Study: Drinking alcohol before going to bed on an airplane poses health risks

A preferred pastime on long-haul flights – drinking alcohol before dozing off – can pose health risks even for young and healthy passengers, in response to a brand new study.

The combination of alcohol consumption, sleep and the low oxygen concentration at high altitudes was found to challenge the cardiovascular system and lengthen the duration of hypoxemia, or low oxygen levels within the blood.

The researchers on the Institute of Aerospace Medicine on the German Aerospace Center and at RWTH Aachen University also explained that this habit reduces sleep quality and advisable that airlines limit the consumption of alcoholic beverages on board.

Study co-author Eva-Maria Elmenhorst told NBC News the team was “surprised that the effect was so strong” and advisable avoiding alcohol while flying.

Sleeping throughout the flight already exacerbates the drop in blood oxygen saturation attributable to the reduced air pressure within the aircraft cabin, the study says.

Under the extra influence of alcohol consumption, laboratory tests showed that the oxygen saturation within the participants' blood further decreased, their heart rate increased and the deep sleep phase was shortened.

Even “young and healthy participants” suffered from “clinically relevant” desaturations and heart rate accelerations during sleep, in response to the study.

“Higher doses of alcohol could increase these observed effects and potentially increase the risk of health complications and medical emergencies during the flight, particularly in the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions,” it continues.

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