Feel lousy after a long flight? Here’s what you can do about it

You’ll want a nap, but what you really need is a drink of water. Fatigue is a symptom of dehydration.

  • Friday, July 27, 2018 12:10pm
  • Life

By Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times

Are you imagining that “hit in the head with a baseball bat” feeling after a flight? If you are, so are thousands of others.

Here’s the best thing you can do: Have a drink. Actually, have several.

We speak here, alas, not of the finest single-malt Scotch but of water.

I became acutely aware of this on a recent five-day, seven-flight sojourn that took me to eastern Canada and five Western states. The overly ambitious itinerary was partly to blame, but mostly the fault was my own.

I had made several through-the-airport dashes to make flights (apparently, I’m no Carl Lewis because I missed several connections) and arrived at the gates hot and sweaty.

Then I got on the plane and the first thing I wanted was a nap, fatigue being a symptom of dehydration. But what I really needed was a drink of water.

“With changes in pressurization in the cabin, you do dehydrate; you lose fluids more quickly,” said Dr. Diana Kerwin, chief of geriatrics at Texas Health Dallas.

Don’t think of it as an airplane, Kerwin said. Think of it as a flying desert.

Besides sleepiness, lack of fluid can make you confused or dizzy. Your head may throb.

These are warning signals that your body needs attention. Right now.

Consider, too, that some of us are flatlanders. But a plane often is pressurized to about 8,000 feet, so it’s like spending time in Denver plus a couple thousand feet. (Some newer aircraft are pressurized even lower, which may make your life a little easier, but it’s still a change for some.)

If you take, say, a diuretic, you may be tempted to cut back because you don’t want to be getting up and down during a flight.

Resist that temptation. You could injure your kidneys, Kerwin said.

If you’re worried about making it to the restroom, don’t wait until you have to go, she said. If it’s safe to get up, go ahead and go. Think of it as a sort of preventive peeing.

Both Kerwin and Dr. Joseph Austin, a pulmonologist at Texas Health Arlington Memorial, encourage fliers to get up and walk if they can do so safely.

It helps shake off the cobwebs a bit, but it also helps prevent blood clots.

If you can’t get up, do some ankle twirls and other stretches. Many airlines have suggested seat exercises printed on the safety information card. The incentive to do so: Movement helps. Blood clots, both doctors noted, can be fatal.

Austin further recommends taking a baby aspirin before a flight, unless there’s a medical reason not to do so.

And remember that the air is extremely dry, so you might consider packing a saline nasal spray (but less than 3 ounces to comply with liquid carry-on regulations).

Also limit your intake of salty foods, Austin said.

Finally, if you’re feeling a little bit of first-class envy on that long trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flight, consider that you may be doing your health a favor by not lying flat.

“You’re not as well ventilated when you’re lying flat as when you are sitting upright,” Austin said. To optimize ventilation, lean forward slightly.

Those folks in the upper classes may be more comfortable in the short term, but you’ll be breathing easier, figuratively and perhaps literally.

And remember, when the drink cart comes around, ask for a double … cup of water.

Talk to us

More in Life

Darlene Love, Steven Van Zandt and Paul Shaffer  performed in concert at the Paramount Theater in Asbury Park on Sept. 12, 2015.
Pandemic’s not stopping Christmas Queen Darlene Love

The singer best known for “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” will perform her annual holiday concert online this year.

A gardener’s to-do list for winterizing the yard — Part 2

Try to accomplish most of these chores, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get them all done.

Caleb Sanders and Ashley Dougherty help decorate for the Trees of Christmas event at the Everett Bible Baptist Church. (Maria Lara)
Church keeps Christmas tradition alive with drive-thru event

Everett Bible Baptist Church hosts Trees of Christmas, with music, narration and special treats for the family.

Mexican sedum is an excellent groundcover plant, forming a dense carpet of glossy chartreuse leaves. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Sedum kimnachii aka Mexican sedum

An excellent groundcover plant, this variety forms a flat, dense carpet of glossy chartreuse leaves.

Make holidays brighter with energy saving tips and gifts

Snohomish County PUD shares five smart ways to find joy in the season that use less electricity.

John Spadam owner, at Spada Farmhouse Brewery in Snohomish. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Spada ready to show off new bar and restaurant in Snohomish

During the pandemic, the Spada family has been busy renovating an old building on First Street.

Precept Wine, the largest privately-owned wine company in Washington, recruited Seattle native Sarah Cabot to take over its pinot noir production in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 2014. (Precept Wine)
Six examples of award-winning pinot noir in the Northwest

The Willamette Valley of Oregon has a reputation for the red wine, but there are other success stories in the area.

To deposit a coin in the Bonzo bank, you had to push his tummy. His tongue would come out of his mouth to deposit the coin inside. Many similar banks were made picturing other comic characters. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Mechanical bank of the first famous Bonzo sells for $1,800

The dog decorating the front of the tin bank was a comic cartoon star from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Design elements of the M235i Gran Coupe include angled headlights, four-eyed halo daytime running lights, and BMW’s traditional kidney grille. (Manufacturer photo)
BMW’s compact 2 Series Gran Coupe is all new to the 2020 lineup

A turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, and 8-speed automatic transmission are standard on both versions.

Most Read