There are people who love flying. They relish the multi-portioned over-salted plane meals, the opportunity to get to know a stranger for the next eight hours, and even the teeny tiny toilets.
Most of us though, hate flying with a vengeance.
We see it as one painfully drawn-out ordeal of screaming babies, nightmarish body cramps as we desperately contort ourselves in a vain attempt to find comfort, a potent concoction of random people’s body odor, and – if you’re really lucky – a window into their gross bathroom habits. (Seriously, peeing outside the toilet bowl?!! Who are these people?!!)
The only thing that could make that experience worse, is getting your period (the people who’ve never had to try to insert a tampon squatting inside a cubicle with a floor area the size of an A4 sheet of paper can count themselves lucky).
But having to manoeuvre your sanitary supplies in a claustrophobic space isn’t the only con of flying when you’re surfing the crimson wave. Air travel has another less well-known impact on your menstrual cycle…
How flying affects your period
Because air travel can interfere with your body’s natural rhythms, particularly when a long-haul flight is involved, it can also have a flow-on effect on your body’s regular processes, like sleep, digestion and menstruation.
“This is because travelling through time zones can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm,” explains reproductive endocrinologist, Dr Prati Sharma.
Your circadian rhythm is essentially your internal body clock. It’s extremely sensitive to light – which is why we always wake up when the sun’s up and naturally feel sleepy after it’s down – and controls things like our body temperature (another factor affecting sleep), hunger levels and even moods, which explains why long-haul flights regularly result in jetlag.
Turning the tables on our waking and sleeping hours also causes the stress hormone cortisol to ramp up. When cortisol is high, it can intensify PMS symptoms and period pain, and even delay ovulation, leading to missed or late periods.
Who’s most likely to be affected?
If you’re only boarding a six-hour one-off flight, you probably don’t need to worry about suffering through a rocky period. However if you fly regularly, or are planning on booking a long-haul flight, your body will be more susceptible to being thrown out of whack.
A study published in the Journal, Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, found sleep disturbances occur 70 per cent of the time when we’re crossing a time zone. The same study also found female flight attendants were more prone to suffering from irregular menstrual cycles as a result.
How can it be prevented?
There are some key steps you can take to prevent, or at least lessen, period dramas when you travel. The first is to ensure you move around regularly on your flight. Sitting still for long periods can constipate you (made worse if you’re chugging coffee and booze and not staying hydrated), and constipation can significantly worsen period pain, so make a point of getting up every hour to do a circuit around the plane, then doing a few simple lunges and stretches in the resting area by the bathrooms.
Skipping meals, a common occurrence during travel, can also negatively impact your menstrual cycle by putting the brakes on your metabolism, which can delay your period. So ensure you’re stocked up with plenty of healthy snacks if you know you won’t get an opportunity to stop and eat.
Finally, avoid all the bad stuff during your flight as much as possible; that means booze, refined carbs, coffee and sugar, which can all have a negative impact on your mood and energy levels, which will likely already be suffering at that time of the month.
The bottom line
Despite all your best efforts, you may still find your period arrives late or is particularly nightmarish on your next trip. Rest assured you’re not going crazy, it’s just a side effect of flying, one which will thankfully start to wear off once you’ve touched down.
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Comment: Is your period affected when you fly? What do you do to combat it?