Everything You Need to Know About Sleeping on the Plane and Beating Jet Lag
Who doesn’t want to sleep like a baby on a long-haul flight? (Photo: Serg Myshkovsky/Vetta/Getty Images)
Road warriors, aka frequent travelers, need their sleep in order to stay refreshed, whether they’re on a quick flight or a long-haul trip to a different country. I’ve learned through much trial and error that getting sleep right and beating jet lag is a bit of a science. (There was that flight when my husband and I popped our Ambien as we powered down our cell phones. Sure enough, our Boeing 757 then had mechanical trouble; we were escorted off the plane, in a haze, to another plane. At least neither of us remembers the incident clearly.) Since I’m about to take an overnight red-eye to Istanbul — and just to be sure I’m doing this travel-sleep thing right — I consulted a few experts for their best tips.
Melatonin is a neurotransmitter produced in the body that encourages sleep. It also comes in pill form. (Photo: Murrur/Wikimedia Commons)
1. Plan ahead to beat jet lag.
Fun fact: “When you shift time zones, your clock takes about one day per time zone to catch up,” says Dr. Daniel A. Barone, a neurologist and sleep specialist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical College. So if you’re taking a longer trip to a far-off time zone, it pays to get yourself acclimated to the new schedule to lessen jet lag. The best way to do that? Use a one-two punch with melatonin (which encourages sleep) and a sliding bedtime schedule, says Barone. For example, “If you’re traveling eastward for a long period, you want to advance your body’s rhythm leading up to the trip,” he says. So, starting a few days before your flight, take melatonin at about 10 p.m. “with the intention of falling asleep a little earlier than usual and waking up a little earlier.” Each night, shave off another hour, and when you arrive in Europe, voilà, you’re on Paris time! One caveat, though: Taking loads of melatonin is questionable. Some data suggests that high levels can affect fertility, “though it hasn’t been fully studied,” says Barone.
Sometimes you just need a sleep aid on a long flight. (Photo: Purestock/Getty Images)