This post from the Hypnagogia blog is part of our Featured Blogger initiative. In this entry, they discuss how alcohol consumption lead to an increase of their sleep apnea index (AHI) and a decrease in sleep quality.
A nightcap helps you sleep, right?
Well, yes...but not in the way you think it does. In fact, it often makes things worse.
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 apnea worse: Alcohol.
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.
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 in this post, I went from just scraping in with a diagnosis of "Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea" to being firmly in the category!
Surely there was something positive to salvage from this bad news?
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 apneas.
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 apnea, 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."