Whether you’re a new or experienced traveler, sleeping on a plane can be a challenge – especially on long international flights. A long flight without rest can mean days of being tired once you arrive at your destination. And who wants exhaustion to get in the way of a trip you’ve been anticipating for months!
Here are a few tips to increase your chances of getting some shut-eye while in the air:
Time your departure
Savvy timing of your flight can help you sleep better. Flying in the evening will make it easier to drift off and will help match up with your normal sleep patterns. Choose less popular travel days (Tuesday and Wednesday), which may increase your chances of getting an entire row to yourself, or at least an empty seat next to you. Increase your odds of getting extra space by checking seats the day of your flight and changing yours to a more open area.
Book a non-stop flight if possible. You won’t get as deep a rest if you’re waking up every few hours to change planes.
Train in advance
If you’re flying east, start going to bed and waking up 30 to 60 minutes earlier than normal a few days before your trip. Going west? Avoid light during the last half of your flight. These tricks will shift your circadian rhythm and align it better with the time at your destination.
Be sure to handle pre-trip details well in advance of your departure. Stressing about getting to the airport or packing the night before could hinder your chances of drifting off to sleep.
Pack the right props
Four of the most useful tools for sleeping on a plane include a pillow, eye mask, headphones and blanket. The airlines don’t always provide them, so pack your own to ensure you have them.
Some travelers love the space-saving inflatable pillows, while others prefer the horseshoe-shaped options. Wear the pillow with the space in front of or behind your neck (many people like the added head support under their chin with the space in back). If you bring your own pillow, use the airline pillow for lumbar support, which is important for sleeping on a plane.
The eye mask obviously helps block light around you. Even a little streaming in from your neighbor’s seatback screen or tablet can mess with your slumber. Another advantage of the mask: it’s a clear signal not to engage you in conversation or wake you.
Noise-canceling headphones are doubly useful. Not only will they block out sounds you don’t want, you can listen to sounds that enhance your sleep. Relaxation music, nature sounds and white noise will encourage drowsiness.
A blanket will keep you warm when temperatures drop on board. Buckle your seat belt over your blanket so that if there’s turbulence, the flight attendant won’t need to wake you to check that you’re secured.
Dress for comfort
Loose-fitting garments that have some stretch to them are the most comfortable for onboard sleeping. Be sure to bring layers knowing the temperature in flight can shift rapidly. Shifting temperatures make it harder to sleep.
Don’t forget your feet. Consider wearing loose-fitting or slip-on shoes, as feet swell in flight. Warm socks or slippers are also great choices.
Consider sleep aids
Lavender is a natural aid for sleep with studies showing that breathing it in before and during rest can decrease blood pressure and encourage deeper slumber. Before you want to sleep, put a few drops of lavender aromatherapy oil on your sleep mask, pillow, temples and wrists.
Many seasoned travelers swear by melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates our sleep cycles. Take it after dark the day you travel, and for a few days after arrival.
Drink water. However, be careful not to drink too much that would cause you to use the restroom frequently. Avoid alcohol, as it dehydrates the body.
Caffeine is another thing to avoid. Herbal tea can be a great substitute for coffee and anything with chamomile will encourage sleep.
Don’t eat too much
It’s best not to eat within two hours of the time you want to fall asleep. When you dine, avoid large meals, or ones with fatty or spicy foods. Aim for a light meal of foods that are easy to digest (fruits, vegetables, yogurt and nuts).
If you have questions about sleeping during your next flight and what might work best for you, please consult your medical professional.