How do you make out when it comes to getting some rest on long-haul – especially overnight – flights? It’s a bugaboo for many passengers, especially if they’re not flying business or first class. Sleeping mostly sitting up can be challenging, but there are a number of things you can do to help your chances:
Watch What You Eat and Drink
For obvious reasons, watch your caffeine intake at the airport before boarding (that goes of course for coffee but also some soft drinks and “energy drinks” which almost by definition promote wakefulness); you’ll need to wait at least six hours for the effects of caffeinated beverages to wear off.
And though you might think a beer, wine, or cocktail or two might help you drift off faster and better, but in fact studies show that any somnolence induced by alcohol is disrupted, of poor quality, and resulting in next-day fatigue. And by the way, both alcohol and caffeine can also act as diuretics, which means you may find your sleep is more frequently interrupted by the urge to get up and go pee.
And when it comes to food, both before and during flights, it’s best to avoid spicy, fatty, or heavy – anything that can potentially interfere with digestion (most airline meals are designed with this in mind).
Support the Head, Stretch the Legs?
Your sleeping style and preferences should definitely be taken into account when choosing your seat – aisle, window, or middle. If you need to lay your head somewhere, go for the window, against which you can lay a pillow. If you really need to give your legs the fullest stretch possible, of course the aisle is your best bed. Speaking of legs, don’t try sleeping with them crossed; you’ll hinder blood circulation and cause unpleasant tingling sensations that will interrupt your rest.
There are different types of travel pillows on the market, from the basic ones which support the neck to more elaborate ones which wrap around the head in various ways, including some that also serve as a sleep mask. You can also buy inflatable footrests to raise your feet slightly and make your rest comfier.
Best Positions for Inflight Sleeps
We all have our preferred ways of snoozing at home, but in an airline seat you obviously can’t indulge them fully. But we do have a couple of recommendations that apply to pretty much everyone:
- Support Your Neck – Crucial if you have any hope of restorative sleep or rest – either on the headrest directly or on a travel pillow, adjusted so that your head is slightly elevated and your back is straight, avoiding any aches.
- Elevate Your Legs – You may have a footrest on the seat in front of you, or just in case, as we mentioned above, you can bring your own inflatable version. Another possibility is to rest your knees on the seat in front of you, by sliding your bum a little toward the edge of your seat and raising your knees to find the most comfortable position.
Dress for (Sleeping) Success
Long gone are the days when folks donned fancy dress for flying. Now it’s all about comfort, so opt for loose and light garments – cotton, if possible (in fact, as close as possible to pajamas) – and shoes which are easy to slip on and off, without high heels or complicated laces.
Obviously, darkness promotes better sleep, but your seatmates may want their overhead reading lights on or window shades up (which of course during daytime is more of an issue if you’re trying to nod off). So just in case, bring along a sleep mask to make sure it’s nice and dark for your little nap.
…And Noises Off!
Today’s generation of jetliners are quieter than ever, and especially on overnight flights most people will lower their voices accordingly. But of course the human factor means you may still end up with fellow passengers chatting or otherwise making noises louder than you’d like nearby when you’re trying to sleep, and so it’s a good idea to bring along some help. Noise-cancelling headphones are fantastic but can also be pricey, so a more economical option is a type of earplug especially designed for flying, which in addition to muting noise also act as a valve in regulating pressure changes to decrease discomfort on that front.
(And by the way, there are also relaxation exercises designed to promote sleep, like this one – give it a try before you fly and then once onboard!)
Finally, Always Keep Your Seatbelt Buckled
Buckle up before nodding off, because on a long-haul flight there’s likely to be a patch or two of turbulent air (not, we repeat, not a danger), and if you do not have your seatbelt fastened, a flight attendant will quite likely have to wake you up so you can fasten it. Furthermore, if you cover yourself with a blanket, the seatbelt should be visible on top of that.