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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1999 Jan;23(1):134-40.

Sleep-disordered breathing in alcoholics.

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  • 1University of Michigan Alcohol Research Center, and Department of Neurology, University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor 48109-0117, USA.


Sleep apnea and related disorders contribute to disturbed sleep in abstinent alcoholics. In an earlier report from our group, sleep-disordered breathing was common and increased with age in a cohort of 75 abstinent alcoholics. We now report an extension of the previous work that includes studies of an additional 103 abstinent alcoholics undergoing treatment for alcoholism (total sample = 188) and a comparison group of 87 normal subjects. The presence and severity of sleep-disordered breathing was assessed with polysomnography. Among the alcoholics, sleep-disordered breathing (defined as 10 or more apneas plus hypopneas per hour of sleep) was present in 3% of 91 subjects under age 40, 17% of 83 subjects age 40 to 59, and 50% of 14 subjects age 60 or over. Subjects with sleep-disordered breathing were more likely to be male and had more severe sleep disruption and nocturnal hypoxemia and more complaints related to daytime sleepiness than subjects without sleep-disordered breathing. In a multiple linear regression analysis, age and body mass index were significant predictors of the presence of sleep-disordered breathing, whereas smoking history and duration of heavy drinking were not predictors after controlling for the effects of age and body mass index. Our findings suggest that sleep-disordered breathing contributes significantly to sleep disturbance in a substantial proportion of older alcoholics and that symptomatic sleep-disordered breathing increases with age in alcoholics. Sleep-disordered breathing, when combined with existing cardiovascular risk factors, may contribute to adverse health consequences in alcoholics.

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