Can Alcohol Cause Sleep Apnea: Let’s Find Out

Almost 55% of American people say they had had alcohol over the past month. While a few drinks before bed can help you nod off, it usually leads to a night of restless, low-quality sleep.

Sleep apnea, characterized by periodic awakenings due to pauses in breathing, may be exacerbated by alcohol consumption. Alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms of OSA and CSA; therefore, people who suffer from both sleep disorders should be wary of its consequences.

Tissues in the mouth and throat can restrict the airway, leading to obstructive sleep apnea, which is far more prevalent than CSA. The inability of the brain to communicate properly with the respiratory muscles causes CSA.

The central nervous system is slowed by alcohol, which might make breathing more difficult for patients with OSA or CSA. Untreated sleep apnea is connected with serious health concerns, and alcohol consumption may aggravate some of those dangers.

Alcohol may have a detrimental effect on your sleep if you have sleep apnea. Making decisions about your treatment in light of this connection can be beneficial.

Alcohol and Obstructive Sleep Apnea: The Connection

Alcohol And Obstructive Sleep Apnea The Connection

Obstructive sleep apnea is linked with heavy alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol might significantly alter how you breathe while sleeping. Drinking alcohol before bed might make snoring worse and cause respiratory problems.

Generally speaking, alcohol causes people to breathe even more slowly and shallowly. With less air entering your lungs and your neck muscles relaxing, you run the risk of suffocation.

Nighttime drinking further relaxes the muscles in the neck and throat, a problem for people with alcohol use disorders. Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders can occur when these muscles completely shut down, causing the airway to collapse.

Sleep apnea episodes can occur even in people who don’t have an alcohol use disorder but still drink at harmful levels. If you drink alcohol, even just for one night, you greatly increase your odds of sleep problems.

Drinking alcohol if you have sleep apnea may exacerbate your symptoms and leave you even more exhausted. When obstructive sleep apnea causes poor sleep, blood oxygen levels can decrease significantly, and carbon dioxide levels can rise dangerously.

Researchers found that heavy drinkers had a 25% increased chance of developing OSA compared to nondrinkers or social drinkers after analyzing all of the trials. This shows a link, but it doesn’t establish that alcohol is the cause of OSA.

It might be challenging to pinpoint a single cause for why OSA occurs in a particular person, as several risk factors are linked to OSA.

How Alcohol Impacts OSA?

How Alcohol Impacts OSA

Drinking alcohol may make the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea worse.

A person with OSA who has consumed alcohol may experience increased frequency and duration of breathing disruptions. The apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) is a measurement that monitors the number of times a person stops breathing while sleeping.

A lot of research has shown that drinking alcohol boosts this index. In addition to causing low blood oxygen levels, alcohol consumption is associated with OSA.

There are many ways in which alcohol usage could exacerbate OSA.

1. A Higher Threshold for Awakening

Those with OSA partially awaken because of breathing constriction and low oxygen levels. The arousal threshold is increased by alcohol, making it more challenging to awaken. Consequently, a breathing restriction must be either longer or more severe for it to result in arousal.

2. Relaxation of the Muscles in and Around the Windpipe

Relaxation of the Muscles in and Around the Windpipe

Alcohol consumption has been linked to a loosening of the mouth and throat muscles. As a result, there is a higher chance that soft tissues in the upper airway will sag and restrict breathing.

Accumulation of Mucus in the Nasal Passages

After drinking alcohol, breathing through the nose gets harder due to the narrowing of blood vessels in the nose. This worsens the symptoms of congestion. Further, those inflicted with OSA may find that their breathing is disrupted by nasal congestion. This happens due to the congestion pressing on the upper airway.

In addition to exacerbating OSA symptoms, drinking alcohol may increase other health concerns associated with the disorder. Those with OSA, for instance, are more likely to doze off while driving. An increase in impairment and the risk of car accidents can result from drinking alcohol.

The cardiovascular issues that come with untreated OSA may be exacerbated by alcohol consumption because of its role in reducing oxygen levels.

The effects of alcohol on a person with OSA depend on the following:

1. Time of Drinking

Time of Drinking

Having a few drinks in the evening or right before bedtime boosts blood alcohol levels during sleep, amplifying the effect on OSA. There may be a greater effect on breathing in the early half of the night when the body is still processing the alcohol it consumed.

2. Quantity of Alcohol

The impact of alcohol on OSA is amplified with increased consumption. Several studies have linked the consumption of two to three drinks per day to poor outcomes.

3. Age

Drinking alcohol before bedtime can exacerbate OSA, especially for older people who may be more vulnerable to its effects.

Can CPAP Reduce The Effects Of Alcohol On OSA?

Can CPAP Reduce The Effects Of Alcohol On OSA

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) has been shown in limited studies to mitigate or eradicate sleep apnea caused by alcohol use.

Treatment for OSA can include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which involves pumping air into the airway via a mask. The pressured air flow aids in maintaining an open airway during sleep.

Only a few studies have looked at whether or not alcoholic beverages worsen OSA in CPAP users. Yet, the results of these studies showed that CPAP machines might minimize breathing interruptions in patients with OSA who consumed alcohol without requiring any adjustments to the pressure settings of the devices.

To verify these findings, an additional study is required. At the same time, patients with OSA who rely on CPAP should be cognizant of alcohol’s potential side effects on their rest.

Alcohol And Other Sleep-Related Respiratory Disorders

Alcohol And Other Sleep-Related Respiratory Disorders

Obstructive sleep apnea patients have the strongest evidence linking alcohol consumption with the condition. Nevertheless, snoring and other sleep-breathing difficulties are also linked to alcohol usage.

Can Central Sleep Apnea Be Caused By Alcohol?

When you have central sleep apnea, your brain and respiratory muscles stop working together to keep you breathing while you sleep. The central nervous system and brain are particularly sensitive to alcohol’s depressant effects, which can cause a considerable slowing of breathing and hence exacerbate CSA.

How Can Alcohol Impact Breathing Problems That Occur During The Night?

How Can Alcohol Impact Breathing Problems That Occur During The Night

Hypoventilation, in which a person does not acquire enough oxygen due to weak or sluggish breathing, has been linked to some sleep-related respiratory difficulties. A central nervous system depressant, like alcohol, may aggravate the effects of hypoventilation.

Because of its impact on respiration during sleep, alcohol is typically discouraged by medical professionals treating patients with obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS).

Those taking sedative drugs may be more susceptible to the hypoventilation brought on by alcohol.

What Effect Does Alcohol Have on Snoring?

Consuming alcohol just before bedtime has been associated with increased snoring. When one consumes alcohol, the muscles in their mouth and throat relax, making it more probable that their soft tissues will flutter and make noise as they inhale and exhale.

People with OSA often snore; however, the vast majority of those who snore do not have OSA. Most snoring isn’t disruptive to breathing and is therefore thought to be harmless. Yet, regular drinkers may notice an increase in their snoring volume when they mix alcoholic beverages with their sleeping habits.

How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep

The effects of alcohol on brain activity, in addition to their possible implications on breathing and sleep apnea, can disrupt sleep.

According to studies, drinking alcohol extends the time spent in the deepest stage of sleep, known as slow-wave sleep. However, newer research suggests this effect only manifests in persons who are already sleep-deprived. (If you have a sleeping disorder like apnea, this may be the case.)

These side effects only manifest during the first four hours of sleep while the body is still processing the alcohol. It will be more challenging to get to sleep and stay asleep after your body has processed all the alcohol.

Studies on alcohol and sleep have shown that after a few drinks, you are more likely to spend the latter part of the night in the more restful, dreaming stages of sleep.

It’s well known that drinking three or more alcoholic beverages in the hours before night increases the likelihood that one may have trouble falling or staying asleep. Yet, even a few drinks before bedtime could disrupt your sleep.

Should You Refrain From Drinking?

Doctors will probably advise you not to drink alcohol within a few hours before going to bed. You should avoid drinking alcohol if you are diagnosed with sleep apnea.

To get effective results from your treatment for sleep apnea, it is important to follow it consistently. Be sure to adjust your CPAP machine for normal sleeping conditions.

Regular drinkers who abstain only in time for their titration study may find that the pressure is insufficient to keep their airways open. AutoCPAP machines, which can make pressure adjustments during the night, may be useful in preventing this problem.


Alcohol consumption is associated with sleep disruptions and may elevate the probability of developing sleep apnea or snoring.

A sleep apnea diagnosis should prompt a visit to the doctor if the condition isn’t improving after treatment. Treatment outcomes can be improved by reducing alcohol consumption and making lifestyle changes in consultation with a medical professional.

Warning signals of alcohol abuse should prompt one to look for expert assistance. A harmful drinking pattern could be present, for instance, if alcohol consumption causes problems in one’s professional, academic, or interpersonal spheres of life.

See a doctor if you have sleep disruptions or other possible signs of sleep apnea. Reducing alcohol consumption or completely leaving are the two ways to avert the worsening or the above-mentioned illnesses.

Sarah Wagner

I'm Sarah Wagner, and I founded Sweet Island Dreams in 2022. It's a blog dedicated to helping people mental vacation virtually anytime they want. By providing information about the best sleep of your life, I help people drift away to paradise without ever having to leave their bed!