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Binge Drinking and Sleep Apnea: A Fatal Combination?

Posted Jun 02 2010 8:53am

Former news anchor Ted Koppel's son, Andrew, was found dead after after a night of heavy drinking with friends. It's a sad occasion whenever anyone's son dies for any reason, but there were a few points in the Associated Press news article that's worth mentioning. After a night of heavy drinking, he ended up at a third friend's apartment, where they lay him down to sleep it off since he was clearly drunk. When they checked on him a few hours later, he was noted to be snoring, but had a pulse. A few hours later, he was found dead.

It's too early to tell what the cause of death was, but one thing I'm sure about is that a sleep-breathing problem was definitely an aggravating factor. Assuming that all modern humans are susceptible to breathing problems while sleeping, there were two major potential issues in this case that's worth pointing out: The fact that he was snoring means that he either already has a sleep-breathing problem such as obstructive sleep apnea or upper airway resistance syndrome. And alcohol, by relaxing his throat muscles, probably aggravated his breathing obstructions even further. 

Add to this the fact that his friends probably laid him down in bed on his back, when due to gravity, the tongue falls back the most. If you add additional muscle relaxation in deep sleep along with alcohol, Mr. Koppel was probably having significantly increased apneas or hypopneas. He was so inebriated that he was unable to wake up and turn over. He also probably never slept on his back .

I'm willing to bet that he died of either a heart attack or a stroke, both cardiovascular complications of untreated obstructive sleep apnea. I've written about this issue before: For some reason, hospitalized patients have a much higher incidence of heart attacks, then when out of the hospital. Possible explanations include being forced to sleep on their backs for the first time in years, and their inability to turn over (such as after an abdominal operation or a hip injury or a joint replacement).

This same situation occurs probably by the millions every month, after people binge drink and sleep. What do you think about my theory? Please enter your comments in the text box below.
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