There is a known link between alcohol consumption and poor sleep quality. For people with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), the risks are even higher.
While a ‘night cap’ before bed may assist you to fall asleep, it won’t actually help your sleep quality or quantity.
Alcohol consumption is known to affect your sleep quality, whether you have OSA or not. It can disrupt your natural sleep sequence and therefore the amount of time you spend in each stage of sleep. Consequently, it can cause you to wake through the night or earlier than you intended.
More importantly, alcohol relaxes your muscles, including those in your throat which you use to breathe. This causes slower, more shallow breathing, and may cause your airways to collapse altogether, which can stop your ability to breathe at all.
Alcohol also reduces arousal response, which is how your body knows to wake up when you can’t breathe because of a blocked airway. This means if you stop breathing, it could take longer to wake up, meaning you’ll be without oxygen for an extended period of time. Because less air is getting through to your lungs, it means that when you wake up, you’ll experience more fatigue, tiredness, and daytime drowsiness.
So, maybe rethink your Christmas drinks this year or that nightcap before bed. You will feel better for it. If you can abstain from alcohol altogether, great! If you can’t, then try to avoid drinking it in the hours leading up to your sleep time. Instead, use good sleep hygiene techniques to help transition to your sleep onset, without the added risk of making your sleep apnea worse.
Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Snoring and Sleep Apnea: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Burgos-Sanchez C, Jones NN, Avillion M, Gibson SJ, Patel JA, Neighbors J, Zaghi S, Camacho M. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2020 Dec;163(6):1078-1086. doi: 10.1177/0194599820931087. Epub 2020 Jun 9. PMID: 32513091.