15 brilliant tips for sleeping better on long-haul flights
IT'S TRUE, IN LIFE, that it's the journey that's important, not the destination. But when it comes to long-haul flights, it is definitely the destination that counts. All we want to do on the journey is sleep. Oh, to sleep on a plane! - practically impossible in those cramped, uncomfortable little seats, with annoying announcements and fellow passengers, and the temptation of all-night films and booze… But there are ways to get to sleep in the air and wake up refreshed and raring to go. Stop telling yourself you can't do it, and read our 15 expert tips on how to sleep on a plane.
1. Book a window seat
You're less likely to be disrupted by the drinks trolley or new neighbours clambouring over you to go to the bathroom. Plus, you'll have a place to rest your head. Try to get an exit row for the additional foot room, and avoid sitting near the loos, for obvious reasons.
2. Recreate home comforts
If you normally sleep on the right side of the bed, book a seat on the right-hand side of the plane - recreating as many comforts from home helps.
3. Get the essential sleep kit
On no account is it ever OK to wear a neck pillow through an airport - but they really do work, and are essential for a restful sleep if you're in economy class. Also vital: a sleep mask, ear plugs, cozy socks, and a blanket or an oversized scarf. Better still: noise-cancelling headphones drown out crying babies, scratchcard announcements and annoying passengers.
4. Resist the free booze
A glass of wine can be tempting - particularly when it's on the house - and you might think it will help knock you out, but it actually prevents you from getting quality sleep and dehydrates you further. The same goes for caffeine, obviously. Instead, opt for water or boring-but-restive camomile tea. Don't eat too heavy a meal, which can make it harder to nod off. Avoid salty snacks as the sodium can trigger bloating.
5. Steer clear of screens
Watching TV is an easy way to pass the time on a flight, but the blue light emitted by the screen keeps your brain awake; blue light prevents the pineal gland, a pea-sized organ in the brain, from releasing melatonin, a hormone that makes you drowsy, so throwing off your biological clock. The same goes for playing games on your phone or iPad. Lose the electronics and listen to relaxing music, or curl up with a good old paperback.
6. Dress for bed
We're not suggesting you wear your PJs through the airport - unless you're Miranda Kerr in which case you can wear anything through the airport and carry it off - but be sure to change into loose, comfortable clothing on long-haul flights. Getting ready for bed makes a big difference, mentally preparing you as well as making you cosier and comfier. A suit must be the least conducive outfit for a good night's sleep, and there's nothing smart about arriving looking crumpled and smelling of sleepy people.
7. Eat bananas, not chocolate
Next time you're in the USA, stock up on melatonin pills, which are available over the counter there. Pop one just before you plan to sleep on the plane, as this naturally occuring substance regulates sleep hormones to help you nod off. Until then, eat foods which contain melatonin - bananas, oats, cherries. (Avoid chocolate and raspberries which, in contrast, will perk you up.)
8. Get in the time zone before you go
A few days before your trip, start adjusting slowly to the new time zone by going to bed and getting up a little bit earlier for an eastbound trip, or reset your schedule for later if you're going west, recommends Michael Breus, a sleep specialist with a private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona in the USA, and author of The Sleep Doctor's Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep. As soon as you board the plane, set your watch for your destination's time zone to start the adjustment immediately. This will help adjust your body clock to avoid jet lag and help you to fall asleep at the right time.
9. Calm that busy mind
One of the easiest ways to fall asleep anywhere is with mindful breathing. Start by paying close attention to the natural flow of your breath. Focus on the inhalation and exhalation, blocking everything else out, to relax your mind and body, preparing you to drift off. If you need a little extra help, listen to soothing music or try visual imagery - picture a favourite place to transport yourself. Concentrate on this peaceful scene as you practice the breathing technique and soon your stress levels will drop and you'll be snoozing.
10. Meditate your way to sleep
Consider meditation the next step up from mindful breathing. Dr. Breus says a simple progressive muscle relaxation is an easy one to do on your own. It starts off the same way as mindful breathing, focusing on the breath, and then you work your way down your body. Imagine your head relaxing, easing muscles and tension, then your neck, shoulders, arms, and so on, all the way down to your toes. This sensation will make you feel like you are sinking into a bed, even if it's actually a not-so-comfy plane seat. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until you fall asleep.
11. Stretch it out to wind down
We're aware that you don't have tons of personal space on a plane, even if you're in business class, but slow, gentle stretching for 10 to 15 minutes about a half hour before you want to go to sleep can help. It eases muscles tension and relaxes you, helping you fall asleep more easily, explains Gregory Dupont, a board certified doctor at Utah Sleep and Pulmonary Specialists in the USA. Try stretching out in your seat, and stand up if you can for a few minutes.
12. Get into the best position possible
Recline your seat back as far as it will go, if you're not lucky enough to be in business or first class (only 1% of people are, if it makes you feel any better), as sleeping sitting up can cause back pain. And uncross your legs - crossing them inhibits blood flow.
13. Pack light for maximum leg room
Minimise what you carry on to maximise your space to stretch out. If you have two carry-ons, one will probably be stored under the seat in front of you, which takes up precious foot room.
14. Spritz and snooze
Bring along an aromatherapy lavender spray and - subtly, so as not to look too weird to your fellow passengers - spritz your pillow or blanket before bedtime. It will also help mask any unpleasant food smells from around the cabin.
15. Avoid interruptions
Buckle your seatbelt over your blanket so that the flight attendant can spot it easily and won't wake you up during turbulence. Hopefully your eyemask and earphones should give overly friendly neighbours the message.