The prospect of a long-haul flight often elicits a double-edged sword of emotions. Yes, you’re off somewhere far far away on a great adventure, but the spectre of sleep-deprived jet-lag whereby you spend the first few days on arrival in a zombie-like state is never fun. Just imagine if you could spring out of your aircraft seat upon touchdown from a 12 hour flight feeling rested, fresh-faced and ready to take on the world. Rest assured, there are plenty of ways and means of clocking up some sleep at 35,000 feet, whether you’re at the pointy end of the plane, or in the main cabin. I’ve compiled some tips that have proven to be a trusty godsend for me and some of my frequent-flying friends.
Middle It. The ability to lie prostrate, to actually stretch out horizontally and create the sense of being in a bed is undoubtedly the ultimate sleep-inducing scenario in-flight. If you’re not prepared to splurge on business class, you could take a punt and book a middle seat, towards the back of the plane. In the great lottery of life, that will give you the best chances of bagging an entire row of seats, because the back of plane with an occupied middle seat makes it highly unlikely that couples or families will seek to select seats next to you. They want to sit side by side. So, if it’s not a full flight, you’ve got a fighting chance of scoring some unoccupied seats next to you, to stretch out on. But if you hate sitting in a middle seat, admittedly, this is a very high-risk strategy.
Routine, routine. I know this sounds a bit naff, but sticking to your pre-sleep routine on a flight will help lull you into the land of nod mindset. Whether that means changing into pyjamas and brushing your teeth, or simply reading for an hour before your head hits the pillow, replicate what you would do at home.
Mask It, Plug It and Detox. Definitely wear a sleeping mask, the blacker and darker, the better. It’s not a fashion contest, even if you’re wearing Air New Zealand’s Bird Mask complete with indentations for your eyes. I used to hate ear plugs, but the constant drone of the engines conspires against sleep. Block out the world, visually and audibly. You may want to test a few different kind of plugs, whether they be the foam plugs or the mouldable wax variety. And just as we are extolled to switch off our devices long before we go to bed, the same adage applies on-board. With a world of on-demand entertainment at your finger-tips, the last thing you want to do is fry your head with over-stimulation. Stop watching those movies or checking your photos a good thirty minutes before attempting to get some shut-eye. If you have managed to bag a row of economy seats and are forced to try and sleep sitting upright, neck-support will be your best friend. Those pathetic pancake-flat airline pillows are useless. Horse-shoe shaped neck cushions do make a world of difference.
Re-set your time-zone. I’ve only started doing this recently, but it absolutely helps ease you into your destination of your choice, without feeling addled and fuzzy for the first couple of days. Switch to the time-zone of your destination the moment you board your plane. So, let’s suppose you are departing from Singapore to London at 2pm and arriving into London at 5am, recalibrate your time-zone, so that you try and go to sleep around 9pm London time. I know people who actually adopt their destination’s time-zone, the day before departure.
To booze or not. I am paranoid about what I drink on a long-haul flight. When it comes to water, I drink like a fish, hydrating myself liberally. As much as I love caffeine, I totally dodge it in-flight, until breakfast time prior to touchdown. Alcohol can be a deal-breaker for sleep, because it will have a stronger effect on you at altitude. But if you enjoy a tipple after-dinner at home, enjoying just one glass of red or a whisky does have a soporific effect. Speaking of fluids, you may have noticed those FlyHidrate drinks that are sold inside the departures lounge at our airports. Packed with electrolytes, vitamins and antioxidants, I know many people consumer them to combat jet-lag and are raving fans. But they are chiefly designed to minimise that sense of feeling dead on arrival, rather than assisting you sleep en-route.
Perfume yourself. Some of my frequent-flyer pals swear by the power of smell as a sleep aid, whether it be hand cream, or a dab of lavender, sandalwood or bergamot on the back of your neck to enhance your inner zen. I’ve tried a dab of lavender and it did seem to help me nod off.
Medicate? In recent times I have started popping a few pills in my carry on to help nudge me off to the land of nod. Nothing too potent in the way of sleeping tablets, but more natural over-the-counter medications. Pick up some melatonin, which helps regulate night and day cycles and sends signals to the brain that it’s time to snooze. Similarly, I find that high-strength magnesium supplement tablets calm the mind and support sleep.
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Saturday Mornings with Jack Tame.