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Long-distance flying can be uncomfortable and a chore.  Some travelers are blessed to sleep at will, while it can be a chore for others.  As a former flight attendant, I have witnessed many scenarios of passengers taking sleeping pills when flying.  Some travelers claim that it is the only way to sleep, while others believe it will alleviate anxiety.  Some want to be well-rested when they land, while others wish travel time would pass quickly.  Whatever the reason, taking pills to induce sleep while traveling can have pitfalls.  Here are a few health and safety risks to consider.

Sleeping aids.

Medications and supplements can have different effects in the air than on the ground, so be careful of any you take while flying.  If you must take a sleeping aid, I highly suggest a natural sleeping supplement like melatonin, which is available over the counter.  Another option is to take an antihistamine such as Advil or Tylenol PM.  These options will make you drowsy and help you to fall asleep with minimal side effects.  I firmly advise never to take any sleep supplements on the airplane without the experience of taking them at home.

Prescription pills.

Although many travelers take sleeping pills, they are strong reasons not to.  Pharmaceutical sleeping pills help you to fall asleep faster.  In my experience, I have seen passengers take sleeping pills as soon as they board the airplane.  However, if the flight is delayed or passengers need to deplane, it’s not easy to wake a medicated person.  In addition, when under medication, some people are unaware of their surroundings and behavior.

Adverse reactions.

Whether medication or a supplement, taking pills onboard an airplane can cause an adverse reaction.  If a passenger has an adverse reaction, the flight may be diverted for a medical emergency.  If the flight crew requests paramedics to meet the flight, the passenger is responsible for the medical bills associated with the incident.  In addition, if the passenger falls ill due to taking a medication or supplement that has not been prescribed, it will invalidate their insurance.

An airplane is a public space.

Simply put, an airplane is a public space.  Many passengers travel alone and may encounter people they have never met or know.  There have been incidences where other passengers have assaulted passengers while under the influence.  Once this occurs mid-air, very little can be done until the plane lands.  Often there are no witnesses to the act, and it’s one passenger’s word against another.  Other than changing a person’s seat or notifying authorities upon landing, there is not much a flight crew can do in this situation.

Choosing a sleep aid is a personal choice, but only with careful thought and consideration.  As a former flight attendant, I would advise all passengers to always be conscious and able in the event of an emergency.  As a passenger, I prefer to go without sleep before a long-haul flight to help me fall asleep faster.  What is your choice?  I’d like to know.