Alcohol and Snoring: Why Do I Snore When I Drink?

Kicking back at the end of the day and relaxing with a beer (or a glass of wine or mixed drink, no judgement here) is a time-honored tradition for the working class. Was it Oscar Wilde who said that “work is the curse of the drinking class?” No strangers to a nightcap here and there, but there’s one potential side effect that we’re particularly interested in — alcohol and snoring. Is there a relationship between alcohol and snoring or is it just a bedtime story that you snore more when you drink? Let’s find the answer to the question: does alcohol make you snore?

Remember when vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin referred to the mythical Joe Six-pack in a 2008 debate? It prompted a discussion in the media about how common America’s propensity to wind down in the evening with alcohol is, and was a successful attempt to relate to a widespread audience — people identified as “Joe Six-pack.” It’s not at all uncommon to drink in the evening. According to a study in 2014, 30 percent of all Americans drink at least one alcoholic drink each day, if not more, and most of us do that after work. But does alcohol make you snore?

Snoring When Drunk (or Buzzed) — What’s Really Happening?

While alcohol may assist you in falling asleep, it isn’t the best option for slowing down in the evening. It’s classified as a Central Nervous System depressant, which means that it slows down brain function and neural activity. Yes, that does help you fall asleep faster, but the quality of your sleep is negatively affected and you’re more likely to snore because of the excessive relaxation in your neck and throat muscles. Yes, alcohol and snoring go hand in hand.

Since alcohol is a depressant, the symptoms of which (among other things) cause you to physically relax as you are lowering neurotransmitter levels, it helps you feel both drowsier and less anxious. Some of that is good in moderation, but a major downside is that when you drink, the physical relaxation means your snoring increases.

One of the main causes of snoring is obstruction of your breathing passages while you sleep — overly-relaxed muscles allow excess tissue and fat in or around your neck to press against your air passages and cause the esophageal tissues to vibrate when you breathe. When you sleep on your back, this is at its worst, as the throat muscles can easily collapse directly against your airway. When the tissues in your neck vibrate, it is perceived as snoring — but not only that, you breathe less fresh air into your lungs as your inspiratory resistance (how much you resist airflow intake) increases.

Does alcohol make you snore by excessively relaxing your throat muscles? Yes indeed.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Alcohol

It has also been shown that folks with obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night, is exacerbated due to the relationship between alcohol and snoring. For OSA patients, use of alcohol only worsens the condition, so it is probably best to avoid drinking alcohol in the evenings altogether, as OSA’s side long-term side effects can be quite severe — ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes. Add that to the list of non-sleep-related issues stemming from alcohol use… it doesn’t look good!

REM Sleep and Alcohol

It’s not just snoring when drunk that should make you rethink your nightly tipple: the negative effect on your overall quality of sleep is notable. Your body requires an adequate amount of REM sleep each night for you to function optimally. It’s been found that REM sleep has a correlation with memory consolidation, and separately, that alcohol, while helping you become sleepy more quickly, delays the transition from pre-REM to REM sleep. Even if you’re getting a full 7-9 hours of sleep after your evening drink(s), chances are you’ll wake up groggier and less well-rested, leading to a possibly perpetual state of light sleep deprivation.

Alternatives to Alcohol and Snoring

We get it, the day-to-day struggle is real — cracking open a cold one in the evening while you catch up on Game of Thrones feels good (alcohol releases endorphins, which make you feel pleasure), and having a couple of glasses of wine helps you feel less inhibited and more social when you need to take the edge off a gathering. But what alternatives are there for relaxing in the evening that won’t leave you snoring through the night?

Read A Book

Get lost in a story, learn a new skill, or live vicariously to help take your mind off of things. Reading can be both relaxing and escapist, so try curling up with a new story (or old favorite) to get your mind off of things before bed.

Tonic Water & Fresh Juice

If you’re looking to sip on something while you catch up on the news or prep for dinner, try a refreshing non-alcoholic drink that’ll give you that familiar cocktail feel without alcohol’s downsides: mix 8 ounces of tonic water with 4 ounces of your favorite fruit juice for a refreshing summer wind-down.

GABA

In short, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that lowers the activity of your brain’s neural cells and central nervous system. There are studies linking alcohol’s relaxing effects on GABA stimulation in the brain. While GABA supplements are available, valerian, hops, magnesium, and L-theanine all have an effect on your brain’s natural GABA activity. Ask your doctor about your options!

Less Alcohol and Snoring Might Subside

Does alcohol make you snore? Yes! Can you do something about it? Absolutely! Unfortunately with alcohol and snoring the best option is to abstain, but there’s nothing wrong with having a drink or two. Just make sure to give yourself at least a solid three hours to digest and process the alcohol, drink plenty of water, and remember that there are other ways you can relax. Even Joe Six-pack is switching the cold brewskis for warm brewed teas. Alcohol and snoring — who knew they were so closely linked.