For some people, drinking on a flight is a given—but it doesn’t always end well. After the plane lands and your buzz wears off, you might be left feeling like crap, possibly even worse than if you had been drinking on the ground.
In fact, Chrissy Teigen recently tweeted that she didn’t drink on a flight and got home “feeling like a normal, healthy being. It’s very weird. I like it.” So, what’s going on here? Why does drinking on a plane make you feel so much worse?
We know being on a plane can cause dehydration—and alcohol can exacerbate that.
Among its many effects, alcohol causes dehydration that can leave you with dry mouth, fatigue, and a general feeling of crumminess, per the Mayo Clinic. It also acts as a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee more, Sanjay Kurani, M.D., medical director of inpatient medicine at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University, tells SELF.
And planes aren’t exactly the most hydrating environments to begin with. The humidity level is lower on a plane than it is in most homes, according to data from the World Health Organization, meaning that the air is literally drier. So it’s not unusual for your skin to feel more dried out than usual—even before you start drinking, Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York City–based board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, tells SELF.
That can really affect moisture-loving parts of your body like your eyes, nose, and mouth, leaving you with dry mouth, parched eyeballs, and dried out sinuses, Omid Mehdizadeh, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells SELF. Pair all of that with the fact that you’re probably not drinking as much water as usual to prevent constant mid-flight trips to the bathroom, and the effects of dehydration are very real, Dr. Kurani says.
But it’s not just dehydration you have to worry about.
The air pressure in the cabins of commercial planes is relatively low, which can slightly reduce the amount of oxygen that’s getting into your blood and making its way to your brain, Carol Thelen, a family nurse practitioner at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, tells SELF, which can make some people feel a bit lightheaded.
So, if you’re drinking, you may feel the effects of alcohol a little more intensely than usual, Dr. Kurani says. “One drink on a plane can equal more than one drink on the ground,” he describes.
You’re also probably not getting great sleep when you’re flying thanks to the noise, uncomfortable seating, and fact that you’re trying to catch some ZZZs next to a bunch of strangers. Even if you do actually conk out, alcohol can also mess with your ability to get REM sleep (the most restorative form of sleep), leaving you feeling groggy and unfocused when you wake up, the National Sleep Foundation says.
Plus, of course, flying is stressful in itself. Basically, that all-over lousy feeling you get after you drink on a plane isn’t in your head—it’s real.
You don’t have to totally avoid drinking if that’s something you want to do, but experts say there are ways to be smart about it.
For starters, know that you don’t need to drink as much in the air to get the effects you would on the ground. That doesn’t mean that you have to completely do without, though. “Plenty of people like to enjoy having a drink on a plane, and that’s OK,” Dr. Mehdizadeh says. “But, if you are going to drink, realize that you need to drink water too to replenish the water in your body.” Although the exact amount you need may vary from person to person, he recommends having a cup of water for every alcoholic drink you have.
It’s also a good idea to take care of your eyes and nose as well by using eye drops and nasal saline sprays, Dr. Mehdizadeh says.
But if you find that you regularly feel like crap getting off the plane after having a drink or two, it’s worth trying out a booze-free flight and seeing where that leaves you. Like Chrissy Teigen, you might be surprised at how good you feel.