Travel | Why you shouldn't drink before taking a nap on an airplane

By Madeline Holcombe | CNN

The fasten seatbelt sign goes off and it's time for an airplane nap. You grab your neck pillow, eye mask, and a glass of wine to ensure that you're well rested on the opposite side.

According to a brand new study, this tactic isn’t such an excellent idea.

Airplanes flying at altitudes of about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) are hypobaric, meaning that the air pressure and oxygen levels are lower than normal conditions on Earth. Combine this with alcohol consumption and sleep, and an individual is more more likely to experience an increased drop in blood oxygen saturation, in line with a study published on Monday within the journal Thorax.

“Please do not drink alcohol on board aircraft,” said lead study creator Dr. Eva-Maria Elmenhorst, representative of the Sleep and Human Factors Department and head of the Performance and Sleep Working Group on the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne, in an email.

To investigate this, researchers created an atmospheric environment that resembled an airplane cabin in flight. Over two nights, 48 ​​healthy adults slept for 4 hours in two different environments – once without alcohol and once after drinking the equivalent of two glasses of wine or cans of beer, in line with the study.

The study found that researchers observed lower oxygen levels and increased heart rates on nights of alcohol consumption.

“The combination of alcohol consumption and sleeping under hypobaric conditions places a significant strain on the cardiovascular system and may worsen symptoms in patients with heart or lung disease,” the researchers said.

Although the study is small, it provides a place to begin from which researchers should further investigate the link between sleep, flying and alcohol, said cardiologist Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver. He was not involved within the research.

Many people drink alcohol on board to assist them sleep in the customarily uncomfortable cabin. But this has a negative impact on each long-term health and the immediate goal of getting some rest, experts say.

Alcohol makes you sleepy – but not good

The study authors not only collected data on cardiac stress, additionally they took a better take a look at the participants' sleep quality. It was not particularly good.

time in REM sleep – the phase of rapid eye movements that could be necessary for memory consolidation and brain recovery – was shorter in people on the plane who had consumed alcohol, the study showed.

The result is not any surprise, said Freeman. Alcohol can provide help to go to sleep, but the standard of sleep isn’t nearly as good as when you find yourself sober, he said.

“Many people have observed that snoring and sleep apnea are significantly more severe in people who drink heavily,” Freeman said.

The amount of sleep under the influence of medicine also tends to fluctuate, says Dr. Shalini Paruthi, associate professor at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

After drinking alcohol, people are likely to have more restless sleep, meaning they get up more often through the night and sleep for less time, says Paruthi, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. She was not involved within the study.

“Sometimes people only think about the immediate effect, 'Oh, I fall asleep faster,' but they forget all the other effects of alcohol,” she said.

Be especially careful not to combine sleeping pills with alcohol, as each are depressants and their sedative effects are increased when taken together, Freeman advises.

“I definitely saw how … people sleeping pills together with alcohol, which is an enormous problem,” he said. “Then it often results in a medical emergency.”

So you’ll be able to rest before your destination

For example, this might mean selecting a flight that matches your sleep schedule so you’ll be able to either land and just keep sleeping or land and begin your day, he said.

Avoid creating these sleep-wake cycles by consuming too many stimulants like coffee or energy drinks and depressants like alcohol, he added.

Next, stay hydrated because flying is frequently a dry environment and folks don't at all times drink enough, Freeman said. The best drink is water, he said.

Because the food served at airports and on airplanes is commonly salty, fatty and highly processed, Freeman recommends either bringing your individual food or searching for lighter, predominantly plant-based alternatives on the airport.

Exercise may provide help to sleep higher, so he recommends avoiding elevators and walkways and taking a number of steps as a substitute. If you’ve gotten an extended flight ahead of you, try getting up and moving around a bit, too, Freeman said.

“Finally, I would like to point out that there is a lot of evidence that the blue light emitted by screens and the like disrupts our sleep patterns,” he said.

“If you want to sleep on a plane, get noise-cancelling headphones and avoid using your screens, especially while waiting for your flight.”

On flight days, it may well be harder to keep up your healthy habits, but for those who make an effort, you’ll be able to arrive feeling good and prepared for an adventure, Freeman says.

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