Alcohol is deeply ingrained into modern culture. It sees frequent use in scenarios where the person wants to loosen up and relieve all the stress and anxiety they suffer as a consequence of their working life and other pressures they have to deal with. They come home after a hard day’s work, and all they want to do is enjoy their free time to the fullest. This stress also has a nasty habit of ruining your ability to get healthy sleep, and as a result, alcohol is one of the most common improvised sleeping aids around the world.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy or reliable one. Despite its popularity, alcohol is one of the worst things you could consume before bed, as it negatively affects almost everything about sleep. In this article, we will be focusing on snoring, as snoring can also negatively impact the sleep schedule of people in your home, and because it’s connected to one of the most common sleep disorders in the world. Together we will examine everything you need to know about alcohol’s connection to snoring, in the hopes that the knowledge will help some of you correct some lifestyle mistakes or help loved ones do the same. Let’s get into it.
How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
Those who drink before bed typically do it for one main reason (outside of late-night socializing): reduced sleep onset latency. Being able to fall asleep faster is a very tempting prospect, especially for people who are potentially dealing with a sleep disorder that drastically increases their sleep onset latency. And in the first week or so, it may seem oddly effective. Even after two or three drinks, you might wake up feeling rested and energized, but that positive feeling won’t last much longer. As time goes on, you’re going to have to imbibe more and more alcohol to get the same initial benefits, and as it develops into an addiction, the adverse effects become much more pronounced.
To look at alcohol’s effect on sleep, you must understand the circadian rhythm we all live by. This rhythm exists thanks to a figurative “master clock” in our brain stem, that uses photoreceptors to detect natural sunlight in our surroundings. That way, it can tell the time of day, and instruct the rest of our body to function a certain way. It governs when melatonin (the hormone of sleep) is produced, when we feel hungry, how energized we are, etc. However, it’s not difficult to disrupt this rhythm (typically through bad lifestyle habits such as overexposure to blue light or an unhealthy diet), and doing so can cause serious health problems for you in the future, especially if alcohol is responsible. Here’s a brief list of problems that can arise from drinking too much before bedtime:
- A leaky gut syndrome is a very scary condition that can come out of a disrupted circadian rhythm. Our gut’s functions are governed by the master clock, and if you consume a lot of alcohol and throw off your rhythm, this condition can quickly develop. Unfortunately, we don’t know everything there is to know about leaky gut syndrome yet, except that it causes toxins and other unwanted substances to enter your bloodstream directly. You can probably imagine how disastrous this can be.
- Depression is, unfortunately, a common condition and one that always seems to come hand-in-hand with alcohol abuse. What starts with a shot or two before bed can spiral down into serious mental health issues that need months (if not years) of therapy to resolve. Not to mention how depression itself can cause a disrupted circadian rhythm and encourage other self-destructive habits.
- Sleep-wake cycle disruption is, unsurprisingly, a common result of alcohol abuse. You see, our ability to fall asleep and wake up at the right times stems from a collection of sleep-related hormones whose production causes varying states of drowsiness or alertness. Melatonin is the main hormone in charge of putting us to sleep, and its production is reduced by around 20% if you drink even a moderate amount before bedtime. Additionally, adenosine production can get increased, which can create scenarios where you sleep during times when you should be awake. These effects combine to throw off your sleep schedule entirely.
- Compromised liver function is another potential consequence of regular and frequent alcohol use. The liver is another organ whose functioning is governed by our circadian rhythm, and the disruption of that rhythm can lead to severe issues like liver toxicity or various illnesses.
A Brief Overview of Snoring
Snoring isn’t an uncommon part of sleep for most adults, but it can create and point towards some nasty problems. It occurs when your breathing muscles relax to the point of vibrating while you breathe, which creates that hoarse, unpleasant sound. For couples, snoring can be a huge concern as the person snoring can keep their partner awake for potentially hours, and throw off their sleep schedule completely, which can create tension between the two people. Men are more prone to snoring, as are heavier individuals.
Snoring tends to increase in frequency and intensity as the person grows older, as aging naturally relaxes the breathing muscles. Your tongue falls back, and the walls of your throat vibrate as you inhale (and exhale, but to a lesser extent). Snoring can often be traced back to abnormalities in the structure of the nose and throat. These include enlarged tonsils or adenoids, deviated nasal septum or polyps. Additionally, problems like respiratory infection or allergies can heavily contribute to snoring, and you have to deal with the underlying causes to control your noise levels at night.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Snoring is linked to a variety of problematic situations and conditions that can seriously hamper your daily productivity and energy levels. If the throat closes entirely, the person goes through what is known as a mild episode of apnea. It can cause them to require medical attention in bad cases, but it doesn’t stop there. Snoring can be a big indicating factor of sleep apnea, a much more serious condition that ultimately has no cure. Those affected typically receive long-term therapy in the form of positive air pressure (PAP) treatment, which involves a hefty investment in home treatment equipment.
Usually, snoring is noticed by people in the snorer’s vicinity. However, there are ways you can deduce that you might be a noisy sleeper, and we have provided a useful list of symptoms to consult. It goes as follows:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness, usually as a result of the fragmented sleep that often comes with snoring
- Waking up with intense headaches
- Noticeable weight gain in recent months
- Waking up without feeling rested
- Getting up in the middle of the night, typically confused and disoriented
- Pauses during breathing while asleep (usually spotted by someone else, but waking up gasping is a surefire way to tell)
- Being unable to remember crucial things or concentrate on crucial tasks
Snoring is typically dealt with through a combination of lifestyle changes and direct intervention, depending on the intensity and the patient’s medical history. If deemed absolutely necessary, surgical interventions will take place, although this is typically not warranted. Should the patient be diagnosed with sleep apnea, PAP machines will be used to provide adequate treatment, even at home.
When it comes to lifestyle changes, the main thing to note is that snoring is more common while sleeping on one’s back. Sleep position training is often recommended to help transition the patient into a side sleeping routine. Make sure to have a thorough, detailed conversation with your doctor about the pros and cons of every treatment option available to you, especially if you’re running on a very tight budget.
How Alcohol Affects Snoring
With all the prerequisite information taken care of, we can dive into the meat of the topic. Alcohol serves as a sedative, which leads people to use it as an improvised sleeping aid when they struggle to doze off. However, it also relaxes your jaw and throat muscles considerably, which can cause your tongue to fall into your throat and directly lead to intense, loud snoring. If your partner or a family member don’t wake you up, chances are that your brain will.
You see, alcohol abuse before bed can create episodes of apnea, even if you don’t otherwise have the associated sleep disorder. When this happens, your breathing stops for a moment, and your brain responds to this crisis by startling you out of sleep, usually with a loud gasp. Waking up this way even once can result in fragmented sleep, an unpleasant scenario that leaves you without much-needed time in REM sleep. Since REM sleep is where your cognitive abilities are sharpened, alcohol can cause you to feel very disoriented and unfocused the following day, simply by waking you up once or twice through snoring.
Alcohol also has a nasty habit of dehydrating you (and your mouth). When the tissues in your mouth and throat are dry, the vibrations rattle far louder than usual. This makes it far more likely that you (or someone in your vicinity) will wake up in the middle of the night. If you share your bed, that could result in at least a few angry glares and complaints.
How to Deal With Snoring
An article about snoring wouldn’t be complete without a section listing solutions and tips for those of you that have to deal with snoring regularly. From an annoyance to a serious medical concern, snoring affects enough people (even if indirectly) that we feel it’s necessary to spread awareness about notable ways you can deal with this situation. Here’s a brief list to help you cope:
- As should be pretty obvious by now, avoiding alcohol before bed at all costs is an effective way to reduce the intensity and frequency of your snoring. It most likely won’t remove the issue entirely, however. Keep in mind that you can still enjoy a glass or two in the afternoon, as long as your last drink is more than four hours away from your scheduled bedtime. Drink responsibly.
- Limit your alcohol consumption in general — two glasses per day for men, one for women. Women metabolize alcohol much faster and are thus especially susceptible to its effects.
- Eat a meal while you enjoy your drinks, and drink a glass of water or two for good measure. These will help you shake off the effects of alcohol faster, and severely reduce the chances of going through an intense snoring session, as long as you don’t drink directly before bed.
- Seek out a mouthpiece that prevents snoring. These tend to work by stopping your tongue from falling back in the first place, leaving your airways more open for calm, peaceful breathing.
- If possible, try to sleep on your side at all times. While you obviously can’t fully control your position throughout the night, make it a point to lie on your side again if you wake up during the night.
- If you share your bed with a partner, consider buying them a set of earplugs or a similar noise reduction gadget. It’s a nice gesture, especially if you have a habit of waking them up. Fortunately, you can get quality earplugs for around $20 or less, so it’s not a huge investment.
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Michael is a professional writer based in Boston and someone who has always been fascinated with the mysteries of sleep. When he’s not reading about new sleep studies and working on our news section, you can find him playing video games or visiting local comic book stores.