Sleeping on Airplanes sucks
There are few more-dreaded places to sleep for most people than in an airplane. A noisy, packed environment with too much stress and too little space is not exactly the place for getting your good nights‘ sleep for a powerful next morning. But there are actually many things you can do to improve your sleep – even in a difficult environment like an airplane.
Airplane sleep quality can be positively influenced mainly in two ways:
Your sleeping position and
Nutrition – What you eat and drink
Let‘s start with the one you probably can least influence – your sleeping position. Of course, flying in First or Business Class will give you a better airplane sleep that is impossible to beat. But even if you lie on a full-flat seat (and accept no less!), you have to take care of the other factors – such as nutrition.
For all of you flying in Economy, there are a few things you can do to improve restfulness and help you sleep even on the loudest airplane. The most inexpensive one is to ask for a window seat, so no one disturbs your rest. If you have long legs, consider getting an exit row seat or upgrade to a Premium Economy seat. Be careful, first-row bulkhead seats can be worse than a regular Economy seat! Also, get a good neck pillow – one that has a band to tighten at the front.
When it comes to your sleeping position, consider staying fully straight and support your lower back with an additional pillow (or a jacket). Think sardines in a can – it is the most restful for your back. Oh, and bring earplugs – they will block out the rumbling noise of the airplane (and the screaming kids next row).
Nutrition can play a major role when it comes to helping us get a good night‘s sleep on an airplane – more than you would think. And with a few key rules followed, you can improve your sleep quality tremendously.
Let‘s start with the basic – water. Stay well hydrated during your flight, but drink most of the water before the flight and way before going to sleep. A full bladder will send signals to your brain that wake you up, guaranteed. Also, stay away from Alcohol during flying.
Then, food. Have a light meal before going to sleep, and focus on carbohydrates. Leave out the protein. Pasta, bread and other carbs will help your brain produce serotonin, which makes you more sleepy. Leave the eggs and protein for breakfast.
Supplements can play a positive role in helping your body relax. In fact, I take some on every longer flight. Together with food, you can gently let your nervous system know that it’s time to wind down.
But be careful, and stay away from Melatonin, an often-prescribed supplement which is actually a hormone and can mess badly with your hormonal balance. Plus, Melatonin will only help you fall asleep but doesn‘t help you stay asleep.
Some of the best supplements to gently guide your brain and nervous system to relax and downregulate are the following:
Ashwagandha – An Ayurvedic herb known for its relaxing and stress-reducing effect. Great before bed.
Magnesium Threonate (500 mg) – An essential mineral that relaxes the nervous system. Be careful to take Threonate and no other form of Magnesium, otherwise, you’ll end up spending most of your night on the airplane toilet
Apigenin (100 mg) – The natural active substance contained in Chamomille tea, just more concentrated (you‘d have to drink a lot of cups of tea, which would be keeping your bladder awake at night, so take the capsules)
L-Theanine – An amino acid that helps your nervous system downregulate
If you do all (or most) of these steps, it will greatly enhance your sleep comfort and quality. And as tempting as it sounds, please try to stay away from the following: Alcohol, Green or Black Tea, Coffee, Energy Drinks…
The brain‘s internal clock (which ultimately controls your sleep) is influenced by a lot of factors. One of them is light. Avoid exposure to blue light in the hours before sleeping. That means minimizing the use of smartphones or iPads. If your device allows, set the screen to a warmer tone – this helps, but is not a full solution.
Especially when we switch time zones, our body‘s clock can be messed up greatly. Light plays a major role in adjusting, so spend a lot of time outside during the days before you fly. Wake up in the morning and let the sunlight in. Go to bed at regular local hours to help adjust.