you mix alcohol and melatonin, this is what happens to your body

Melatonin is a common, over-the-counter sleep aid. Falling into the category of natural supplements, melatonin is often taken in pill, liquid, or chewable form (via WebMD). Supplemental melatonin works by mimicking the hormone melatonin that your body creates naturally. This is the hormone that tells you when to wake up and when to go to sleep, and it can be influenced by both the amount of sunshine you get every day and your own internal body clock. 

While medicine like melatonin may be used on a case-by-case basis for insomnia, there are both benefits and risks of adding this supplement — particularly if you take it with alcohol. And this combination is all too common, as many of us reach for a good stiff drink when we're having trouble nodding off. In fact, as many as 20 percent of Americans report using alcohol to help them fall asleep faster, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

So what happens if you take both at the same time?

Mixing melatonin and alcohol can cause serious side effects

Dr. Nate Watson, a scientific advisor for SleepScore Labs, explained the actions of the two substances: "Melatonin is typically taken to address circadian rhythm sleep disorders or as an insomnia therapy. Alcohol, although causing sleepiness initially, can cause sleep disruption/awakenings once it wears off throughout the night resulting in further insomnia troubles" (via Bustle). 

Medical News Today explains that while the supplement and alcoholic beverage combo may induce excessive sleepiness initially, the complications from the two can make for an unpleasant night — sleeplessness (after the initial drowsiness), irritability, and anxiety. And even more concerning, there is the potential for difficulty in breathing, dizziness, and passing out — which means a person taking melatonin and drinking alcohol may have trouble walking and should not attempt driving. Bottom line: "I recommend not drinking alcohol and taking melatonin," Watson said. "They both may cause drowsiness and when taken together, other symptoms ... can be problematic."

If sleep trouble is the reason for combining these substances, it's important to ask your doctor how to better improve your night's rest.