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Illustration of an airplane with the text "ALCOHOL AT ALTITUDE" next to it. The bottom right corner features the text "10 almonds" with an image of 10 almonds. This unexpected combination brings a unique twist to in-flight snacking.

An Unexpected Extra Threat Of Alcohol

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If You Could Use Some Exotic Booze… 🎶

…then for health reasons, we’re going to have to say “nay”.

We’ve written about alcohol before, and needless to say, it’s not good:

Can We Drink To Good Health?

(the answer is “no, we cannot”)

In fact, the WHO (which unlike government regulatory bodies setting “safe” limits on drinking, makes no profit from taxes on alcohol sales) has declared that “the only safe amount of alcohol is zero”:

WHO: No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health

Up there, where the air is rarefied… 🎶

If you’re flying somewhere this summer (Sinatra-style flying honeymoon or otherwise), you might want to skip the alcohol even if you normally do imbibe, because:

❝…even in young and healthy individuals, the combination of alcohol intake with sleeping under hypobaric conditions poses a considerable strain on the cardiac system and might lead to exacerbation of symptoms in patients with cardiac or pulmonary diseases.

These effects might be even greater in older people; cardiovascular symptoms have a prevalence of 7% of inflight medical emergencies, with cardiac arrest causing 58% of aircraft diversions.❞

Source: Alcohol plus cabin pressure at higher altitude may threaten sleeping plane passengers’ heart health

The experiment divided subjects into a control group and a study group; the study group were placed in simulated cabin pressure as though at altitude, which found, when giving some of them two small(we’re talking the kind given on flights) alcoholic drinks:

❝The combination of alcohol and simulated cabin pressure at cruising altitude prompted a fall in SpO2 to an average of just over 85% and a compensatory increase in heart rate to an average of nearly 88 beats/minute during sleep.

In contrast, that was 77 beats/minute for those who had alcohol but weren’t at altitude pressure, or 64 beats/minute for those who neither drank nor were at altitude pressure.

Lots more metrics were recorded and the study is interesting to read; if you’ve ever slept on a plane and thought “that sleep was not restful at all”, then know: it wasn’t just the seat’s fault, nor the engine, nor the recycled nature of the air—it was the reduced pressure causing hypoxia (defined as having oxygen levels lower than the healthy clinical norm of 90%) and almost halving your sleep’s effectiveness for a less than 10% drop in available oxygen in the blood (the sleepers not at altitude pressure averaged 96% SpO2, compared to the 85% at altitude).

We say “almost halving” because the deep sleep phase of sleep was reduced from 84 minutes (control) to 67.5 minutes at altitude without alcohol, or 46.5 minutes at altitude with alcohol.

Again, this was a pressure cabin in a lab—so this wasn’t about the other conditions of an airplane (seats, engine hundreds of other people, etc).

Which means: in an actual airplane it’s probably even worse.

Oh, and the study participants? All healthy individuals aged 18–40, so again probably worse for those older (or younger) than that range, or with existing health conditions!

Want to know more?

You can read the study in full here:

Effects of moderate alcohol consumption and hypobaric hypoxia: implications for passengers’ sleep, oxygen saturation and heart rate on long-haul flights

Want to drop the drink at any altitude? Check out:

How To Reduce Or Quit Alcohol

Want to get that vacation feel without alcohol? You’re going to love:

Mocktails – by Moira Clark (book)


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