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Why You Should Never Drink Alcohol Before a Flight

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By Erika John - - 5 Mins Read
Glasses of alcoholic drinks placed on a table
Photo | (Pixabay)

New studies have revealed that consuming alcohol before or during a flight can have significant health implications, largely due to the unique conditions inside an airplane cabin.

Understanding the effects of alcohol on a plane and recognizing the importance of refraining from drinking before flying is essential for maintaining your well-being.

Also read: Doctors Recommend Quitting Alcohol at this Age to Live Longer

Alcohol Plane Effect on Blood Oxygen Levels and Heart Rate

A recent study published in Thorax, a monthly review publication by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), revealed that drinking alcohol before sleeping on a plane can lead to a drop in blood oxygen levels and a spike in heart rate.

The air in airplane cabins already contains less oxygen than we typically need.

According to experts, adding alcohol to the mix will reduce oxygen levels and sleep.

During the study, conducted by the Department of Sleep and Human Factors Research at the German Aerospace Center, participants spent nights in a sleep laboratory and a chamber mimicking airplane conditions.

Those who drank alcohol before sleeping in the simulated airplane environment experienced high drops in blood oxygen levels and higher heart rates.

A plane isle showing window seats
Window seats! | Stuart Bailey/Pixabay

The German researchers noted, "[Airplane] passengers with cardiopulmonary diseases have an increased risk of aggravation of symptoms due to the decreased cabin pressure at cruising altitude, which is amplified during sleep." They added, "Alcohol, which is often consumed on board, has similar effects, but hypobaric hypoxia-induced changes are usually more pronounced."

According to the researchers, this was the first study to evaluate the combined effect of hypobaric hypoxia (low oxygen concentration at high altitudes) and alcohol during sleep. 

Dr. Marc Siegel, a clinical professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, commended the efforts of the researchers, although he noted that it was small, with fewer than 50 people. 

"The study showed that the ability to compensate for cabin oxygen pressure lowering in flight is worsened both by sleep and by alcohol," he said. "Because of the alcohol and most likely your sleep position, you don’t get restful sleep or go through all the stages of sleep, which causes additional stress on your heart,” Siegel said to Fox News Digital

He continued, "Those [factors] are synergistic with each other, leading to increased heart rate and likely increased heart pressure and risks, even in young, healthy individuals."

Safer Alternatives to Alcohol Before Flight 

Dr. Adam Scioli, chief medical officer at Caron Treatment Centers, noted that many passengers drink alcohol to fall asleep or manage stress. However, this often results in poor sleep quality and increased cardiovascular stress.

"Now you’ve got a situation where because of the alcohol and most likely your sleep position, you don’t get restful sleep or go through all the stages of sleep, which causes additional stress on your heart and cardiovascular system," Scioli said.

"This can be exacerbated by the fact that many people don’t drink enough water before they fly, which causes dehydration — again increasing the likelihood of negative impact on their heart," he added. 

Now, given the risks associated with drinking alcohol before or during a flight, passengers should consider alternative ways to relax and stay hydrated, like drinking plenty of water, eating a balanced meal, and practicing stress management techniques.

Breathing exercises and simple activities like reading a book and calming music are also practical tools for managing in-flight stress.