Studying the Link Between Alcohol and Sleep Apnea

alcohol cause sleep apnea

Alcohol has long been known as a common sleep aid. It is not uncommon to hear people drink a few glasses of wine or beer just before bedtime in order to help them go to sleep faster. But you might want to put an end to this habit, if you are among those who use alcohol to go to sleep. It can actually cause the reverse effect – alcohol can interfere with your sleeping pattern. In particular, alcohol and sleep apnea has long been studied by experts and sleep doctors. They have found more evidence that those who drink alcohol regularly (especially right before bedtime) are more likely to suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Does alcohol cause sleep apnea

alcohol and sleep apnea

Sure, experts say that alcohol can help you sleep faster. But sleep experts would like to emphasise something more important – quality of sleep. The latter might be compromised when you choose to drink alcohol to help you sleep.

Below are a few of the scientific evidence that shows how alcohol and sleep apnea might be linked.

1. Alcohol can disrupt your sleep rhythms.

The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour rhythm governed by the master biological clock within your body. This biological clock belongs to a region of your brain that coordinates all other activities of your body. It is responsible for regulating body processes, such as sleep, immunity, metabolism, cognitive functions, and mood.

When you consume alcohol, it disrupts the circadian rhythm. As a result, the biological clock in the human body is unable to synchronise all of the different functions. This circadian rhythm governs all of the main functions of the human body so when it is not functioning properly, you can expect that everything else is also disrupted.

2. It causes brain patterns to go haywire.

The human brain has two types of brain wave patterns – the alpha and delta activity. The alpha activity of the brain is represented by the state of your brain during quiet sleep or in a restful state. On the other hand, the delta activity is responsible for memory formation and learning.

When you consume alcohol, it disrupts the shifting of the brain wave patterns. Instead of switching from one brain pattern to another, alcohol switches both of them on. This disruption in brain activity can inhibit restorative sleep and lead to sleep apnea, among other complications.

3. Alcohol aggravates breathing during sleep.

Drinking alcohol makes you feel relaxed. However, this same effect can also work against you – especially among individuals diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. When your body relaxes, so do the muscles in your throat. When your throat muscles relax, it blocks your upper airways and leads to snoring. Snoring is one of the symptoms associated with sleep apnea.

A more serious risk associated with drinking and sleep apnea is that the arousal response of the body might be turned off. The arousal response is your body’s natural ability to wake up when there is a blockage in your airways. Drinking diminishes your body’s ability to activate this natural response, which means you won’t be able to wake up as easily whenever your breathing stops (or there is a blockage in your airways).

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, your best bet is to refrain from drinking alcohol. At the very least, if you cannot abstain from alcohol consumption, try to minimise your night-time drinking. Don’t drink alcohol a few hours before bed time or it could aggravate your sleep apnea and lead to more serious health problems.

alcohol sleep apnea
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Dr. Manish Shah tmj and sleep specialist

Dr. Manish Shah

  • BDS, MBBS, MMED (Sleep Medicine)
  • Masters in Sleep Medicine
  • General Medical Practitioner
  • General, Implant and Cosmetic Dentist
  • Certified in TMJ & Craniofacial Pain Management
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