A few weeks ago I joined my French class for a special dinner to celebrate the end of the term. The group of students dining together was diverse in age and background but we all share a common interest of travel and, naturally, that’s where the dinner conversation drifted. During our Moroccan feast, we discussed the places we’ve been, where we’re dying to go, and of course, jet lag which can be a struggle for even the most experienced traveler. Earlier this year, I shared my 5 Travel Tips for Jet Lag but today I want to take it a step further and talk about how to sleep on an airplane.
I’ve never been the best at sleeping on planes but over the years I’ve found a few strategies that help me get some shut eye. I try to be realistic and aim for a few short naps instead of prolonged periods of deep rest. On an overnight flight, I try to stay awake until dinner is served and once the meal service is finished I take melatonin and start watching a movie or reading a book to relax. I make myself as comfortable as possible and focus on just relaxing instead of pressuring myself to fall asleep. When all goes well, I usually drift in and out of sleep for the next few hours of the flight. Here are some other tips for sleeping on a plane:
1. Book the window seat
If you want to sleep on a plane, being able to rest your head against the window is key. It may make it more difficult to get out to use the restroom, but the moments of awkwardness are worth it if you can get a few hours of sleep. I once made the mistake of booking the aisle seat on a red eye flight to Italy. Each time I would get situated and start to fall asleep, my pillow would shift and fall into the aisle and I would be startled awake. I learned my lesson and now try to always book the window seat on long flights.
2. Bring your own pillow and blanket
Most international flights will provide pillows and blankets but they are tiny and pretty much worthless (and I tend to question the cleanliness). I always bring my own travel pillow and blanket on long flights. I recommend buying a lightweight pillow and a small travel blanket that folds up compactly. I will still take the airplane provided pillow and blanket and use them to provide extra support for my travel pillow.
3. Bring a sleep mask and dress comfortably
Use a sleep mask to block out external light and bring noise canceling headphones to take away distractions. I try to dress in loose comfortable clothes (layers are helpful) that are conducive to sleep. I’m not sure about you, but there’s no way I am going to fall asleep in tight jeans. You can always pack comfortable clothes to wear on the flight and then change into something nicer before landing or once you arrive at the airport. I also take off my makeup and slip off my shoes when I’m gearing up for a long flight.
4. Take a sleeping aid or supplement
I always take a lightweight sleeping pill or supplement such as melatonin when I am hoping to sleep on a flight. It helps me relax and fall asleep without feeling too groggy when I wake up. Of course, you should talk to your doctor and get his/her approval before trying a new medication or supplement. If you’ve never taken a sleep aid before, make sure to do a trial run at home before taking it on a flight.
5. Stay hydrated
Make sure you stay hydrated which will help you sleep and lessen the effects of jet lag once you land. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. On a long flight I will drink one small glass of wine with dinner to help me fall asleep but then only drink water until coffee is served before landing.
For even more sleep and travel tips, visit sleep.org (from the National Sleep Foundation) where I join two other travel bloggers to share sleep and travel advice.