How to Sleep Like a Child on Long-Haul Flights

For many international travelers, sleeping on a flight does not come easy.

The ambient noise of the plane combined with a bawling baby, a steady stream of passengers headed to the lavatory, and muted conversations interspersed with laughter can make it difficult to fall asleep.

When at last you do doze off, five hours into the flight, your neighbor decides they need to stretch their legs and wakes you up!

Fear not. It is not only possible to fall asleep on the plane, but remain asleep. All you need is the right approach and a little preparation.

How to Sleep on a Flight – Tried and Tested Tips

1. Catch A Red-Eye Flight

Choose your itinerary wisely. A flight that departs in the evening is most suitable for falling asleep.

It is pretty tough to feel sleepy when you are stuck in a large aluminum can with 300 other souls at 35,000 feet.

But if the flight happens at a time when you usually fall asleep, the clock is on your side. Not only can you fall asleep quickly, but so will your fellow passengers.

Dimmed lights deliver an ambiance that’s more tranquil and conducive to rest. Moreover, you don’t have to worry about the sun shining into the cabin and keeping everyone awake and jittery.

To top it off, red-eye flights are often cheaper.

2. Find the Right Seat

Any seasoned traveler will tell you to avoid the back rows. Sitting at the rear of the plan means dealing with near-constant traffic from passengers visiting the lavatory, flight attendants working in the galley, and possibly foul odors.

Many consider exit rows to be best. They offer a lot of legroom. But be warned that the seats in these rows may not recline as far on certain aircraft.

A window seat somewhere in the middle is excellent for the average traveler. If you are a larger person, aisle seats may offer you a bit more room.

Experts consider seats over the wing to be the best. They are quieter and smoother due to less turbulence.

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3. Block Ambient Noise

In 2018, Agoda surveyed airline passengers about their pet peeves. It’s no surprise that noise topped the list.

However, for a complete lack of noise on an airliner, you need the help of technology. 

There is a steady din inside a plane. The muffled sound of engines and air conditioning, the low hum of conversation, and the constant swish of clothing creates white noise that can be bothersome after a few hours.

Moreover, you might be seated next to a particularly chatty passenger. While many of us enjoy a bit of small talk, listening to personal anecdotes or political dissertations from a total stranger can become grating after a few hours. Slipping on a pair of earphones is a clear sign that the conversation is over.

A quality pair of noise-cancelling earphones is indispensable for regular long-haul air travelers. First designed by Bose in 1980, they are now available from Sony, Sennheiser, and several other notable brands. Many of these earphones don’t even require you to listen to music or watch a show. You can simply turn on their noise-cancelling feature, and enjoy some blissful silence.

Depending on your preference and budget, you can get over-the-ear models or earbuds, in either wireless Bluetooth versions, or traditional wired versions.

4. Prepare Your Body

You may find it impossible to fall asleep comfortably on a flight if you are not feeling well.

Avoid eating large meals before departure. Indigestion can play havoc with your rest. Since you will be almost immobile for several hours, it is best to eat lightly before a flight.

Too much coffee can contribute to dehydration, and caffeine can make you feel anxious and jittery. Try to abstain from caffeine for at least four hours before you plan to doze off in the air.

Cut back on alcohol during the flight. Alcohol does not help you to fall asleep. All it does is induce temporary drowsiness. You might be asleep for a few hours, but it won’t be restorative rest; and you may wake up with a hangover.

Make sure you drink plenty of water. The dry air on the plane might cause your throat to feel scratchy and hoarse otherwise.

One excellent way to sleep more soundly on a flight is by exercising before departure. Try to get in a good workout at home or the hotel gym before you head to the airport. Even walking a mile or two on the treadmill can go a long way in tiring you out and letting you sleep more easily.

5. Dress Comfortably

With all the discomforts of flying, there is still something left in your control. What you wear might be the difference between quiet repose and a feverish mind.

Your clothes need to be loose-fitting and breathable. Natural fibers like wool and cotton are the best.

A business suit is unsuitable for a flight. So is a tight pair of jeans. Unless you have a business meeting or social engagement to go to straight from the airport, there’s no reason to put fashion over comfort.

Scarves and cardigans can be a good idea as the temperature drops inside the cabin. Even if you take them off, they serve as a headrest and provide comfort.

Avoid boots and wear soft shoes. In addition to being lightweight, suede moccasins and pumps are easy to kick off and comfortable to wear.

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6. In-Flight Entertainment

If you want to snooze, avoid typical in-flight entertainment. No matter how much you are tempted to watch a movie on your phone, it’s not the best idea if you want to sleep. The blue light from the LED screen hitting your retinas triggers your brain to stay awake.

What should you do instead? Read a book. It is sure to make you get drowsy after an hour or two. After all, you read books at bedtime, and the familiar habit signals sleep.

You could also try meditation apps such as Calm. It teaches sleep meditation that induces drowsiness.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a new technique for falling asleep. There are numerous videos on YouTube that can be downloaded for free. ASMR is a tingling sensation in your head and body that can induce relaxation and drowsiness.

Avoid listening to music that will keep you awake. Soothing melodies such as Gheorghe Zamfir’s pan pipes is ideal.

7. Cover Your Eyes

Though lights on the inside of a plane get dimmed, it’s never completely dark. The light from a screen two rows ahead is enough to wake you up. Moreover, there are plenty of selfie-crazy Instagrammers with little regard for fellow passengers.

A good eye mask is worth its weight in gold. It’s a simple solution to a complex problem. The best masks are made of hypoallergenic silk and feel cool against the skin.

Also, invest in your own pillow. Otherwise, your flight might literally end up being a pain in the neck. The perfect travel pillow will keep your head upright and prevent painful kinks. Most can be attached to the headrest with a band and are very lightweight. Choose one that is collapsible and packs easily into your carryon luggage.

To avoid the pooling of fluids near your ankles, take a walk around the cabin every couple of hours. DVT, or Deep Vein Thrombosis, is a very real health risk associated with long flights.

If you feel dizzy or unwell after hours on the plane, do not hesitate to seek medical advice at your destination. Be sure to have a travel medical insurance or travel insurance plan in place that can provide coverage for your medical treatment costs.

If All Else Fails…

Should you take a sleeping pill? That entirely depends on your physician’s advice. Arriving sleepy at your destination due to pharmaceuticals might add to jet lag. You may want to speak to your doctor about taking a natural sleep supplement like melatonin, or an over-the-counter sleep aid like diphenhydramine.

Lifting Off, and Dozing Off

Everyone is different. Some people can fall asleep instantly in an economy seat on a crowded flight. Others have difficulty even in the most ideal situations. It will take some trial and error to find out which technique helps you sleep the best. Therefore, try to employ several of these tips on your next long flight. The right combination can help you land well-rested, and ready to enjoy your travels.

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