Research shows that drinking alcohol before going to sleep on a plane can be dangerous

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Travelers may want to think twice before having a glass of wine and taking a nap during a flight.

A new study published in Thorax, a monthly peer-reviewed publication of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that consuming alcohol and then falling asleep on a plane can lead to a drop in blood oxygen levels and a spike in heart rate.

The air in the cabin of an airplane already contains less oxygen than the air we normally breathe. Drinking alcohol can lower oxygen levels even further, as can sleeping, experts say.

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In the study, led by the Department of Sleep and Human Factors Research at the German Aerospace Center, a group of healthy adults slept in a sleep laboratory for two nights.

Another group slept for the same amount of time in a hypobaric (less oxygen) altitude chamber that simulated an airplane.

Consuming alcohol and then falling asleep on a plane can lead to a drop in blood oxygen levels and a spike in heart rate, a new study shows. (iStock)

Before one of the evenings, the participants drank alcohol. The German researchers discovered that people in the hypobaric chamber experienced a drop in blood oxygen, a higher heart rate and a lower sleep quality after drinking alcohol.

“[Airplane] Passengers with cardiovascular disease are at increased risk of worsening symptoms due to reduced cabin pressure at cruising altitude, which is enhanced during sleep,” the researchers wrote.

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“Alcohol, which is often consumed on board, has similar effects, but hypobaric hypoxia-induced changes tend to be more pronounced.”

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

people sleep on the plane

“The study showed that the ability to compensate for the reduction in cabin oxygen pressure during flight is impaired by both sleep and alcohol,” a doctor told Fox News Digital. (iStock)

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, was not involved in the study but called it “well done,” though he noted it was on the small side, with fewer than 50 people.

“The study showed that the ability to compensate for the reduction in cabin oxygen pressure during flight is impaired by both sleep and alcohol,” Siegel told Fox News Digital.

“Because of the alcohol and most likely your sleeping position, you don't sleep well and don't go through all the stages of sleep, which puts extra stress on your heart.”

“That [factors] are synergistic with each other, leading to an increased heart rate and probably also increased heart pressure and risks, even in young, healthy individuals.”

The findings emphasize the need to stay well hydrated, the doctor noted, since alcohol is a diuretic and air travel is already somewhat dehydrating due to the dry cabin air.

“Be aware that while restless sleep makes sense on long flights, it can disrupt REM sleep and sleep quality – and can affect oxygen pressure to the point where it falls below 90%,” Siegel warned.

Wine on the plane

Alcohol is a diuretic and air travel is already somewhat dehydrating because of the dry cabin air, the researchers said. (iStock)

Dr. David Campbell, clinical and program director of Recover Together in Bend, Oregon, who was also not involved in the study, said it supports the findings that alcohol use and sleep combined with the pressurized environments on airplanes reduces oxygen levels and increases heart rate.

“Sleep deprivation is closely linked to increases in irritability, arousal and brain fog, as well as escalations of anxiety, depression and problems with mood regulation and memory – things most people would normally want to avoid on their next family vacation or business trip,” he told Fox News Digital.

“I would caution people with obstructive sleep apnea, COPD or obesity against consuming alcohol before the flight or during the flight.”

Although Campbell echoed Siegel's comment that the study is small, he said the findings need further investigation to gauge the physiological and psychological impact.

“Despite the need for further research and a larger sample size, I would caution people with obstructive sleep apnea, COPD or obesity against consuming alcohol before or during the flight, to avoid concurrent use of alcohol and other sleep aids or medications and to avoid blue Limit light to improve sleep quality and mood When you are traveling” he advised.

Alcohol alternatives on planes

Dr. Adam Scioli, chief medical officer at Caron Treatment Centers in Pennsylvania, noted that most people drink alcohol while flying to fall asleep or manage their stress, which itself increases the risk of stroke. cardiovascular event.

Man sleeps on the plane

“You have a situation where, because of the alcohol and most likely your sleeping position, you are not getting a good night's sleep or going through all the stages of sleep, which puts additional stress on your heart and cardiovascular system,” said one chef. medical officer. (iStock)

“Now you have a situation where, because of the alcohol and most likely your sleeping position, you're not getting a good night's sleep or going through all the stages of sleep, which puts additional stress on your heart and cardiovascular system,” Scioli, who was not involved in the study, told Fox NewsDigital.

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“This can be exacerbated by the fact that many people do not drink enough water before flying, causing dehydration, again increasing the chance of a negative impact on their heart.”

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According to Scioli, there are other, more effective ways to manage stress and reduce anxiety than drinking.

Some of these include breathing, mindfulness and reading a book.

man with neck pillow during flight

One expert recommended other ways to manage stress and reduce anxiety, such as breathing, mindfulness and reading a book. (iStock)

“Finally, to prevent cardiovascular events due to hypobaric hypoxia, drink plenty of water, eat a healthy meal, and plan for stress during takeoff and landing,” Scioli advised.

“Know your heart health and take the necessary precautions,” he said. “Avoid alcohol, cannabis and other drugs that can stress your cardiovascular system.”

For more health articles, visit www.foxnews/health

Anyone who has a real panic disorder or fear of flying needs to talk to a person medical professional about medications that may be helpful.

Fox News Digital contacted investigators seeking further comment.

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