Living With OSA

The Advice You Need to Hear About Alcohol and Sleep Apnea

alcohol and sleep apneaResearch has shown that alcohol consumption can worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea and impair your ability to get a good night’s sleep. There is also evidence that those with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can struggle with insomnia after drinking. Drinking alcohol in excess can have other side effects aside from disrupting sleep, but if you choose to drink and also need to manage your OSA or other types of sleep apnea, there are certainly ways to do so.  

If you are living with OSA, you have either felt by now or have heard that alcohol and sleep apnea do not mix well. Drinking alcohol can actually increase apneic events and their duration, therefore worsening your sleep apnea symptoms.

How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder caused by the relaxation of muscles in the mouth and throat. An expansion occurs that causes a blockage of your airway and prevents air from reaching your lungs. Alcohol makes your muscles relaxed, including the muscle tissue in your airway.

It also reduces arousal response, which is how your body knows to wake up when you can’t breathe because of a blocked airway. Drinking diminishes this response, and it means that you won’t wake up as easily when your breathing stops because of OSA. Without that response, your body is less likely to interrupt an apneic event naturally. If you stop breathing, it could take longer to wake up, meaning you’ll be without oxygen for an extended period of time.

Since less air is getting through to your lungs, it means that when you wake up, you’ll experience more fatigue, tiredness, and daytime drowsiness—not to mention all the other side effects of excessive alcohol consumption such as dehydration and headaches.

Does Alcohol Cause Sleep Apnea and Sleeplessness?

The relationship between alcohol, sleep apnea, and sleeplessness is as complicated as any other three-sided dynamic. While alcohol may make you feel drowsy and relaxed in the short-term, it actually keeps you awake and makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. It also disrupts your body’s melatonin levels and makes sleep less restful than it normally would.

Alcohol doesn’t cause sleep apnea, but regular drinking puts you at higher risk for developing sleep apnea and can make current sleep apnea episodes worse. If you suffer from the effects of sleep apnea, you should avoid alcohol altogether; but, it’s still possible to enjoy alcohol occasionally in moderation.

The subject has been frequently researched, with some studies as old as nearly forty years old and some as newer as only a few months but they all point to the same conclusion: alcohol causes sleeplessness and makes your sleep apnea worse. In a more recent one study, nearly all participants surveyed experienced drastic changes in their apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) after alcohol consumption versus on a normal night. AHI is a figure used to measure sleep apnea by adding the number of respiratory pauses and shallow breaths you take in at any given hour of sleep. The higher the AHI, the more severe the apnea event and vice-versa.

So, alcohol alone won’t cause sleep apnea, but it will cause sleeplessness and will certainly impact your sleep apnea if you have it.

How to Sleep Better After Drinking Alcohol

You may have realized by now that drinking alcohol and OSA can be a dangerous proposition, but there are ways to still enjoy a fun night out while not compromising sleep. 

  • Use an APAP Machine. If occasional alcohol is a part of your lifestyle, you should consider using an auto CPAP machine (APAP machine). As the muscle tissue in your throat relaxes, an increase in pressure may be needed to keep your airways open. An auto CPAP machine can detect and increase air pressure to make sure you get the necessary higher pressure for effective, continuous treatment throughout the night.
  • Monitor How Much Your Drink. It goes without saying that if you’re concerned about how you sleep, you’ll want to watch how many drinks you have if you plan on drinking. Try to stop drinking at least two hours before you go to bed. This will give the alcohol time to metabolize through your system and make it easier to fall asleep.
  • Try Sleeping on Your Side. Your sleeping position impacts your sleep apnea. The best one for those with OSA is side sleeping, and that’s something you can start immediately, and it doesn’t have to be only when you drink. Side sleeping allows gravity to open a fully relaxed airway and makes your CPAP machine more effective.
  • Put on Your Best Face. Facemask, that is. Another factor to consider in sleeping position is what the best type of CPAP mask for your sleeping position is. It can take a couple of tries to find the right one for you. You can buy a couple of them when you first buy your machine and return the one you don’t like. 

Other strategies you can try to implement to ensure your sleep after drinking isn’t compromised are likely some of the same you’ve heard of before but are worth repeating:

  • Have One Glass of Water for Every Drink
  • Drink Plenty of Fluids the Next Day
  • Try to Eat Well-Balanced Meals During the Day if You Plan on Drinking

Remember, your sleep apnea is manageable. The better job you do at managing it, the more adept you’ll be at continuing to lead the lifestyle you want without compromising your body’s ability to rest and make you productive the next day.

17 Comments

  1. Bob Vincent Reply

    I have switched to a zero gravity chair that allows me to sleep in a sitting /semi upright position any data on such an arrangement on Apnea, when I was “sleep tested ‘ I did not exhibit apnea when I was sleeping on my side , thanks for any response

  2. SARAH BRAUN Reply

    GLAD TO READ ABOUT HOW ALCOHOL MAY AFFECT MY SLEEP AS I HAVE SLEEP APNEA. IN 8 YEARS OF WEARING RES MED’S SLEEP APNEA MACHINE AND YEARLY APPOINTMENTS WITH MD’S INVOLVED WITH SLEEP ISSUES,THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I LEARNED ABOUT ALCOHOL’S IMPACT.

    HOW ABOUT HUMIDITY? ALTITUDE? AGE?

    THANKS,
    SBRAUN @ESEDONA.NET

    • Hi Sarah, I am very glad to hear that you found the article helpful. Altitude does affect atmospheric pressure which can affect your CPAP pressure. Lots of machines have an automatic altitude adjustment already built into them and of course if you are using an auto adjusting CPAP machine (APAP) the machine would self adjust also. If you are uncertain you can always check your pressure against a manometer. Here is a link to one that we carry https://www.cpap.com/productpage/guage-manometer-pressure. In my experience most sleep clinics are willing to test your machines pressure against their manometer.

      Humidity does not affect the efficacy of the CPAP therapy however, it can make it more comfortable for your body to take the therapy. Age does not play a role in affecting sleep apnea as anyone can have sleep apnea including infants and adults of any age.

  3. John turner Reply

    I use and have8 used a clap for years and I agree that alcohol does not work well. I also agree that sleeping on your side is much better when and if you use a clap machine. Your sleep cycles will be much much better.
    John turner

  4. Rich Bloom Reply

    I only disagree with one word in this article. Sleep apnea is not a disease, it is a condition. I have been a CPAP user since July 12, 1998.

  5. In addition to a full time job, I teach an aerobics class 4 times a week. Three of the classes are at night and I have a hard time coming down. So I would have a drink or two to relax before going to bed. I have noticed that I am still very tired during the day. Any suggestions on how to wind down after teaching so I am not up until midnight when I need to be up at 4:30am?

    • Hi Terry, I am sorry to hear that you have been feeling tired during the day. Do you think your tiredness is in direct correlation to sleep apnea, or do you only experience tiredness the day after you’ve had a drink, or two to unwind? If you think you might have sleep apnea, we encourage you to speak with your doctor for a sleep study.

      If you find that you are only tired the day after you’ve had a couple of drinks to unwind after your classes, then you may find the article below helpful.

      https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/alcohol-and-fatigue

      Have a great day!

  6. I am feeling very tired during the day post using the CPAP machine with proper sleep during the night for at least 7-8 years. AHI levels are below 3 and no leakages. I have been using this for last 10 days. Please suggest what could be the reason.

    • Hi TC, I am sorry to hear that you are feeling tired after using your machine. I would recommend that you speak with your doctor regarding your feelings of tiredness to see if they are able to view your data and determine what is going on for you.

      We wish you the best!

  7. If I even have one drink my sleep apnea is much much worse.
    I recently went on an 8 day vacation anf drank one drink per day.
    I have been home for 4 days and am still exhausted.
    At one point I was sleeping at 6000 or so feet above sea level and my sleep was over 10 times worse than normal.
    The CPAP machine does not work for me. I use an alarmed oximeter by bodimetrics which helps a little. The device allows me to see my O2 drops on my phone which I like.

  8. scott tuley Reply

    Hi all, I’m curious, is it ok to drink alcohol if you are using the CPAP machine for sleep apnea ? Admittedly, i have the condition, n have drunk alcohol quite a number of times since being on the machine, but i’ve heard mixed reviews, some say drink whatever you want, some say not atol ect, so can anybody please tell me thanx ?????

    • Hi Scott, alcohol and Sleep Apnea do not mix well. Drinking alcohol can actually increase apneic events and their duration, worsening your Sleep Apnea symptoms.

      If you plan to drink, it’s best to use an auto-titrating (APAP), this machine will adjust the pressure to what you need on a breath by breath basis. Also, it is recommended that you stop drinking at least two hours before you plan to sleep, and try sleeping on your side.

      Please see the link below to see what other CPAP users are saying on our cpaptalk.com site.

      http://www.cpaptalk.com/viewtopic/t46460/Will-drinking-alcohol-effect-my-cpap-treatment.html

      For further questions, or concerns, we can be reached at: 1-800-356-5221.

      Have a great day!

  9. When you get on a CPAP machine…
    you’re basically on a life support machine.

Write A Comment