MANY passengers on long flights resort to sleeping pills to help them rest. But travellers are being warned to be aware of the potential health and safety risks of doing this, particularly during long flights.
A new survey of 300 Aussies who take sleeping pills on long-haul international flights, has revealed the reasons why they need the help resting, with two-thirds admitting that the seats are to blame.
New research by insurance comparison service comparethemarket.com.au has found almost 65 per cent of respondents said they took sleeping pills on long-haul flights of six-hours or more because they were unable to sleep upright or couldn't get comfortable in their seats.
Sleeping deeply on an aircraft in a cramped, upright position can significantly increase a person's risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) - a condition in which blood clots form in the legs as a result of being slumped in the same position for a long period of time.
"Travellers often resort to sleeping pills to overcome anxiety or avoid exhaustion when arriving at their destination, but sleeping for long periods with little or minimal mobility when flying can cause harm," said Comparethemarket.com.au spokesperson Rod Atrill.
He said if you do tend to sleep for long periods during flights, compression stockings are widely available and can help to reduce the risk of developing DVT.
The survey found the second most common reason for travellers to take sleeping pills on flights (41 per cent) is to ensure they arrive at their destination feeling well rested.
A further 35 per cent said they have trouble sleeping in general, while 30 per cent take sleeping pills as they are nervous flyers. Noise cancellation, not being able to sleep next to a stranger, claustrophobia and travel sickness were other reasons given for using sleeping pills.
When asked how often travellers have taken a sleeping pill on flights of six or more hours, 18 per cent said they often or always do this.
The survey also found a third of flyers (34 per cent) normally purchase a sleeping pill across the counter, instead of with a doctor's prescription. While a prescription is not necessary for some sleep aids in Australia, regular or ongoing use may have unintended consequences.
Sleeping pill alternatives
"Additionally, many travellers may not realise that if they develop a serious illness relating to drug-use - including using sleeping pills - their travel insurance claim could be invalidated if the drug hasn't been prescribed by a doctor," said Mr Atrill.
"Sleeping pills are also illegal in some countries without a doctor's note, including Hong Kong and the United States."
He said to avoid this risk, consider alternatives, such as natural supplements, or using an eye mask and ear plugs to block out light and noise.
Avoiding caffeine, alcohol or sugary drinks prior to, and during your flight, can also help you sleep.
"If you decide to try natural or over the counter medication, you should still consult your GP or pharmacist to discuss whether this is appropriate for you," said Mr Attrill.
"It's important to also be aware that drugs can have longer term effects, even hours later. If you were to drive a rental car after taking a sleeping pill and an accident occurred, being under the influence of drugs could impact your claim being accepted.
"We strongly advise travellers to thoroughly read the Product Disclosure Statement of their travel policy, to find out what they may or may not be covered for when it comes to drug-use in particular.
"Additionally, travellers should consider ways to combat jet lag once they arrive, such as exercising to reset their body clock and having short naps to have them feeling back to normal again."
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