Heading home for the holidays? Let the experts guide you through what can be one of the most stressful things ever: air travel. Here’s everything you need to know about catching those Zzs on a plane!
We’re all aware of the benefits of sleeping on a plane: it makes the trip go faster, your routine isn’t interrupted as much, you get to avoid talking to your annoying sister seated next to you; the list goes on. For many, though, it seems like an impossible feat to get any shut-eye on an airplane. We consulted Dr. Steve Orma, a Clinical Psychologist, and flight attendant/travel expert Heather Poole, who penned the NYT bestseller Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama and Crazy Passengers at 30,000 Feet, to learn about the best tips and tricks!
Should a traveler prep leading up to a flight?
Dr. Orma: You don’t have to prepare weeks in advance. Don’t make it a big deal, as that will only raise anxiety and inhibit sleep. It’s okay if you don’t sleep well or at all. The body is resilient and will adjust. But if you plan to take a sleeping aid, make sure to test it out at least once before you fly to see how it affects you. You want to avoid taking any type of sleep aid for the first time on a flight.
Heather Poole: Prepare the same way you would for a road trip. Food, entertainment, comfortable clothing. The only thing I do differently is hydrate as much as I can, like I’m about to run a marathon, because the air gets so dry at 30,000 feet.
When should you try to sleep?
Dr. Orma: It depends on your flight, such as how many time zones you’re crossing, the time you leave and land, and whether you’re traveling for leisure or business. Don’t sleep on the plane if it’s daytime. If it’s a red-eye, do try. A good rule is to try and stick to your regular sleep-wake schedule, but on the time zone you’re flying to. So, if you’re flying from California to New York, switch to New York time for your sleep schedule.
What’s on your checklist of items to bring with you?
Dr. Orma: Comfortable clothes or something to change into like sweats or pajamas, a sleep mask, earplugs.
Heather Poole: A lightweight jacket or sweater to roll up for lumbar support, socks, headphones and a relaxing playlist.
What about meditation?
Heather Poole: It might help. Just keep the yoga moves in your seat and be mindful of passengers next to you. The galley is not the place to do pilates!
Dr. Orma: A guided meditation can mask noise and help you to drift into sleep. You can also try one of the “Sleep Stories” from the app Calm.
Does seat choice matter?
Dr. Orma: Sure, seats with more legroom or that recline into a bed (as in first and business class) will obviously be more comfortable than coach. But if you can’t afford that, the window seat is best because others won’t disturb you in your row when they get up to use the restroom. You’ll be away from the aisle where people are walking and providing service. You can also use the side of the plane to rest against with a pillow.
Heather Poole: Book the window seat and lean into the wall. If you’re a side sleeper, make sure to book the side of the plane you prefer to sleep on so you’re more comfortable leaning into the window.
Are there certain foods or drinks one should have, or that they should avoid?
Dr. Orma: This varies between people, so it’s important to know how certain foods affect you. Generally, if you plan to sleep, avoid foods high in sugar and processed carbohydrates, which raise your blood sugar and can give you a prohibiting burst of energy. Avoid anything with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, and chocolate. And though it may knock you out, alcohol will dehydrate you and inhibit the deeper stages of sleep.
There are foods — bananas, sweet potatoes, whole-grain cereals — that are purported to make you sleepy, but there is very evidence to support it. Milk and turkey are also said to help you sleep because they contain tryptophan, an amino acid claimed to promote drowsiness.
Is there an over-the-counter sleeping aid you prefer?
Dr. Orma: Generally, I don’t recommend people take prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids, other than if, for example, you’re flying for business and have to be sharp when you arrive for an important meeting. Then, taking a sleep aid is an option. There’s no specific one I recommend, because they affect each person differently.
Any other tips?
Heather Poole: Planes are always cold, even in the summer, so wear something warm to make it easier to be comfortable!
Dr. Orma: Don’t stress out about it. Flying and traveling create challenges with sleep, but the more flexible and adaptable you are, the more relaxed you’ll be. If you’re crossing several time zones, just expect it will take some time (usually about a day per time zone) for your body to acclimate to the new time. Having that mental expectation will help.
HollywoodLifers, will you be flying home this year? Tell us what your tips are for sleeping on a plane!