How Alcohol Affects Sleep Apnea and Snoring by Relaxing Airway Muscles

Drinking alcohol can make your snoring worse and increase your risk of sleep apnea. That's because of the effects that alcohol has on your body, particularly your airway. It changes the amount of time you sleep, how long it takes you to fall asleep, and how you breathe while you're sleeping.

This article will describe how alcohol affects your body while you're asleep. It also covers how alcohol can contribute to sleep apnea and snoring.

Three friends cheers with beer
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Alcohol and Sleep Apnea

Drinking alcohol relaxes the muscles in your airway. At night, this can cause obstructions in your upper airway, leading to sleep apnea.

During an episode of sleep apnea, your air passage narrows so much that it interrupts your natural breathing cycle and wakes you up. Sometimes, the air passage completely closes.

That said, you may fall back to sleep so fast that you won't even realize you were woken up.

There is an association between alcohol and sleep apnea even if you do not have a diagnosis. If you have alcohol use disorder, you might be at higher risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—especially if you already snore.

About 20% of Americans are estimated to have OSA, but only about 10% have been diagnosed.

You are more likely to have OSA if you:

  • Are middle-aged or older
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have anatomy that narrows your airway

Studies have shown that moderate to heavy alcohol use can cause episodes of obstructive sleep apnea in people who don't have the condition. 

For people with OSA, the effects of sleep apnea can become more serious when you drink alcohol because alcohol can increase the time between when you stop breathing and "wake up" to breathe again. In other words, drinking alcohol can make your OSA worse.

Worse OSA symptoms will make the drops in your blood's oxygen levels (desaturations) more severe. This can lead to increased carbon dioxide levels in your body (hypercapnia) which can be fatal if it's severe.

Alcohol and Snoring

When you drink alcohol, the effects on your airways can also lead to an increase in snoring.

That's partly because alcohol decreases your drive to breathe. It slows your breathing and makes the breaths you take shallow.

In addition, alcohol can relax the muscles of your throat, which can allow your upper airway to collapse. This can cause vibrating of the soft tissues, leading to snoring.

Should You Avoid Alcohol?

If you have sleep apnea, your provider will encourage you to avoid alcohol. At the very least, they will suggest that you do not consume alcohol a few hours before to bedtime to minimize the effects on your sleep overnight.

If you have sleep apnea, make sure that you use your treatment every night. Make sure that you set up your continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) under typical sleeping conditions.

If you drink alcohol daily but stop before your titration study, the pressure may not be enough to maintain your airway if you've had a drink. AutoCPAP machines that can adjust the pressures through the night may help to avoid this issue. 

Why You Need Enough Quality Sleep

Getting enough quality sleep at night is important to your overall health. You may want to consider the health benefits of sleep when you're considering whether to cut back or stop using alcohol.

Even though no one knows what the exact function of sleep is, research has shown that not getting enough of it can cause serious health problems.

Not getting enough quality sleep increases your risk of developing:

  • Depression
  • Poor metabolism
  • Heart disease
  • Insulin resistance (diabetes)

If you have a poor night's sleep, you'll feel tired the next day. Excessive daytime sleepiness caused by disturbances like breathing interruptions is associated with:

  • Impaired function in social situations (e.g., at school or work)
  • Trouble remembering things
  • Car accidents


Consuming alcohol can affect your sleep and might increase your risk of sleep apnea or snoring.

If you’re having sleep problems or symptoms of sleep apnea, talk to your provider. There are many steps you can take to try to prevent these conditions from getting worse, including reducing or stopping your alcohol consumption and sticking with your treatment plan if you have sleep apnea.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.