How To: Sleep on Flights

I'm not going to lie. This post is kind of a weird one for me to write because I really have no trouble falling asleep on flights. I have no trouble falling asleep anywhere. It's a trait that I'm simultaneously proud and embarrassed of.

Despite my ability to lose consciousness at the drop of a hat, that doesn't mean I don't have a few tricks up my sleeve for sleeping comfortably on an airplane (or bus or train). So, if you're the type of person who has trouble sleeping, hopefully there's some advice in here for you. My fingers are crossed for the sleep-troubled.
You will need an arsenal of tools and techniques.

First things first, you'll need to show up to the airport armed with the necessities that will help you feel cozy and create a comfortable environment for snoozing.
  • neck pillow - A neck pillow is super important. If you're concerned about packing space, there are blow-up neck pillows that take up v. little room. Tuck it around the back of your head for a little support while you're reading or watching some in-flight entertainment. Or, tuck it around the front of your neck when you're ready to sleep so you don't jolt yourself awake with a sudden start when your neck muscles go slack and your head bobs forward.
  • sleep aid - If you have a go-to sleeping pill that you like and have experience with, then go for it. I can't stress enough that it's important to test out a sleeping aid at home first instead of experimenting with it in an unfamiliar environment! If I really want to knock myself out, I'll take NyQuil, which I know works for me. But in general, I prefer something a little gentler, like Dream Water. It's got melatonin and it's sold in TSA-friendly shots. And what I like is that you can chug the whole thing or just take a sip, depending on your mood and the length of the flight.
  • soothing sounds & headphones - If you're trying to coax yourself to sleep, the last thing you want to do is to look at the in-flight entertainment or your phone because the blue light prevents your body from getting sleepy. If you need a distraction and a way to drown out the airplane vibrations and noise from neighbors, then pop on a pair of headphones (noise-canceling ones, if necessary) and turn on some soothing tunes. For some people, lullabies are best and for others, scream-o rock qualifies as soothing. Personally, I like to throw on a movie or an episode of a TV show I've seen countless times. The familiarity is soothing to me. And I understand that I just said not to look at blue light-emitting devices. I throw on a sleep mask (which I discuss below) and let the sounds lull me to sleep.
  • cozy socks - It's important to get comfortable so chuck off your shoes (unless your feet are stinky) and pop on some really soft socks. I love aloe socks because they keep my skin soft, which is important on airplanes where the air is crazy dry.
  • light reading - I know that I'm not the only one who would fall dead asleep as soon as I opened a textbook during school. If you have trouble sleeping, pack a boring book that you know will have your eyelids drooping in no time. Or, grab the emergency protocol brochure from the seat back pocket and read that (unless you think emergency protocol is riveting stuff).
  • sleep mask - Blocking out light is the best way to have a relaxing sleep. This includes sunlight, the built-in plane lights, and blue light, the obnoxious sleep-preventer. So, if your neighbor is tapping on a laptop. watching a movie, has his/her reading light on, or in the worst case scenario, someone somewhere on the plane has their windowshade open and it's blasting sun in your face, you can block it out with your handy, dandy sleep mask. Just make sure it's padded enough that it really blocks light and that it's soft enough to cradle your delicate eye area.
  • blanket scarf - When you sleep, your body temperature naturally drops. If it's already cold on the airplane, that's just asking for trouble. Get nice and cozy with a blanket. If your scarf doubles as a blanket, that's even better.

So, it's not enough to have a bag of tools, you're going to need to prepare your body for the trip.
  • avoid caffeine - If you know you're going to be on a long-haul flight and you want to be able to sleep, the first thing I recommend is avoiding caffeine. You might be a little cranky for a while, but the deep sleep will be worth it.
  • avoid alcohol - As tempting as it may be to down a glass (or four) of wine to promote that that heavy eyelid, sleepy headed state, it's not a good idea. For one, alcohol dehydrates you so you'll feel like crap whilst on the flight and even worse when you land. Secondly, even though alcohol lulls you to sleep, the sleep you get isn't quality. I found this out in college when without a doubt, the morning after a party night, I'd wake up at 5AM for no good reason. Apparently, alcohol disrupts your REM sleep so it's not a v. restful snooze. Thirdly, alcohol makes you pee! So, even if you manage to fall into a deep sleep, eventually, a full bladder will wake you up like a fire alarm.
  • wear comfy clothes - I don't recommend showing up to the airport in a fleece onesie but throw on your softest, most worn-in jeans or a pair of swishy palazzo pants and a cozy sweater. It's pretty important that you have the ability to stretch your legs and arms to promote circulation so save your tight-tush leather leggings for later.
  • figure out your sleep schedule - If you will be arriving at your destination first thing in the morning, try and sleep through the duration of the flight. If you will be arriving at your destination in the middle of the night, take a short nap and then try to stay awake through most of the flight. If you're arriving sometime midday, nap, don't nap, do what you need to do according to how much sleep, or lack thereof, affects you.
  • eat a meal timed with your destination - Timing of meals surprisingly affects the body more than you know so try and plan your airport and in-flight meals accordingly. Oh, and eat something heavy and sleep-promoting, like turkey.
  • charge your devices - Make sure your phone and iPad and whatever else are 100% charged for the flight. These will be your sources of soothing sounds and also a source of entertainment to keep yourself awake when you need to be awake.

Use seatguru to make sure you're not choosing a dud of a seat when you're booking your flights.
  • pick a window seat - Pick a window seat so your annoying neighbors won't have to wake you up to use the toilet. However, if you want to be the annoying neighbor, that's your prerogative; hey, if they were too slow to choose the window seat, that's their fault. Or, you can be nice and try and go when your neighbors are going or suggest you all get up as a group and go at the same time. The window seat is also awesome because you have a wall to lean your head against.
  • avoid seats that don't recline - Avoid the row of seats in front of an exit row (including the exit row that is in front of another exit row) because those seats do not recline. Avoid the last row of the plane because those seats don't recline either (and you'll be the last one to de-plane).
  • check in early - Make sure you check in as early as possible (most airlines let you check in up to 24 hours before takeoff) to confirm the seats you've so carefully chosen or to try and find a better seat if your original bookings were duds.
As soon as you get on the flight, pull out all of the trusty sleep tools (which should be handily stowed in your carry-on that's tucked under the seat in front of you) and tuck them into the seatback pocket for easy access while you settle in.
  • recline your seat - Get nice and comfortable, with all of the tools I listed above, and then recline your seat as soon as you get the go-ahead from the flight crew. But, before you do, turn around and tell your fellow customer behind you that you'll be reclining. It's the polite thing to do.
  • buckle your seatbelt so it's visible - If you're wrapped up in a blanket, make sure to buckle your seatbelt around the blanket so the flight attendants don't have to wake you to check that you've got your seatbelt buckled. The other good thing is that (most) airlines no longer require you to turn off your small electronic devices so the flight attendant won't jostle you awake to tell you to remove your headphones. This recent change has been a life (and sleep) saver for me this past year.
  • take the freebies - If the airline offers you a free pillow and blanket, even if you think they're gross, take them and use them. Tuck the pillow behind your lower back for some lumbar support and use the blanket to give your tush some comfort or as a rug for your shoe-less feet.
  • set an alarm - If you don't want to be groggy and foggy-headed when you arrive at your destination, set an alarm. I recommend making sure you're up at least 30 minutes before you land so you can take some time to stretch, splash a little water on your face and pinch your cheeks, and get ready to de-board. I also recommend setting the alarm for a time period that will give you a sleeping time that's an increment of 30 minutes because that's what suits your REM sleep cycle; it's all v. scientific. If you've ever been woken up by an alarm in the middle of a dream, you'll know how disrupted you feel when you've been jolted out of a REM cycle. Usually, I feel quite nauseated and fuzzy. Obviously, it's hard to predict exactly when you'll fall asleep but just take a stab at it.
  • talk to the flight attendant pre-sleep - Tell the flight attendant that you would like to sleep through the flight and keep your seatbelt buckled over your blanket so no one will disturb you to ask to see your seatbelt. Or, if you want to sleep but also want to eat and drink, tell the flight attendant that you would like him/her to disturb you for beverages and meal time (or maybe only beverages and not meal time if you think airplane food is gross).
That being said, don't take all of these rules too seriously. The best tactic is to relax. Uptight, tense, stressed out people usually don't sleep v. well.

Cheers and happy travels!