Alcohol is known to increase your chances of snoring loudly if you drink before bed. This can cause problems achieving proper REM sleep, especially in those with sleep apnea.

Snoring can be an annoying situation for anyone to endure. If you share your room or bed with a roommate or partner that snores, that can translate to waking up if their snoring is too loud. But if you’re the offending individual, your snoring can prevent you from achieving proper restorative sleep that you need to function properly the next day.

Sometimes, our habits or behaviors can make snoring worse. Most people are aware that alcohol is labeled as a depressant, making people tired or sleepy if they consume too much of it. But can alcohol make your snoring worse? And more importantly, can it also trigger more serious sleep issues like apnea?

The answer is a bit mixed. Yes, alcohol can encourage snoring, but the effect is usually more pronounced in people that are already prone to snoring. This can include those with undiagnosed and diagnosed obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

In particular, a 2020 study noted that alcohol consumption close to bedtime can contribute to the lowest oxygen saturation (LSAT) for people at risk for snoring or OSA.

Because it’s a depressant, alcohol can relax your body’s muscles — including the ones in your throat. Specifically, your epiglottis, the flap of cartilage that acts as a gateway between your throat and mouth, can be affected by alcohol.

Normally, the epiglottis remains in an upright or open position when you’re breathing, allowing air to move freely from your nasal passages through your trachea and into your lungs. But when you swallow, it folds back to prevent food, drinks, or saliva from entering your trachea.

However, when alcohol enters the picture, even regular breathing can become difficult. Along with the epiglottis, your throat muscles may become more restricted thanks to the relaxation effects of drinking. Likewise, even your nasal passages might become swollen, further creating airflow restrictions.

To compensate, the body forces you to breathe in more deeply, creating vibrations across the skin in your esophagus that translate into telltale snoring.

Again, alcohol doesn’t solely contribute to snoring or sleep apnea, but it can make the symptoms more pronounced since the beverage has such a direct relaxing effect on your body’s muscles.

Although alcohol isn’t considered a core cause of sleep apnea or snoring, the substance is linked with causing more frequent and prolonged apnea events during a sleep cycle.

A 2020 study reviewed medical data from 279 patients diagnosed with OSA and further separated them into one control group that didn’t drink versus another group that did.

The study specifically focused on the Apnea-Hypopnea Index (AHI) and the Lowest Oxygen Saturation (LSAT) results. It found that participants who self-reported drinking close to bedtime experienced a mean difference of 3.98 more AHI events per hour as compared to the control group that abstained. Likewise, the group that consumed alcohol experienced lower LSAT figures than the control group.

Additionally, a 2021 study noted that alcohol did serve as an independent risk factor that could increase a person’s likelihood of experiencing OSA.

This study followed 793 OSA patients, separating them into people that no longer drank and those that currently did. While this study found similar results as the 2020 study, it also noted that gender could also increase a person’s chances of alcohol-related OSA. Specifically, the researchers found that alcohol consumption was higher in women, and those individuals had a higher AHI score.

Bottom line

The latest clinical research shows that drinking alcohol, especially close to bedtime, leads to a higher AHI rate (that means you stop breathing more times per hour) and lower oxygen saturation in your blood. This can cause not only snoring but also sleep apnea — ultimately lowering the overall quality of your sleep.

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But quantity and timing matter

It’s also important to note that the amount of alcohol that’s consumed, as well as how close to bedtime you drink it, will also influence whether or not you’ll snore or experience OSA events.

A 2008 study reviewed previously published medical data specifically focused on determining the relationship between the quantity of alcohol consumed versus how it impacted sleep quality.

It found that two to three drinks consumed before bedtime might initially promote sleep, but those supposed beneficial effects began to disappear after as little as three days of consistent drinking.

While the researchers admitted that further research was needed to fully understand the relationship between alcohol quantities and sleep quality, the study suggested exploring a patient’s relationship with alcohol can be helpful in not only developing a better sleep profile but in determining proper treatment — especially for patients that experience insomnia.

Meanwhile, the Sleep Foundation noted that even a small amount of alcohol can impact your sleep quality. Low amounts — quantified as less than two drinks for men and less than one for women — can decrease quality by 8.3%. Moderate drinking, two for men and one for women, can reduce quality by 24%. And high amounts, more than two drinks for men and more than one for women can decrease quality by 39.2%

The transgender community and alcohol recommendations

The sources quoted above don’t delineate between sex and gender and can be assumed to have entirely cisgender participants.

Fortunately, when it comes to alcohol recommendations, there’s a pretty small range. If you’re concerned about how alcohol affects your health, you should speak with your doctor. But for any gender, keeping it to one drink a day is usually considered healthy.

Learn more about how you fit into clinical trials and recommendations as a transgender or gender non-conforming person here.

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While it might be annoying for roommates and bedfellows, snoring isn’t always a symptom of an underlying problem. Often, it’s benign and simply means that a person’s throat muscles or nasal passages are very relaxed.

However, for chronic snorers or people that live with OSA and other sleep-related conditions, constant snoring is significant.

For the latter group, snoring is a sign that you’re not getting enough oxygen. Additionally, alcohol can prevent you from properly shifting through all of the necessary sleep stages — namely the REM stage.

Your REM (rapid eye movement) stage is where you not only dream but achieve the most restorative sleep to help your brain function properly the next day. In particular, this includes boosting mental concentration as well as managing your mood.

If you’re routinely not reaching the REM stage, problems can manifest throughout your body:

If you want to avoid excess snoring or sleep apnea episodes, one of the best things you can do is avoid drinking alcohol before bed.

Experts recommend ceasing all alcohol consumption about 4 hours before your intended bedtime. This ensures that the alcohol has more time to be synthesized and eliminated from the body so that the depressive effects are less likely to affect your nasal passages and throat muscles.

Alternatively, you can also consider using a mouthguard or nasal strips to prevent your air passages from constricting. Also, consider sleeping on your side to ensure that your airway remains open.

Getting support

Alcohol dependency can do more than interrupt your sleep — it can create widespread health problems. If you’re unhappy with your relationship with alcohol, consider looking into a treatment program.

Note that options can include therapy, in- and outpatient programs, and medical professionals that can work with you to either help you lower your consumption or cut alcohol out of your life entirely.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has an interactive database to help you find a therapist, doctor, or treatment center. Likewise, they have resources to help you navigate insurance if applicable.

You can also learn about more ways to reduce or quit drinking here.

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Snoring is noisy. And for many people, it’s benign — although perhaps annoying. But when alcohol enters the picture too close to bedtime, you increase your chances of snoring and disturbing others.

More importantly, if you already have a sleep disorder, alcohol can make symptoms worse, as well as prevent you from reaching the critical REM stage so that you achieve restorative sleep. Avoiding alcoholic drinks starting 4 hours before bedtime may lower your chances of snoring.

The bottom line is to be mindful of when you consume alcohol and consider reaching out to a professional for treatment if necessary.