How to Sleep on an Airplane

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There’s nothing quite like arriving first thing in the morning in an exciting new country...and wanting only to draw the curtains and curl up in your hotel room bed. As we talked about in an earlier post on “How to Avoid Jetlag”, settling into the routine of your new time zone is critical in warding off the fatigue that can plague overseas travel.

But for so many of us, an overnight flight means hours of wakefulness, punctuated by drink carts and bad in-flight movies. So today we’re offering you some tips to get as much rest as you can while flying, so you’re ready to face the first day of your holiday fresh and alert – well, as fresh as someone can be who’s flown through at least 5 time zones.

Tip 1: Stick to your regular bedtime routine. Brush your teeth in the airport bathroom, even if it makes you cringe. Bring along a book if you normally like to read before bed. And if you can find space, lie down for a few minutes in the departures lounge before takeoff. Even a few minutes spent horizontal can begin to calm your body into sleep mode.

Tip 2: Bring your own snacks and drinks on board. By doing this you’re not dependent on the in-flight service, and can snooze right through the drink cart’s arrival. Also, stay away from alcohol; it just adds to the dehydration of flying and makes you feel groggier upon arrival.

Tip 3: Bring along an arsenal of sleep aids. An eye mask is our favourite – it pretty much forces your eyes to stay shut, helping you to get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. Generally the white noise on airplanes drowns out the need for ear plugs, but it can’t hurt to have them on hand. A small neck pillow can work wonders. Take off your shoes and make sure you’re wearing cosy socks. Bring along a pair of comfortable sweatpants – if you don’t want to wear them to the airport, just stash them in your carry-on and change into them in the airport bathroom (or in the plane WC if you’re a contortionist.)

Tip 4:There’s evidence that melatonin can help adjust your circadian rhythm to adapt to new time zones. Taking one shortly after take-off is definitely a safer bet than sleeping pills, which contain anti-histamines and can leave you feeling groggy rather than refreshed.

Tip 5: Score a window seat! Unless you need frequent trips to the restroom (in which case uninterrupted sleep is unlikely anyway…) put yourself in a seat where you have space to lean, and no need to move to accommodate others wanting in and out of the row.

Tip 6: Don’t be tempted by the in-flight entertainment! It’s all too easy to watch back-to-back movies you’d normally stay away from while on a long flight. You’ll be asking yourself the next day how you ever thought Bride Wars was worth losing sleep for. Setting your watch to the new time zone can help convince you that it’s time for shut-eye, not another movie.

Tip 7: Assume the position. Take time to wiggle around and get comfortable before committing to sleep. You can give yourself more legroom if you pull out the bag you stored underneath the seat in front of you and place it under your legs instead. Be creative! I once spent a solid few hours sleeping with my head down on the seatback tray-table – hey, I’m short enough that it worked for me!
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