On a recent trip that included 24-hour travel days both directions, I decided to tackle the problem from multiple angles. I can’t say I slept like a baby, but I slept roughly five hours on both trips, which was enough to keep me functioning on arrival. Best part? I avoided jet lag almost completely.
Warning: Some of these take a bit of practice before you leave home. But it’s your dream trip, right? Isn’t it worth it?
Here are the anti-sleep issues and the weapons I used to fight them.
Snooze in silence with SleepPhones. (Photo: SleepPhones)
Expensive noise-canceling headphones are great if you just need to drown out the noise and catch a quick nap on a cross-country flight. From my research, Bose seems superior to lower-priced options, but when it comes to real sleep, the weight and awkwardness of headphones can keep you awake.
To sleep with comfort, try SleepPhones. It’s a fabric headband with flexible thin flat speakers that rest over your ears so comfortably that you can lay on them. I used the wired version, but they have a new “effortless” version gearing up on Kickstarter.
The one setback is that this gadget requires advance practice. Sleep in them at home several times before your flight to adjust to the feel. The speakers slide back and forth slightly within the fabric band, so move them where you need them for the best sound quality. Additionally, they are not noise canceling, so you will need a white noise app and/or a playlist of music that you can sleep to. More on that later.
Light and activity
Not an ounce of light will get through this eye mask. (Photo: Flight 101)
In most cases, you will fall asleep faster if you can block out extra light and the activity of flight attendants and fellow passengers. The SleepPhones can double as an eye mask, but I found them a little too snug.
If you’re looking for comfort and efficiency try the molded eye mask by Flight 001. They can be found at local stores including Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
Light-blocking glasses called Blackout Bands look pretty cool, but pose the same problem as headphones — not comfortable when I lean my head or face on something.
This pillow might look a little odd, but it will help you sleep. (Photo: Little Cloud Nine)
This one is usually the deal breaker for me. Deep sleep simply does not happen unless my face is resting on something. I always travel with a simple inflatable neck pillow, which works great for naps, but to get to dreamland while sitting up I knew I would need something different. I tried two odd-looking inflatable devices that would allow me to lean my face and upper body into the cushion. They both require practice at home.
The SkyRest is a giant lap pillow that you hug and lean onto. I used it wedged next to the wall on a short leg of my trip where I had the window seat. But I was a little afraid that it lacked stability to keep me from rolling over onto my seatmate if I slept with it in a center seat.
The strangest-looking device I tried, and the one that worked best for me was the Little Cloud Nine. It’s another huggable, leaning device, but this one has you putting your face forward into a tube, with cheeks and forehead resting on the air-filled sides. A square hole near the bottom of the tube is where you put your arms. What I liked best about this one was that I could lean back, rather than forward, and it still stabilized my neck and torso. Even better, with my face in the tube, I didn’t need an eye mask. It effectively blocked most light and all activity around me like a set of blinders on a racehorse. It has two chambers that contribute to its adjustability.
Cold, hard seats, and dehydration
When you think about sleeping on the plane, it is easy to forget about all the little discomforts that may be keeping you from the shuteye you need. Start with your feet. Do you sleep in shoes at home? Probably not. Try wearing slip-on shoes, then replace them with an extra layer of warm socks for warmth and comfort when it’s time to sleep.
What most airlines call blankets for economy passengers are laughable. Deal with the high-altitude cold temperatures by bringing your own cover-up. A light-weight fleece throw is a simple solution, but there are interesting options like this one with pockets that hold chemical warmers. Another choice from Bed, Bath, & Beyond has metallic dots that reflect your body heat inward.
If you want to fall asleep, but don’t want your butt to, consider this pillow. (Photo: Seat Solution)
Then there is your butt. I have not flown without a pillow for my backside in almost a decade. You would be amazed at the improvement it makes over rock-hard economy seats. I like this one called Seat Solution. The best part is that it has a built-in handle, making it easier to strap to the outside of your carry-on.
Unbelievably, even dehydration from flying can keep you from sleeping. Before my flight, I read all the usual advice about the drying effects of sodas and alcohol, but quite frankly, when they offer free wine with dinner, I’m taking it, even if is economy class wine. And that little shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream that Lufthansa brings around as a nightcap? Put me down for two please.
With that said, it’s important to drink a lot of water while flying. It also helps to sip on drinks specifically engineered for flying. 1Above contains natural ingredients designed to help your body combat the effects of dehydration and even takes the guesswork out of knowing how much liquid you need to consume to avoid those effects. Each effervescent tablet dissolves in 600 ml (20 ounces) of water that you should consume in roughly 2.5 hours. Refill and repeat throughout your flight for best results.
I was a skeptic, but I can tell you that I never had cottonmouth. I did not arrive with dry sinuses or eyes. And I did not use an entire tube of lip balm. If those things helped me fall asleep, then I am a believer.
Use a white noise app to tune out sounds on the plane. (Photo: White Noise app)
The biggest obstacle to sleeping while flying is probably your brain. Even on long flights, the time available for sleeping between take off, meal services, and landing preparations can be shorter than you expected and can fall at the absolute wrong time for your brain to shut down. The object is to use everything at your disposal to trick yourself into sleeping on cue. That’s where practicing with your SleepPhones and a sleep playlist comes in. If you have been falling to sleep at home using the same set of songs, it’s easier to flip the off switch.
My secret weapon is the white noise app by TMSoft. I set it to airplane noise and my sleep playlist at the same for at least a week before I fly (You did know you could play them together, right?) The engine sounds on the app did not quite match the real thing, but I think it was close enough that it helped me grow accustomed to the constant hum and learn to sleep through it.
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