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Travel enthusiasts are now making up for lost time, having been grounded during the 2020 pandemic. The Travel and Leisure report from March 2023 notes that people are really embracing travel this year. Instead of collecting souvenirs, they're more focused on personal rejuvenation.
They're hoping to achieve this by spending a self-care week in iconic places like Paris, Rome, or Bali. This trip could help them recover from years of sleep debt. The hitch is that before this refreshing experience, most have to endure a long economy-class flight, with questionable entertainment.
Ideally, they would just sleep through the flight, but catching some shut-eye on a plane can be tricky. Just as elusive, in fact, as the rejuvenation they're aiming for.
The Long Flight and Curse Of Trying to Fall Asleep on a Plane
The sleep experts at Rise Science say that it takes about one hour of recovery time for every time zone you cross. Yet certain factors like your age, destination, and season can influence your recovery time.
And side effects like sleep deprivation, like digestive issues, extreme fatigue, and general malaise, make recovery take longer. That’s probably not the kind of luxury experience you were hoping for when you booked your travel plans.
As many frequent fliers have learned. getting enough sleep plays a key role in jet lag recovery.
Tips For How to Sleep on a Plane
1. Change your sleep routine ahead of time
You’ll do better if you begin changing your sleep patterns slightly before the plane takes off. Indeed, even before you board your plane. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you set your clocks and watches to your destination’s time zone.
Adjusting your sleep schedule by going to bed an hour earlier in the weeks before you travel can also help. You’re sending a message to your body about what it can expect in the future as far as sleep is concerned, especially if you're looking at long-haul, overnight flights during your trip.
If you find it difficult to fall asleep an hour earlier because it's still light outside, you might try a sleep mask. One of Blissy's customers, Joanne R. told us, "I need total darkness to sleep. I put on my mask and sleep until I am ready to rise." While we definitely recommend the Blissy Sleep Mask for traveling, it's a great sleep aid in the weeks before you travel, too. It's definitely not just for your travel amenity kit!
2. Get more light
You may want to look at the amount of light you’re getting and make adjustments accordingly. For example, traveling in an eastward direction is harder on the body than traveling in the opposite direction.
To compensate, expose yourself to more sunlight to help your body’s rhythms adjust. This is particularly important if you travel more than 8 time zones because your body could mistake dust for dawn and vice versa.
3. Try a first-class seat to enjoy a deep sleep
Travel & Leisure reminds travelers that a first-class seat, with its extra legroom and wider seats, is more conducive to sleeping than other flight classes. So if you can afford first class, book it.
It’s better all around in terms of sleep options. Like you won't need to keep your upper body in the upright position while you sleep. Many first-class options include recliner-like chairs that allow you to recline back during your slumbers.
You’ll also enjoy yummier food and drinks. And speaking of drinks, no matter where you're sitting on your flight, make sure that you stay hydrated. Ask the flight attendant for bottled water. Or if you grow tired of drinking that, herbal tea is a nice substitute.
4. Nab a window seat if you can't go first class
A window seat is a fair substitute for first class. It allows you to rest your head on the window. Taking along a Blissy Pillowcase in toddler size to cover your travel pillow. Our customer Barbara E. offers this hack: "I take a pillowcase on all my travels and have a toddler size for my travel pillow on a plane."
She owns six Blissy silk pillowcases, so she's a pro when it comes to traveling in comfort and style!
5. Dealing with a middle seat
If you’re stuck in the middle seat, neck pillows are your friend. Particularly if they are covered by a Blissy Silk Pillowcase. They can be the trick you need to get some vital shut-eye and help you keep good sleep hygiene in the process.
The silk pillowcase protects your skin and hair from what could otherwise be an uncomfortable and messy, skin-crinkling, bedhead-inducing sleep as you try to find a comfortable position for hours.
6. Avoid an aisle seat if you can
If you're on a daytime flight and don't need to achieve the deep slumber that only babies seem to get, then sitting in an aisle seat is fine. You get to stretch out your legs, and you won't have to climb over anyone if you need to trot to the restroom.
It's a different story if 8 or 10 hours of nighttime separate you and your final destination. Not everyone can sleep in these seats for hours. Switch seats if you can. If it's not possible, a neck pillow may offer some help when you're stuck on the aisle.
7. Find a row of your own on a long-haul flight
Another good substitute for first class is to have a row of your own. It isn’t always possible to set this up, but if you can swing it, it may be one of the best bets you have for stretching out, which makes sleeping on a plane easier.
This is also a nice option if you need to get up and walk around for a bit. You won’t disturb any of your neighbors in-flight.
Aside from this, it gives you a break from sitting upright. It's difficult to sleep upright. You have your tray table in the way. You may be elbowed by the person in the seat next to you. Even with the window seat, your sleep time seriously deteriorates when you have to sleep sitting up.
Being able to stretch out over 3 seats instead of trying to sleep upright in one makes for a whole different sleep experience, especially on long flights. If you don't happen to have a lucky row, ask the flight attendant if you can move to a different row if the flight isn't fully booked.
8. Your seat belt could be the key to better sleep
And here’s an extra tip for learning how to sleep on a plane like a pro. Buckling your seat belt over your travel blanket not only secures the blanket in place. It tells flight staff that you’re down for the count.
And because your belt is fastened, you’re ready in case of any turbulence or other sleep-depriving issues should arise. The flight attendants won't need to wake you up to ensure that you're following safety protocol.
9. Create an amenity kit including a sleep mask
If you're a frequent flier, or even if you're not, it'll do you some good to create a ready-made amenity kit that you take with you on your travels.
It's easy to forget the creature comforts that make sleeping on a plane a little easier, so having them packed ahead of time means they're ready to go at a moment's notice.
You'll want to fill it with some sleep aids, compression socks, sleep medicine, a pair of noise-canceling headphones, and some comfortable clothes to change into. To fit all this, choose a carry-on that's large enough to fit all the necessities. But small enough to carry easily.
And for a quick snooze, be sure to keep your Blissy Sleep Mask at the top of your carry-on for easy access. As our customer Maria C. says, "If you travel, this is a must on planes, trains, and getaways."
10. Avoid blue light while you fly
Blue light has serious negative effects on sleep patterns, according to an article on the Harvard Medical School website. Exposure to the screens of electronics, like TVs and phones, has a negative effect on melatonin levels in the brain.
While some exposure to this unnatural light is unavoidable when you fly—how else are you going to watch that "Sex and the City" marathon on the Big Plane TV Network? Try to put the kibosh on it where possible.
One thing that sleep and travel experts recommend is to try to replicate your home sleep routine as much as possible. To do this, you can do things like put on your silk eye mask and roll out your favorite bedtime meditation before getting some shut-eye on the plane.
Final Thoughts on Interrupted Sleep Cycles and Time-Zone Adjustments
For many travelers, falling asleep on the plane offers some relief from jet lag. It can be especially helpful if your flight time coincides with nighttime at your travel destination. In other words, you’ll be waking up ready to land, just as the sun is rising. Such a practice allows your body’s circadian rhythms to adjust to the new time zone.
Flying changes our biological clocks. But given enough time, most of us find that our bodies adjust...eventually. The problem is, we often spend our whole vacations recovering from the plane flight. At least it feels that way. That leaves us less time to enjoy all the places our favorite travel blogger recommended in Buenos Aires.
Learning how to sleep on a plane can mitigate some of the issues with your circadian rhythms. Tackling the problem before the next long-haul flight you take, as well as having a plan for some in-flight Zzzzzs, offers the best solution.
- Carrick, E. (2023, February 2). What Flying First Class Is Really Like and How to Decide If It's Worth It. Travel + Leisure. https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-tips/guide-to-flying-first-class
- Dong, C. (2023, March 23). These Are the Biggest Travel Trends of 2023, According to the President of American Express Travel. Travel + Leisure. https://www.travelandleisure.com/top-travel-trends-of-2023-american-express-travel-president-7370758
- Harvard Health. (2020, July 7). Blue light has a dark side. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
- How Long Does Jet Lag Last? It Depends on a Lot. (2022, July 18). https://www.risescience.com/blog/how-long-does-jet-lag-last
- Jet lag disorder - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic. (2022, November 19). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/jet-lag/symptoms-causes/syc-20374027
- McInnis, K. (2023, March 1). How to Sleep on a Plane—Even If You’re in the Middle Seat. Condé Nast Traveler. https://www.cntraveler.com/story/how-to-sleep-on-a-plane
- Tigar, L. (2022, December 16). Can Never Sleep on an Airplane? Seasoned Travelers Spill 14 Snoozing Secrets. Reader’s Digest. https://www.rd.com/list/how-to-sleep-on-a-plane/