A nightcap - Alcohol and Apnoeas


A nightcap helps you sleep, right?

Well, yes but...

During my initial explorations with the flow-meter, I thought that I'd test my set-up by trying to INCREASE my AHI using a well known substance that makes sleep apnoea worse...


A sleep experiment where I get to have a drink or three... it's tough, but I'll do it for science. 

Pretty much as it does with people, alcohol relaxes the muscles in the airways making them more prone to flopping around all over the place and causing an obstruction.



When it comes to the rest of the practices, gadgets, fads and ideas that I'll be exploring I'll be testing them for 5 days in a row each. To be honest I'm not going to do that with alcohol as I can't afford a week of waking up sluggish and groggy. 

So, what I did was to take 5 non-consecutive days instead. I consumed alcohol and recorded my AHI on those nights along with my 5 day no-alcohol mean AHI for comparison (see previous blog).


Pretty conclusive.

Alcohol increased the number of times that I either stopped breathing or breathed so little that it was ineffective.  

Not only that, but it did it in quite a startling way. It took my 5 day mean AHI from 6.95 to 12.2.(max 15.3) To get that into perspective, that's nearly double the number of times PER HOUR that I had breathing problems.

As discussed on the post "My Baseline AHI", I went from just scraping in with a diagnosis of "Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnoea" to being firmly in the category!


Surely there was something positive to salvage from this bad news?

Yes. Annecdotally, in my mind alcohol helped me to get to sleep and I found that the Zeo data backed that up. Again, using a 5 day mean value, my time to sleep onset (or Zeo's "Time to Z") went from 28 minutes without alcohol down to 9 with alcohol.

That seemed to be the only significant difference in the data, so I haven't bothered to clutter the page with other measurements.

It may help you to get to sleep, but the chances are that the sleep will not be good sleep. The chances are that it will be disturbed sleep, the chances of having to go to the bathroom will increase, as will the likelihood of dehydration-related headaches and fragmented sleep towards the morning.

Not only would I wake up feeling slow and mildly hungover, but I'd be tired from being woken up up to 15 times an hour through apnoeas.

Don't misunderstand me, this isn't one of those damning posts about alcohol, but it is something to bear in mind if you already suffer with sleep apnoea, and it may even cause mild apnoea in people who don't have it.

Will I continue to drink alcohol? Of course, and that's the dilemma. So I guess the answer is "everything in moderation".


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Reader Comments (11)

Great post again!

If not drinking alcohol is not a solution, then perhaps one should pop the bottle straight after waking up. Stop drinking around 2pm and by the time you go to sleep, its negative effects have hopefully worn off ;) It might be quiet in the pub though...

They say those shots of O2 help with the hangover effect. Perhaps worth another experiment ;)

On a more serious note, if you wanted to try and replicate the 'good' effect of alcohol, eg. a lower Time to Z / SOL, you can try and compare Valerian vs Meditation.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames @ Intus / Zeo UK

Hi James,

Thanks for commenting, and the early morning pub advice. Can you write me a note to get me out of work :-)

Valerian is one of the things that I am planning to try out in a couple of weeks.
This week is going to be a week of 5-HTP.

Thanks again.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHypnagogia

Fascinating blogs here - Excellent Work! Unfortunately so many people have become well trained in their daily nightcap to help them nod off, that it's hard convincing them to refrain, but perhaps reading blogs like this will help :) Would be great if you could test Tart Cherry Juice at a later date as the internet's full of this news at the moment.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKath Hope

Hi Kath,

Thank you :-)

I'll take a look a the Cherry Juice and add it to the list.

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHypnagogia


I understand in Finland, they are doing vitamin D3 studies and its positive impact on sleep apnea. The theory is that there are vitamin D receptors in the brain that affect the muscles in the throat. There is a doctor here in the states that believes in this hypothesis and is doing studies using the zeo to measure the response. So far the response has been as predicted particularly with high doses of D3 (8000 - 10000 IUs).

I plan to test this hypothesis on stopping taking D3; understanding that it m.ay take a couple of weeks to see an affect

December 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElguava

Hi Elguava,

That's really interesting as I've just been chatting with someone about adding D3 to 5-HTP to see if it can improve on the results that I got here I suspect that a similar mechanism, so it would be great to build upon it.

Alongside the Zeo, I plan to measure AHI.

I'm thinking of using 25ug / 1000 IU

It'd be good to hear how you get on with your experiment. Are you a Zeo user?

December 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterHypnagogia Blog

Yes, I am a Zeo user. I have an older model CPAP machine but I never used it (< 30 hours) because of various issues. My first night of zeo use was Dec 25th. My first task is to test the effectiveness of the aveo tsd (sleep apnea tongue device).
With regards to vit D see site:

Hypothesis in a nutshell by VitaminDWiki

Body has to be paralyzed the right amount to heal during sleep: not too much, and not too little
Vitamin D receptors exist in the portion of the brain (Periaquiductal grey) which deals with sleep paralysis
Vitamin D both regulates the paralysis mechanism and the healing mechanisms
Recommends vitamin D level between 60 and 80 nanograms

December 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElguava

Hello Hypnagog,

also check out the following site:

Kath Hope input is noteworthy as well; tart cherries have been documented to enhance melatonin production. I actually supplemented with tart cherries from "Brownwood Acres Foods" for a while for sleep issues . The site referenced above comments on Vit D and melatonin.

There's plenty of work to do thank god for the Zeo.

December 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElguava

Thanks Elguava,

Did you take part in the Zeo Vitamin D3 challenge?

March 7, 2012 | Registered CommenterHypnagogia Blog

I realize the last comment for this topic was several months ago, but thought I'd try chiming in anyway, with a comment that perhaps if one isn't inclined to do one's imbibing in the morning to avoid ill effect on one's sleep, then perhaps experimenting with simply having that drink early in the evening would be in order. The question, of course, is, how early is early enough? As an apnea sufferer who enjoys hoisting a pint or two (but never more) after work, this is an issue that is almost as crucial as sleep itself... ;-)
General comment: you've put together a really useful site, and you are covering exactly the topics of interest to me. Thank you very much!

October 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBlake Cooper

That is a good question, I guess it depends on the number of units imbibed and how quickly one's constitution processes the alcohol.

It'd be interesting to carry out a test of say 4 units of alcohol a night then breathalyse myself at bedtime to see how much alcohol remains, then see how that residual alcohol affects the AHI. Then this could be repeated for imbibing the alcohol at different times of the evening.

I'm currently a CPAP user now, so I guess that I could have a go at this but see how it affects the residual AHI.

Thanks for your comments about my blog, it's good to know that it's proving interesting to others.

How do you manage your apnoea? Do you notice a difference from a night of a few drinks to that of a night without?

November 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterHypnagogia Blog

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