Alcohol Makes Sleep Apnea WORSE!

This article teaches you the issues that alcohol presents to people with obstructive sleep apnea. You’ll go over what alcohol does to your body. Then, you will review some factors that relate to sleep apnea.

Alcohol is seen as an “initiation” of sorts in our present culture. The majority of high school students just CANNOT WAIT to turn 21. Drinking is the “cool” thing to do at college parties. However, alcohol is not what its cracked up to be. That behavior early in our adult lives transcends into life-long habits, potentially causing multiple health issues!

benefits of drinking less chart

What Alcohol Does to Your Body

While alcohol makes us feel good in the short term, the long term effects are not so nice:

  • Shrinking brain: long term drinking leads to your brain’s frontal lobes shrinking.
  • Changes in behavior: daily drinking can cause mood swings and a decrease in clear decision-making.
  • Alcohol dependence: your body can become physically dependent on alcohol after long-term use.
  • Heart damage: chronic drinking is a leading cause of heart disease.
    • Cardiomyopathy (stretching and drooping of heart muscle)
    • Irregular heart beat
    • Stroke
    • High blood pressure
  • Lung infections: heavy drinkers have difficulty fending off viruses and bacteria.
  • Liver damage: alcohol causes the liver to struggle doing its job of removing harmful chemicals from your body.
    • Fatty liver
    • Alcoholic hepatitis
    • Fibrosis
    • Cirrhosis
  • Chronic fatigue: alcoholism leads to anemia, therefore causing daily fatigue.
  • Intestinal damage: heavy drinking can damage your intestines, as a result, leading to painful digestive issues.
  • Malnutrition: alcohol prevents your body from absorbing vitamins and minerals properly.
  • Diabetes complications: excessive drinking leads to your body being unable to maintain blood sugars.
  • Cancer: multiple forms of cancer have direct cause from alcohol abuse.
    • Head and neck cancer
    • Esophageal cancer
    • Liver cancer
    • Breast cancer
    • Colo-rectal cancer

Factors Related to Sleep Apnea

The main theme here, is that alcohol makes sleep apnea worse!

“OSA is associated with impaired performance on a driving simulator as well as with an increased rate of motor vehicle crashes in the absence of alcohol consumption (9,10). Among patients with severe OSA, alcohol consumption at a rate of two or more drinks per day is associated with a fivefold increased risk for fatigue-related traffic crashes compared with OSA patients who consume little or no alcohol (15). In addition, the combination of alcohol, OSA, and snoring increases a person’s risk for heart attack, arrhythmia, stroke, and sudden death (16).” (Alcohol Alert No. 48)

Low Oxygen Intake

Studies show that a person that does not have sleep apnea can show signs of the sleep disorder after a night of drinking. Alcohol causes your muscles to relax, therefore causing your “apnea’s” to last that much longer. The arousal response that your body has will not be as responsive, similarly to how your reaction-time is delayed.

The increase of your OSA symptoms causes the drops in your blood’s oxygen levels become more severe. Consequently, the issue leads to increased carbon dioxide levels in your body. In severe cases too much CO2 in your body can be fatal.

Heart Issues

Alcohol increases the risk of heart-related issues, as does sleep apnea.

Heart related issues associated with alcohol abuse:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Decreased blood flow
  • Heart disease
  • Heart failure

heart issues and sleep apnea

Due to sleep apnea your blood pressure increases at night to keep oxygen flowing to your heart and brain. Therefore, you have high blood pressure during sleep. Normally blood pressure decreases 10-20% during sleep. However, with sleep apnea you will show an increase in blood pressure of 10-20% instead.

The increased blood pressure that you experience during sleep will eventually occur during all hours of the day. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, heart attack. So, in a “guilty by association” term, sleep apnea affects heart disease.

Precautions to Those of You With OSA

The best advice I can give you is to avoid alcohol altogether! However, you are an adult and can make your own decisions. Instead, I advise you to avoid drinking at least 3 hours prior to bedtime. Lastly, use your sleep apnea treatment every night.

*Important Note

CPAP users that did not get tested under “normal” sleeping conditions should get re-tested. If you are a frequent alcoholic beverage drinker, you need to get a sleep test done under those circumstances. Most likely, you did not have any alcohol prior to your sleep test. Therefore, the pressure from your CPAP machine will be incorrect for nights that you drink. Auto-machines (APAP) that can adjust the pressure throughout the night may avoid this issue.


  • “Alcohol and Sleep – Alcohol Alert No. 41-1998.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000,
  • CanSleep Blogger. “Sleep Apnea and Heart Related Issues.”, jpeg, 16 Sep. 2016,
  • “Benefits of Drinking Less Chart.”, jpeg, 2018,
  • Peters, Brandon. “Discover the Consequences of Mixing Alcohol and Sleep Apnea.”, Verywell Health, 3 Apr. 2017,
  • Pietrangelo, Ann, and Kimberly Holland. “23 Effects of Alcohol on Your Body.”, Healthline Media, 2017,
  • True Remedies. “How to Maintain a Healthy Heart.”, jpeg, 12 Jul. 2018, //

About the Author


Jason Smith is recognized by the board of polysomnographic technologists (BRPT) as a registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) since 2003. He is also Director of Clinical Operations for 6 multi-state sleep diagnostic facilities including the nation’s largest 20 bed sleep disorder testing center. Jason has also been a Co-Author with two research publications featured in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.