Alcohol and Sleep Apnea. An image of a woman asleep wearing a cpap for Sleep Apnea.

Have you ever wondered how a nightcap could affect your sleep? A condition called sleep apnea, which is where sleeping is interrupted because of difficulties breathing, is said to be connected to alcohol.

This article explores the topic and the connection between alcohol and sleep apnea whilst providing essential support and advice for those who think they are suffering from it.

What’s more, we answer the age-old question – does alcohol make you sleep? And does alcohol cause breathing problems?

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterised by pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep. It’s estimated that 1 in 8 adults in the UK suffer from it, but a significant number of individuals may be undiagnosed and remain unaware of their condition.

There are several types of sleep apnea, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This occurs when the muscles in the throat relax excessively during sleep, causing a partial or complete blockage of the airway.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

– Loud snoring: Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, but snoring is a common sign, especially if it’s loud and persistent.
– Episodes of stopped breathing: These are often noticed by a bed partner. A person with sleep apnea may not be aware of these episodes.
– Gasping for air during sleep: This can awaken the person, disrupting their sleep.
– Morning headache: This can be due to low oxygen levels or fragmented sleep.
– Insomnia or restless sleep: Difficulty staying asleep can be a symptom.
– Excessive daytime sleepiness: People with sleep apnea often feel tired during the day because their sleep quality is affected.
– Irritability and difficulty concentrating: These can result from the lack of restful sleep.

As for what sleep apnea sounds like, it typically involves loud snoring followed by a period of silence when breathing stops or nearly stops. This is often followed by a loud snort or gasping sound as the person resumes breathing. The pattern can repeat many times throughout the night, leading to fragmented, unrefreshing sleep.

What Causes Sleep Apnea?

It typically affects more males than women, but the risk for women increases after menopause. What’s more, the risk of sleep apnea also increases (for everyone) with age.

Sleep apnea is commonly caused by obesity and age-related changes in muscle tone. This is because it occurs when the muscles in the throat relax too much during sleep, leading to airflow blockages.

As well as this, lifestyle choices like excessive alcohol consumption can contribute to the development of sleep apnea. Studies show that sleep apnea not only affects the quality of sleep but is directly related to various health conditions like cardiovascular issues, diabetes, hypertension and an increased risk of stroke.

Is There A Direct Link Between Alcohol And Sleep Apnea?

We know that there is a link between obesity and sleep apnea, but in recent years, studies have also been carried out regarding alcohol and sleep apnea.

While occasional or moderate drinking isn’t likely to pose any vast risks, chronic or excessive drinking can lead to disruptions in the sleep cycle. Research suggests that excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea.

For this reason, it’s advised that effective weight management techniques and responsible alcohol consumption are maintained in order to manage the condition of sleep apnea and its symptoms.

How Does Alcohol Affect Breathing?

Alcohol impacts the body in a variety of ways, and it can also affect individuals in different ways. This includes mental and physical, but we also know there are several effects of alcohol consumption on sleep.

Snoring and Alcohol

When alcohol is consumed, it acts as a muscle relaxant, which is why alcohol can cause sleep apnea. The alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat, which can also lead to increased snoring. Snoring not only impacts overall sleep quality, but it can contribute to the narrowing of airways, which makes it more prone to collapsing during sleep.

Alcohol and breathing

Another way that alcohol impacts sleep is because of its effects on the central nervous system. It suppresses the respiratory drive, which can lead to irregular or shallow breathing, as well as increase the likelihood of pauses in breathing during sleep.

Restless sleep

While some people believe that they sleep better after alcohol consumption, the reality is very different. The truth is alcohol causes fragmented sleep, and the symptoms mentioned above will also have an impact on overall sleep quality. This can impact how well-rested someone feels the next day.

Does Alcohol Increase Heart Rate While Sleeping?

Again, while some people feel more relaxed after drinking, studies also show that alcohol intake can elevate heart rate during sleep.

This can cause the body great stress and can put a lot of pressure on the breathing symptoms, leading to worse sleep apnea symptoms. It can also have an impact on how well-rested someone feels, which can again exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms.

The Impact Of Sleep Apnea On Daily Life

Sleep apnea is often regarded as a nightly nuisance, but the truth is that it can lead to several serious effects on day-to-day life.

One of the most common and most unwelcome is daytime fatigue, which can make routine tasks daunting and even dangerous. For example, driving becomes very risky when sleep has been disrupted, and individuals might not be as alert.

In addition to this, cognitive functions can be affected. Individuals with sleep disorders may struggle to focus and concentrate, and they may also suffer from memory lapses and general mental fog. Again, this can be annoying and affect performance and productivity, but it can also be dangerous when driving is included.

Without quality sleep, individuals can become more restless and may suffer from mood swings. This can have a direct impact on our relationships, self-worth and even jobs. For this reason, dealing with sleep apnea isn’t just about improving someone’s health and sleep but also about reclaiming the person they are.

How To Manage Alcohol Abuse And Sleep Apnea

If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol abuse and sleep apnea, there is help out there. It just requires a multifaceted approach that includes professional treatment, sleep clinics, and personalised strategies to help address both issues.

Lifestyle changes, weight management and healthier sleep habits also play a crucial role in managing the symptoms of sleep apnea. This includes going to bed and waking up at the same time, avoiding caffeine after a certain time, using essential oils and herbal teas to relax, and even putting down your phone and devices in the bedroom to help you get into a more restful sleep and slumber.

One thing’s for sure: recognising the connection between alcohol and sleep apnea is the first step. With this knowledge, you can make better-informed decisions about your life and take steps to treat both alcoholism and sleep apnea, improving your sleep quality and your health.

Find Support Today

If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol-related sleep issues, seeking professional help is key. It could make all the difference when it comes to effective intervention and lasting positive change.

If you have any questions or want some help, our friendly team is always available.