When trying to sleep on a plane, the obstacles are stacked against you. The environment is loud, bright, crowded and uncomfortable. But while it most likely won’t be the same quality as at home, it is still possible to get some shut-eye with the right gear.
Sleeping on a plane is like any other skill: You have to practice to get good at it.
“Don’t get too caught up in ‘I need to sleep,’ ” says Ellen Wermter, a board-certified family nurse practitioner and Better Sleep Council spokesperson. “If you sleep, great. If you don’t, you’re still getting benefits from closing your eyes and getting quiet time.”
Here’s what you need to get started.
• Neck pillow. It could take trial and error before you find what works for you.
Michael Breus, a physiologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says that for a lot of people, when using C-shaped neck pillows, “their head bobs forward and it wakes them up. I tell them to take the really thick part and put it under their chin.”
• Eye mask. Buy one that doesn’t press too firmly on your eyes and covers them completely. Putting on an eye mask can act as a signal to your body and mind that it’s time to sleep, not re-watch “The English Patient” on the tiny TV.
• Blue-light-blocking glasses. That artificial light that beams out of phones, computers and LED displays is a detriment to your sleep quality.
“The plane is one of the largest sources of what we call ‘junk light’ that we can possibly put ourselves in,” says chiropractor Chris Tomshack. “So let’s eliminate that variable and wear blue-light-blocking glasses. It tells our brain, ‘Hey we’re not supposed to be awake. We’re supposed to be dialing down.’ “
• Blanket. Planes don’t always have complimentary blankets these days. Prepare for a cold scenario by packing a scarf, shawl or blanket in your carry-on. If you don’t need it to keep warm, you can use it to further support your neck.
• Compression socks. These will help prevent stagnant blood flow while you’re sedentary. “This isn’t just for people over 60 or 70 who are at risk for deep-vein thrombosis or blood clots in their legs,” Tomshack says. “This is for everybody because they improve circulation.”
• Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. Planes are loud. Really loud. For plugs, Tomshack recommends a noise reduction rating (NRR) of at least 30.
• Melatonin. This is a more natural alternative to a prescription sleep aid, and it’s available at drugstores over the counter. But make sure you’re not taking too much.
“The challenge with melatonin is, Americans think: If a little is good, a lot is obviously better. And it’s totally wrong,” Tomshack says. “When it comes to melatonin, we really shouldn’t exceed a half-milligram to 1 milligram on any given day.”
• Water. The best sleep is interruption-free, and that’s nearly impossible on a plane. One interruption you can avoid is the refreshment cart, if you pack your own water bottle.
— Natalie B. Compton, The Washington Post