By Briana Seftel
Dreading a red-eye or long-haul flight? We understand. Not everyone can fall asleep easily on planes (and if you can, congratulations). To help ease your mind and help you induce those sweet zzzs, here are some helpful tips for sleeping on long flights.
Choose your seat wisely
Choosing your seat beforehand can majorly affect a peaceful sleep. If you're someone who needs to get up a lot, make sure you reserve an aisle seat. If you'd like to lean on something other than your fellow passenger, choose a window seat. If you want more leg room, opt for exit rows. While you won't always have the luxury of choosing a seat, knowing where you will be most comfortable will certainly help when it comes time to fall asleep.
Bring the essentials
Having a few essentials in your carry-on bag will make sleeping that much easier. We all know noisy planes aren't the ideal places for sleeping, so pack a pair of earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to drown out loud passengers and the plane's engine. If you're flying a red-eye, the plane will most likely shut off its light for quiet hours, but you should bring an eye mask just in case to block out any light (darkness produces meltonin, which your body uses to fall asleep). If you find yourself stuck in the middle seat, a neck pillow might come in handy. We like this one and this one!
Dressing comfortably is key to an enjoyable flight, so you should avoid bulky or itchy clothing and wear layers in soft fabrics like cotton. Even if you're going to Cancun where the weather is a pleasant 75F, you should always pack something to keep you warm. Airplanes are notoriously chilly thanks to a powerful aircon system that blasts cold air throughout the duration of the flight. If you're cold, you won't be able to fall asleep. While some airlines provide blankets and/or pillows, you should be one step ahead and pack a small blanket or pashmina to drape over yourself. You can also pack a pair of slipper socks to keep your feet warm and cozy.
Ease into sleep
Don't try to fall asleep right after takeoff. The pilot will likely make important announcements and flight attendants will be serving drinks and food. Once service stops and the commotion dies down, it's time to get in sleep mode. Try to follow your nightly routine as best as you possibly can, whether that's brushing your teeth, washing your face or putting on a favorite night cream. Let your body and mind know it's sleepy time!
Give your brain and eyes a rest by shutting down electronics 30 minutes before sleeping. Many studies have shown that the blue light emitted from mobile phones and tablets signals the brain to stop producing melatonin, a natural hormone that prepares the body for sleep. Instead of flipping on a movie or swiping through photos on your phone, read a book or listen to soothing music. This is also a great time to pull out that eye mask!
We all know staying hydrated on long flights is super important. If you're looking for something to drink other than water, try an herbal tea like chamomile, licorice or echinacea. If you're not sure whether the airline carries herbal tea, pack a few tea bags in your carry-on and just ask the flight attendant for a cup of hot water! While a glass of wine is okay, avoid drinking too much alcohol as you will likely wake up with a nasty hangover. You should also avoid coffee, soda and heavy or spicy food.
Whether you focus on your breathing, count backward or recite a mantra, meditation has been proven over and over again to fight insomnia, improve focus and reduce stress. If you're a total newbie and not sure where to start, consider downloading a meditation app like Headspace to help train your mind through easy exercises.
Try a natural sleep aid
If you know you'll need a little extra help falling asleep, consider taking a natural sleep aid like valerian or melatonin. Both can be purchased at a pharmacy or natural foods store and are totally legal in the U.S. and Canada. Take the recommended dosage with a glass of water an hour or so before you'd like to fall asleep. Another great option is lavender oil, which creates a relaxing, spa-like atmosphere and has a calming effect on the brain. Dab some on your wrist or on your temples to feel instantly at ease.
Take it easy
Whether you slept like a baby or barely got an hour's worth of shuteye, you shouldn't throw yourself into a full day of sightseeing after a long flight. Once you arrive at your new destination, try to reset your body clock. If you’re traveling west, expose yourself to sun on arrival. If you’re going east, limit your morning light. These tips will help you avoid that pesky jet leg so you can enjoy your vacation from the moment you land.