Here’s How to Get Quality Sleep on an Airplane
It’s no easy task to doze off during a flight. We can find ourselves surrounded by crying children, loud adults, the hustle and bustle of the service cart, small-bladdered seatmates, unexpected turbulence and static-filled announcements from the cockpit. If we manage to sleep well or at all on a plane, it feels like we’ve won some sort of contest. As you know, I travel quite often, so I am no stranger to the sleep-related pitfalls of air travel.
This subject was in the news lately. There was an article in Bustle which had some excellent tips for sleeping during a flight. I’ve written about this subject before, so I decided to create a comprehensive list of tips for seizing some sky-high shut-eye.
Choose comfortable clothes over stylish ones. Loose clothing is generally better than tight, but everyone will have their own preferences. Natural fabrics are a plus but wool might be scratchy. It’s smart to dress in layers. If it’s too cold, you have insulation. If it’s too warm, you can remove a layer and maybe use it as a pillow if you didn’t bring your own. Don’t be afraid to let out your belt and kick off your shoes. Just make sure to wear clean socks (take one look at the floor to see what I mean).
Perform Your Normal Sleep Routine
Maintain your usual bedtime ritual, even if your flight is during the day. If you brush your teeth and wash your face before bed, recreate this ritual in the airport or on the plane before you doze off. It will encourage your body to sleep. Also, make sure to use the restroom before takeoff.
Stick With Your Normal Sleep Routine to Avoid Jet Lag
Jet lag is no fun, but you might be able to avoid it by keeping your circadian rhythms on track. If you travel west, avoid too much sunlight in the mornings. If you’re headed east, limit evening light exposure. No matter which direction you’re headed, go to bed at the normal time in your time zone. I helped develop the timeshifter app which can help you beat and avoid jet lag.
Pack the Gear You Need For Sleep
If you’re woken up by the slightest rustling, it’s going to be hard to sleep on a plane. Bring along noise-canceling headphones or a good set of earplugs, I like Ear Planes best. You should also consider blue light blocking glasses, eye masks, a weighted blanket, and a neck pillow. Anything that will help you simulate the sensation of sleeping in your bed will be useful.
Get The Best Seat That You Can Afford
You should try and book flights that align with your sleep schedule. That way, you’ll have time to eat and get in a little exercise beforehand. Non-stop flights are a smart choice for sleeping as they will have fewer interruptions. The two other things you should consider before booking your flight are legroom and window seats. A window seat allows you to rest up against the fuselage of the plane, and your seatmates are less likely to wake you up to use the restroom. Also, you have complete control over the window, so you won’t get bombarded by circadian rhythm-altering sunlight when trying to snooze. If the humming of the plane engines bothers you, pick a seat far away from them. And purchasing a seat with extra legroom will allow you to stretch out naturally. Remember, don’t cross your legs while asleep because that can impede blood flow and put strain on the spine.
Watch What You Eat and Drink
Quit caffeine two hours before the flight, and avoid alcohol altogether. You may think a drink or two will help you get to sleep, but it won’t help you stay asleep. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated but not enough that you’re going to wake up to go to the bathroom every twenty minutes. Choose healthy snacks like fruit and nuts, and stay away from large, heavy meals. Make sure to eat when you’re supposed to eat in your home time zone. This will keep your circadian rhythms on an even keel.
Stretch Early and Often
Stretch out your legs before you fly. A few calf stretches in the airport can help you avoid stiffness later. You can also stretch your legs on the plane. A figure 4 stretch (crossing your ankle over your knee and gently pushing down on the opposite knee while leaning forward, then switch and repeat) every hour or half hour will keep your legs and lower back loose.
Try Meditation if You Can’t Sleep
Here’s a quick breathing exercise. First, inhale for 4 seconds. Second, hold your breath for 7 seconds. Next, exhale slowly for 8 seconds. Repeat several times. This technique is relaxing and keeps your blood oxygen rich.
Display That Seatbelt
Finally, if you want to fall asleep before takeoff, make sure that your seat belt is visible. Otherwise, the flight attendant may wake you up to ensure you’re buckled in. Don’t be mad. You were warned, and it’s their job.
Dr. Micheal Breus