The Link Between Alcohol and Sleep Apnea

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There is a strong link between excessive consumption of alcohol and sleep apnea. Heavy drinking is associated with obstructive sleep apnea, potentially affecting nightly breathing patterns. Alcohol can intensify snoring and disrupt normal breathing, as it tends to slow down respiration and reduce the depth of breath. This happens as the muscles in the throat relax, sometimes causing the airway to narrow or even collapse.

For individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder, drinking in the evening can further relax the neck and throat muscles, increasing the likelihood of airway collapse and worsening sleep apnea, leading to restless nights.

Even among those without alcohol use disorder, moderate or heavy drinking can trigger episodes of sleep apnea. After just one night of drinking, the chances of snoring or experiencing frequent nighttime awakenings significantly increase.

For individuals already dealing with sleep apnea, consuming alcohol can exacerbate the condition on nights when alcohol is consumed, leaving them feeling exceptionally fatigued in the morning. Poor sleep due to obstructive sleep apnea can lead to a dramatic drop in blood oxygen levels and a dangerous elevation in carbon dioxide levels in the body as drinking and sleep apnea collide.

Read on to learn more about the following issues:

  • Does alcohol affect sleep apnea?
  • How to avoid sleep apnea alcohol death.
  • Alcohol and snoring: is there a link?
  • How to connect with alcohol addiction treatment in Ohio.

Can Alcohol Cause Sleep Apnea?

Alcohol sleep apnea may co-occur because consuming alcohol has the effect of relaxing muscles in the airway, potentially leading to upper airway obstructions during sleep, a condition known as sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a sleep condition that is characterized by repetitive interruptions in breathing while asleep, often accompanied by loud snoring and occasional choking, gasping, or snorting sounds. It can result in daytime drowsiness and decreased energy levels.

Sleep apnea has three sub-types:

  1. OSA (obstructive sleep apnea): The most prevalent form, OSA manifests when soft tissues in the throat collapse during sleep, obstructing the airway. This causes the air passage to narrow or close, disrupting the breathing cycle and prompting awakenings. The link between alcoholism and sleep apnea usually involves OSA.
  2. Central sleep apnea: In central sleep apnea, the brain is unable to send the appropriate signals to muscles responsible for breathing.
  3. Complex sleep apnea: Also referred to as treatment-emergent sleep apnea, this form occurs when individuals with OSA develop central sleep apnea as a result of CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) treatment.

Even individuals without pre-existing OSA may experience sleep apnea symptoms after alcohol consumption. Research indicates that moderate or heavy use of alcohol can induce episodes of OSA in individuals who do not typically have the disorder. Beyond this, studies confirm that individuals with alcohol use disorder, especially those who already snore, are at increased risk of developing OSA.

Alcohol’s impact on obstructive sleep apnea can be particularly concerning. Beyond relaxing the airway muscles, alcohol can prolong the duration between cessation of breathing and resumption of normal breathing. It can also lead to nasal congestion, further impeding nasal breathing.

In essence, alcohol intake can inflame OSA, intensifying the severity of blood oxygen level drops (desaturations). This, in turn, can elevate carbon dioxide levels in the body (hypercapnia). This can be life-threatening if it becomes severe.

Additionally, alcohol can worsen central sleep apnea. Alcohol slows down the CNS and can result in more frequent episodes of apnea. In individuals with central sleep apnea, the brain’s automatic signals to respiratory muscles to breathe are disrupted, and alcohol further amplifies this problem by reducing brain activity and increasing the frequency of breathing pauses.

image representing signs of drinking and sleep apnea

How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

In addition to the way sleep apnea and alcohol are interlinked, alcohol can have significant impacts on the quality and structure of sleep independently. While it may initially appear to help people fall asleep faster, the overall effects on sleep architecture can be detrimental. Here’s how alcohol affects sleep:

Disruption of sleep stages

Alcohol disrupts the natural progression of sleep stages. It tends to suppress REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the stage associated with vivid dreams, learning, and memory consolidation. This means that individuals who consume alcohol before bed are likely to experience less REM sleep, which can affect cognitive function and emotional regulation.

Fragmented sleep

Alcohol can lead to more fragmented sleep, with frequent awakenings during the night. Even if individuals do not fully wake up, these interruptions can prevent them from experiencing deep, restorative sleep.

Increased snoring and sleep apnea

Alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat and airway, increasing the likelihood of snoring and airway obstruction during sleep. This can worsen or trigger sleep apnea, a condition characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep.


Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it can increase urine production. This can lead to dehydration during the night, which may prompt individuals to wake up to use the bathroom.

Impaired sleep quality

While alcohol may help people fall asleep more quickly, it often results in poorer sleep quality overall. Sleep following alcohol consumption tends to be less restful and rejuvenating, leading to feelings of fatigue and grogginess upon waking.

Increased arousal

Alcohol can trigger more frequent awakenings during the second half of the night as the body metabolizes the alcohol. This can lead to a sense of restlessness and difficulty returning to sleep.

Changes in sleep architecture

Alcohol can alter the normal sleep cycle, leading to a disrupted pattern of sleep stages. This can impair memory consolidation, emotional processing, and cognitive function.

Worsened sleep disorders

For individuals with pre-existing sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, alcohol can worsen these conditions, making sleep problems even more challenging.

The effects of alcohol on sleep can vary from person to person. While some people may be more sensitive to alcohol’s disruptive effects on sleep, others may experience fewer disturbances. However, as a general rule, using alcohol as a sleep aid is not recommended. Establishing healthy sleep habits, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and creating a comfortable sleep environment, is a much more effective approach to achieving restorative sleep.

Statistics: How Alcohol Affects Sleep

  • While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it can disrupt your sleep cycle. Up to 30% of U.S. adults experience insomnia due to alcohol’s impact on sleep, leading to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as achieving restorative sleep.
  • Alcohol increases the likelihood of breathing-associated sleep events like snoring or oxygen desaturation, especially in those with pre-existing issues. It can inflame conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, causing interruptions in breathing during sleep and inducing alcohol snoring.
  • Drinking alcohol 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime can lead to peak alcohol levels in the breath and blood around bedtime. This timing can further intensify its adverse impact on sleep.
  • The impact of alcohol on sleep becomes more pronounced with age. Studies conducted on over-50s show that heavy drinkers in this age group are 64% more likely to develop insomnia. Beyond this, occasional binge drinkers in this demographic are 35% more prone to insomnia than those who abstain from alcohol altogether.
  • Even modest alcohol consumption can have a noticeable impact on the quality of your sleep. Research reveals that consuming less than two drinks for men or just one drink for women resulted in a 9% reduction in sleep quality. These effects become more pronounced as alcohol intake increases. Consuming two alcoholic drinks led to a more substantial 23% decline in sleep quality. Exceeding this level of alcohol consumption resulted in a 39% decrease in sleep quality.


Can drinking alcohol cause sleep apnea?

Drinking alcohol alone is not a direct cause of sleep apnea, but it may contribute to the condition indirectly. Alcohol relaxes the muscles in the throat and airway, increasing the likelihood of airway obstruction during sleep, which can exacerbate sleep apnea in individuals already at risk.

Does drinking make sleep apnea worse?

Yes, alcohol consumption can make sleep apnea worse. It relaxes the muscles in the airway, potentially increasing the frequency and severity of breathing interruptions during sleep for individuals with sleep apnea. It is advisable for those with sleep apnea to limit or avoid alcohol before bedtime.

Does alcohol make you snore?

Yes, alcohol can make a person snore more loudly or frequently. It relaxes the throat muscles, increasing the likelihood of snoring, especially when consumed before sleep. This snoring can sometimes be associated with sleep-disordered breathing conditions like sleep apnea.

A woman sits looking out at a sunset to represent alcohol sleep apnea treatment in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Ohio Recovery Centers

If you have developed an addiction to alcohol, you are not alone and it is possible to initiate a full recovery – we can help you achieve this at Ohio Recovery Centers in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Scientific research indicates that intensive outpatient treatment can deliver equally effective outcomes as residential rehab for many addictions. Choose the most flexible, affordable pathway to recovery by engaging with our outpatient or intensive outpatient program for alcohol addiction.

All Ohio Recovery Centers treatment programs blend behavioral, pharmacological, and holistic treatments for a science-backed and whole-body approach to recovery from alcohol addiction. All treatment programs also include a robust aftercare component due to the relapsing nature of addiction.

Call 877-679-2132 today for immediate assistance.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn