It’s one of these things about traveling long distance. If you really love traveling, nothing is complicated. Except for this one thing: Sleeping.
Going on a flight of more than three hours presents you with a challenge: Either you watch two movies or more, which is difficult, or you just try to sleep. If it’s a longer one, such as transatlantic or transpacific, sleeping might be the only thing that saves the next day. But most people have real difficulties falling asleep in a loud environment like an airplane.
How to sleep well in an airplane
To me as a frequent flyer, sleeping is critical to arriving relaxed and ready for action. While I think that some people just have it easier than others, the right preparation can go miles.
1. Hydrate well ahead of flying.
The airplane environment with its low pressure and dry air drains your body of moisture. You need additional fluids, but be sure to start the hydration process well ahead of traveling – about a day before. If you start too late, you’ll end up going to the bathroom all “night” long – making sleep impossible. If you don’t hydrate at all, you’ll wake up thirsty and – worst case – with a terrible headache.
2. Eat small and rich in carbohydrates.
Chicken or pasta? This seemingly straightforward question has no right answer, but the solution perfect for sleeping is “pasta.” Here’s why: Carbohydrates like pasta or bread are easily digested and elevate blood sugar, which also makes you sleepy. The proteins in chicken would take the stomach hours to digest – making sleep less comfortable. Also, consider eating small quantities – an empty or near-empty stomach in a high-altitude environment lets you snooze peacefully.
3. Build your bubble.
Sleeping is one of these activities that the brain only lets you do if it feels safe. So, help yourself by creating a safe environment – one that is silent, dark and warm.
Silence. Yes, you can consider buying one of these expensive noise-reduction headphones. But they don’t feel comfortable during sleep and don’t let you turn. For me, what works best are cheap and straightforward single-use earplugs.
Darkness. Get yourself an eye cover or bring one from the day you were upgraded to business class. If all else fails, use a hoodie or a scarf.
Warmth. Blankets are essential – as you wrap yourself into a soft blankie, the body automatically gets into sleep mode.
4. Use post-takeoff sleep
Interestingly, to me the best time during a flight to fall asleep is takeoff. The reason is gravity: As the airplane pulls up and accelerates, your body is pushed into the seat almost as if it were in a flat bed. Try it.
5. Avoid sleeping pills
Yes – they do work on some people. But the short story is, I try to avoid medicines during air travel for two reasons. First, sleeping pills may leave you tired when the flight arrived. Second is safety: You don’t want to evacuate a plane half asleep. If anything happens, you’re doomed.