Alcohol increases sleep apnea and oxygen desaturation in asymptomatic men

Am J Med. 1981 Aug;71(2):240-5. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(81)90124-8.


Using standard sleep techniques, we performed a placebo-controlled and randomized study to assess the effect of alcohol ingestion (2 ml/kg of body weight) on breathing and oxygen saturation during sleep. Twenty asymptomatic men volunteered for the two-night study: 11 were given a placebo on night 1, and alcohol on night 2 (group A); nine were given alcohol on night 1 and a placebo on night 2 (group B). We compared the incidence of sleep events (apnea, hypopnea and arterial oxygen disaturation) during the nights the subjects received alcohol and during the nights they received the placebo. Alcohol was associated with significant increases in the occurrence of the following: the number of sleep events (207 to 383,p less than 0.01), the events of arterial oxygen disaturation (118 to 226, p less than 0.01) and the number of apneic events (20 to 110, p less than 0.01). Alcohol had no significant effects on the number of times hypopnea occurred. Values obtained during sleep on the control night after alcohol ingestion also showed that the episodes of arterial oxygen desaturation remained statistically increased over control values before the ingestion of any alcohol (p = 0.01). These results show that in asymptomatic men alcohol ingestion increases the incidence of arterial oxygen desaturation and disordered breathing during sleep and that the increase in arterial oxygen desaturation persists for an additional night, even when no alcohol is consumed.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Body Weight
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen / physiology*
  • Placebos
  • Respiration / drug effects
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / chemically induced*


  • Placebos
  • Ethanol
  • Oxygen