How to Catch Some Sleep on Your Next International Red-Eye Flight
Sleeping well on a long-distance flight is a skill that has taken me years to perfect, and only after much trial and error have I found a system that consistently works for me. Here are a few ways that my clients and I have shared with one another to make red-eye flights more conducive to productive rest. With a bit of extra planning, these tips can mean the difference between starting your next vacation abroad with vitality and eagerness, or lumbering through the early days after your arrival in a sleepy fog.
ONE) Choose the latest departure times and the most direct flights.
While crossing many time zones always poses its own sleep challenges, do your best to pick a flight time and schedule that will sync up most naturally with your sleeping and waking times. Leaving in the evening will work better than trying to get REM sleep at three in the afternoon.
TWO) Dress in soft, warm clothing, and enclosed shoes.
Even if you’re traveling to a tropical destination, the flight itself is often brisk. While the airline provides thin blankets to its clients, it’s wise to wear a light sweater over a short-sleeved shirt (so that you can easily add or remove layers, depending on the temperature), long, comfortable pants that reach to your ankles, and enclosed shoes. I’ve seen far too many travelers futilely attempt to cover both their arms and feet with the provided blankets. So plan ahead: The more comfortable you are, the more easily you’ll be able to slip into dreamland.
THREE) Manufacture the sound of silence, and turn out the lights while you’re at it.
On most trans-oceanic flights, you’ll invariably see the invasive glow of neighbors’ seatback screens flickering, regardless of the time. Studies have shown that the blue light emitted by screens is disruptive to our natural sleep cycles. To give yourself the best rest possible, turn your screen off, and travel with a comfortable eye mask to block as much light as possible. My go-to eye mask is soft and breathable, and has helped my body smoothly transition into sleep mode on a dozen flights. Bring along earplugs with a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 30 or higher, or use noise-cancelling headphones to create the quietest environment possible.
FOUR) Do some quick research before you leave to acquire the best travel pillow for your sleep style.
There are many from which to choose, and they range widely in compactness, visual quirkiness, and price. Peruse reviews on travel blogs to better inform your selection of which pillow will work best for you. For my last several long-distance flights, I’ve relied on this pillow, purchased from Amazon. By offering excellent side-support for my neck, it’s done wonders in preventing the floppy-head syndrome that used to plague me! Chances are there’s a pillow out there that will provide you the utmost in support for your head and neck, offering you the sleep you need!
FIVE) Know your sleep cues, and plan to use them on the flight.
Which side of the bed do you sleep on at home? Reserve your seat on that side of the plane. Do you wind down with a cup of tea before bed? Bring along a few sachets of your favorite herbal. Then grab your own travel pillow, as well as comfy slippers, so that you can avoid continually taking off and putting on your shoes during the flight. I love these delicate kimono-fabric slippers from a seller on Etsy; they’re compact, stylish, and can even come with their own travel bag. Spritz your pillow with a mild lavender essential oil, or rub some on your temples to help you unwind. The more familiar things you can do, the more your brain will recognize the cues that it’s time for rest.
SIX) Buy the most lavish seat that your finances will accommodate.
People often think that the primary expense should be the hotels at which they’ll be staying, but in reality, the flight to a destination can often set the tone for the whole trip. So start your much-deserved vacation right, and treat yourself to a seat upgrade that will allow you to recline more fully and raise your legs. Of course, the ultimate way to maximize your ability to sleep in comfort on a red-eye flight is to fly in either First or Business Class. If that’s currently beyond your means, aim for Premium Economy, which is considerably more luxurious than regular Economy. Air New Zealand now has the option for its patrons to upgrade one cabin class by making an offer. I’ve had a few clients submit a low offer with no real hope of its being accepted, only to find that it was—and they were able to luxuriate in all of the indulgences that Business Premier has to offer, including peaceful sleep!
SEVEN) Snap your seat buckle over your blanket.
If your plane encounters turbulence, flight attendants are required to ensure that travelers are safely buckled up. If they can easily see that your seat belt is fastened, they won’t have to disturb you to check. Make it easy for them, and save yourself from being awoken—simply buckle up over your blanket when you settle in for sleep.