Alcohol’s Impact on Sleep Apnea and Rest
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep. These breathing stoppages, called apneas, can occur hundreds of times per night due to obstruction of the upper airway. This disorder negatively impacts sleep quality and increases the risk for other health issues. But have you considered how drinking that nightly glass of wine or even having occasional drinks may affect your sleep apnea and well-being?
Alcohol is known to exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms and further fragment sleep. In this article, our Nashua, NH, sleep dentist, Dr. Stephen Ura, will discuss how alcohol negatively affects your sleep apnea symptoms and how to regulate intake so your disorder can be properly treated.
How Alcohol Affects Sleep Apnea
Relaxes Throat Muscles, Causing Airway Obstruction
Alcohol consumption before bed tends to relax the throat muscles, leading to more frequent breathing stoppages. Alcohol is a sedative that relaxes muscles, including the throat and airway muscles. This muscular relaxation can increase airway obstruction and apneas during sleep.
Disrupts Normal Sleep Cycles
Additionally, alcohol disrupts normal sleep cycle architecture. It reduces time spent in REM and restorative deep sleep while increasing periods of wakefulness. This sleep fragmentation worsens sleep apnea and daytime fatigue.
Alcohol also exacerbates snoring, which further obstructs breathing. Throat muscle relaxation from alcohol enhances the vibration of tissues in the mouth and throat during respiration, worsening snoring. The combination of relaxed throat muscles and snoring creates greater airway narrowing in those with sleep apnea.
Drinking Alcohol Before Bed Increases Apneas
Consuming alcohol in the hours before bedtime is particularly problematic for sleep apnea. Blood alcohol levels peak at night, leading to maximum airway muscle relaxation and breathing obstructions during sleep. A study conducted for the American Journal of Medicine demonstrates increased apnea events, oxygen desaturations, and reduced sleep quality when alcohol is consumed before bed compared to abstention from alcohol.
Exacerbation of Comorbid Conditions
Alcohol can worsen other conditions linked with sleep apnea like hypertension, arrhythmias, and metabolic disorders. This increases health risks and strains on the body’s cardiovascular and endocrine systems. Managing alcohol intake helps avoid exacerbating these co-occurring medical conditions.
Increased Risk of Obesity
Alcohol contains empty calories and decreases metabolism. Obesity is a major risk factor for developing sleep apnea. Drinking alcohol regularly can contribute to weight gain and higher obesity prevalence in apnea patients, further obstructing breathing.
Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing fluid loss and dehydration. Dehydration exacerbates breathing difficulties at night in those with sleep apnea by thickening mucus and further blocking the airway. Reducing alcohol helps prevent dehydration and associated breathing impairments during sleep.
Interaction with Sleep Medications and CPAP Therapy
Alcohol can interact negatively with certain prescription sleep apnea medications like sedatives and muscle relaxants. This leads to exacerbated side effects like extreme drowsiness and impaired breathing control. Alcohol can also impair the effectiveness of CPAP therapy for sleep apnea. Patients should consult their doctor about potential medication and CPAP interactions before drinking alcohol while undergoing sleep apnea treatment.
Recommendations for Those With Sleep Apnea
For people with sleep apnea, Dr. Ura provides the following recommendations that may help mitigate the negative effects of alcohol:
- Limit alcohol intake, especially in the evenings nearer to bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol for at least four hours before using any sleep apnea therapy at night.
- Discuss alcohol consumption with your sleep physician to understand the risks and get individualized guidance.
- Properly use any prescribed therapy for sleep apnea, like an oral appliance or CPAP machine, even if consuming alcohol occasionally.
Maintaining compliance with prescribed sleep apnea treatment helps counteract the effects alcohol may have on breathing events, oxygen levels, and sleep quality. With less alcohol intake and proper therapy use, sleep apnea can be effectively managed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does alcohol affect sleep apnea in women differently than men?
Yes, research indicates alcohol may impact women with sleep apnea differently. Women tend to be more susceptible to the sedative properties of alcohol resulting in greater respiratory depression and breathing events during sleep.
If I stop drinking alcohol, will my sleep apnea improve?
Eliminating alcohol may help reduce sleep apnea severity for some individuals. However, other factors like anatomy and body weight are larger contributors. Stopping alcohol can support proper sleep apnea management though.
Does the type of alcoholic drink affect sleep apnea differently?
There’s little evidence that suggests one particular type of alcoholic beverage is better or worse for sleep apnea. The primary factor that affects sleep apnea is the alcohol content itself, rather than the specific drink type. For example, the effects of alcohol on sleep apnea will likely be similar to consuming a glass of red wine versus a mixed drink with equivalent alcohol content.
Moderation is key for any alcoholic beverage when you have sleep apnea. The best approach is consulting your physician about your alcohol tolerance and limiting intake appropriately regardless of whether you prefer beer, wine, liquor, or other alcoholic drinks.
Is occasional mild drinking okay if I have mild sleep apnea?
Those with very mild sleep apnea may be able to tolerate occasional light drinking with minimal effects. However, it’s best to consult your physician for individualized guidance based on the severity of your apnea and overall health.
Take Control of Your Sleep Apnea
If you’re struggling with the effects of sleep apnea and alcohol, there are solutions available to help get your sleep back on track. Contact the Center for Dental Sleep Health today at (603) 237-1124 to regain the restful sleep you deserve with proven oral appliance treatment. Don’t let sleep apnea and alcohol use continue to hamper your nights. Take control and improve your sleep and health.
You can also request more information by filling out our online contact form, and a staff member will get back to you shortly. The Center for Dental Sleep Health welcomes new and returning patients in Nashua and surrounding areas such as Hudson, Merrimack, and Milford, NH.