You know what’s annoying? When you arrive at an exotic destination and find yourself completely exhausted from a lack of sleep.
Unfortunately, airplane seats aren't naturally conducive to sleep. When you have a long red-eye flight or international flight, it's important to take extra steps to increase the chances of getting some shut-eye. Here are some ideas on how to grab some Zzzs on your next plane ride.
1. Choose your seat carefully.
Whenever possible, select a window seat. You'll be able to lean against the window, greatly increasing your chances of getting some shuteye. For long flights, avoid the bulkhead, exit row seats and the last row of the plane. Some exit row and last row seats don't recline, and some bulkhead seats have armrests that don't raise. In the event you have an open seat next to you or get lucky enough to have an empty row, you'll still be stuck in your single seat.
When you travel often, or you have a long upcoming flight, it's worth booking through an airline website or a site that allows you to choose your seat. If necessary, pay extra to get to choose your specific seat. In addition to getting a window seat, you'll be able to consider additional factors for seat placement, such as legroom inches and proximity to the bathrooms.
2. Pack a few comfort items in your carry-on bag.
You may not want to spend the entire time traveling in your pajamas and slippers. Pack a pair of lounge pants and comfortable socks or slippers that you can change into during the flight. Consider packing a small pillow and blanket, as well.
3. Dress in layers.
There is nothing worse than trying to fall asleep when you're too hot or too cold. Wear a few shirt layers that you can take off or put on while flying to maintain an optimal temperature.
4. Sleep sitting up straight or with your seat reclined.
This one seems obvious, right? Hear us out! You'll have the best luck falling asleep and staying asleep when you keep your seat upright or slightly reclined. Always be courteous when reclining your seat to avoid tipping over another passenger's coffee or laptop. But above all else, avoid falling asleep leaning forward. Sleeping hunched over with your head on the tray table provides zero back support, putting maximum pressure on the spinal discs.
5. Uncross your legs.
When you cross your legs, you limit the blood flow on one side of your body, placing extra stress on the lumbar region. Over long periods, you'll get uncomfortable in this position, making it difficult to sleep. Instead of crossing your legs, keep your legs parallel with your knees slightly bent.
6. Keep your feet comfortable.
Most people don't sleep better when they're wearing shoes. If the germ factor doesn't deter you from taking off your shoes, slip them off to improve circulation and help regulate your body temperature.
When you're flying, always wear socks, so you don't have to go barefoot on the plane. Consider shoes without laces that slip on and off easily. If you're flying overseas and the airline provides socks, take them.
7. Turn off your electronics.
Electronics stimulate you before going to bed, hindering sleep. By delaying your internal clock or circadian rhythm, it's more difficult to fall asleep. Plan to stop using your electronics at least half an hour before you're ready to fall asleep. Instead, read a physical book or magazine, to help you make the transition to sleep.
8. Limit light exposure.
Once you've turned off your electronics, consider other light sources that may disturb or prohibit sleep. Shut the window shade and turn off the cabin light. Consider bringing a sleep mask. If you travel on long flights often, it's worth investing in a high-quality sleep mask and training yourself to sleep with it.
9. Wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.
Even when it's nighttime and most passengers are attempting to sleep, there is still a lot of ambient noise on a plane, which may make it tough to sleep. When you travel frequently, think about investing in well-made noise-canceling, over-the-ear headphones or custom-fitted earplugs, which fit much better than standard earplugs.
10. Stick to melatonin for sleep medication.
Most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamines, which will make you sleepy but often leave you feeling groggy afterward. Melatonin offers a more natural, gentle approach. As it is gentler, it doesn't work for everyone. Start taking melatonin three days before your upcoming trip. If you're interested in using any type of sleep aid while traveling, try it out at home beforehand.
People have varied reactions to sleep medications. It's better to deal with a medication that doesn't work well at home than on the road.
11. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Alcohol and caffeine will both inhibit your sleep. Initially, alcohol may help you get to sleep, but its effects are short-lived. Alcohol also makes you thirsty, increasing the odds that you'll drink a bunch of water and have to get up for the bathroom later. Steer of caffeine when you know you want to sleep on the plane. Don't get a coffee or soda in the airport and stick to water or juice from the drink cart on the plane.
12. Pay attention to what you eat in the evening.
Schedule your last meal at least two hours before you're heading to sleep. Have a light, healthy meal, avoiding fatty foods. Overeating or filling up on fatty foods will make your heart work harder, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
13. Set an alarm 45 minutes before you land.
Once you've fallen asleep, it may be difficult to wake up again. You don't want to arrive at your destination groggy and disoriented. Set an alarm for about 45 minutes before you're scheduled to land. You'll give yourself enough time to wake up, use the restroom, brush your teeth, and change clothes.
On international flights, most likely they'll serve breakfast, which will also help you wake up.
While it’s not always possible to get a full night’s rest on a plane, getting a few hours of sleep is better than no rest. Anything you can do to help yourself get a little shuteye during a red-eye or international flight is worth the extra effort.
This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.