How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep Apnoea?

Grapes and wine

Last updated on July 7th, 2023 at 10:40 am

It may be common knowledge that drinking too much alcohol harms your health.

49% Of adults in the UK consume alcohol at least once a week, and many people with alcohol-related health issues are not alcoholics.

The NHS recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol per week (equivalent to six 175ml glasses of wine or six pints of 4% beer). 

The effect alcohol has on your sleep

Your sleep cycle is disrupted when you drink more than six units of alcohol in one night.

Alcohol has a sedative effect, depriving you of energy and causing you to become tired throughout the day or ‘sluggish’. 

Alcohol slows down brain activity, changing your mood and self-control because it is a central nervous system depressant. 

How much alcohol can affect your sleep? 

Each individual reacts differently to excessive alcohol consumption, so you could be wondering how much alcohol can affect sleep?

  • Consuming a high amount of alcohol per night (more than two drinks for a male and more than one drink for a female) will decrease your sleep quality by 39.2%.
  • Did you know alcohol dehydrates the human body? Dehydration can increase your chances of kidney disease – ensure you drink water regularly to avoid dehydration. It is advised to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.
  • Not getting enough sleep will also increase your dehydration levels. 

Does Sleep Apnoea get worse with alcohol?

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is a common, dangerous sleep disorder where your airways become blocked during sleep, causing breathing pauses (Apnoea events).

During these breathing pauses, the sleeper can wake up choking during sleep or gasping for air.

The effect alcohol has on your OSA depends on how much you consume, your age, body shape and gender. 

How does alcohol affect Sleep Apnoea?

Research shows that alcohol’s sedative effect might make you feel like you’re in for a good night’s rest. However, it reduces your REM sleep cycle (Rapid-eye movement).

Your REM cycle takes place 90 minutes after falling asleep; it is known as the restorative stage of sleep, where dreams occur. Disruptions to your REM sleep reduce daytime alertness and concentration and prevent you from attaining essential sleep.

Alcohol can impact the severity of Sleep Apnoea as it restrains your ability to breathe during sleep – suppressing breathing and making OSA worse.

Slowing your breathing during sleep makes breaths shallower, and alcohol can increase snoring.

So, should you avoid alcohol if you have Sleep Apnoea? It is advised to avoid alcohol if you have Sleep Apnoea or minimise consumption.

Does alcohol cause Sleep Apnoea?

Alcohol can increase the risk of developing OSA.

Alcohol alone won’t cause OSA. However, regularly drinking puts you at a higher level of developing OSA.

Studies show that alcohol can increase the risk of developing Sleep Apnoea by 25% because alcohol causes your throat muscles to relax, creating more resistance during breathing. Also, reducing your arousal response time, which is your body’s instinct to wake up when you cannot breathe.

This can provoke Sleep Apnoea symptoms, generating more dangerous, prolonged breathing episodes. It is advised to avoid alcohol consumption 4 hours before you sleep; this is because your body needs time to process the alcohol. 

Alcohol is also an appetite stimulant: one unit contains eight grams, or 10ml of alcohol, which provides 56kcal; you may not realise how alcohol calories can quickly build up. Weight loss can be hugely beneficial for some people with Sleep Apnoea – please note there are different foods that affect your sleep.

How to sleep better after drinking alcohol

It is recommended to minimise alcohol consumption if you have OSA. Here are some tips to enjoy an alcoholic drink without impacting your sleep.

  • Use your CPAP machine – it is advised never to go without your CPAP machine if you need one. The pressure of the device will keep your airways open when your throat muscles relax.
  • Sleep on your side – The best position for those with OSA to sleep on their side; it allows gravity to open your airways to make your CPAP therapy more effective.
  • Track how much you drink – Keep an eye on how much alcohol you consume and try not to drink alcohol 4 hours before you sleep.

What are the benefits of drinking less alcohol?

  • Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
  • Decreases the chance of developing heart disease
  • Better mood, concentration, and performance
  • Get a proper night’s sleep
  • Beneficial for weight and reduces cholesterol levels
  • Wake up feeling refreshed with more energy
  • It saves you money!

Are you having difficulty getting enough sleep? You might have a sleep disorder.

There are a few Sleep Apnoea symptoms, such as morning headaches and snoring

Contact your doctor if you suspect you have OSA, or you can take an In-Home Sleep Test. This is a quick and effective way to determine if you do or do not have Sleep Apnoea. 

Does alcohol affect a Sleep Apnoea test (In-Home Sleep Test)?

We recommend taking an In-Home Sleep Test on a normal night’s sleep – for example, if you usually drink 1 unit per night, this will represent a normal night of sleep.

However, avoid drinking excessive amounts before taking an In-Home Sleep Test, as it will affect your results.

Contact us if you would like any help or advice regarding Sleep Apnoea.