How you can sleep better on a long flight, according to a sleep health expert | The USA Print

How you can sleep better on a long flight, according to a sleep health expert | The USA Print

For most of us, the prospect of a long-haul flight is exciting, if not a bit nerve-wracking. We are on our way to a different place, perhaps on vacation, or to meet up with friends or family.

Even working can be more interesting when you are in a new place.

Of course, you want to arrive rested and ready to go. But by its very definition, a long-haul flight means traveling for a long period of time, typically more than 12 hours.

If you are traveling from New York to Singapore, it may be about 19 hours.

All that time you’re confined to a supposedly reclining seat, but you feel like it barely moves, while the seat in front seems to recline 10 times more than yours.

What can you do to get a decent rest?

accept the situation

The first piece of advice for sleeping in this environment is Lower your expectations a bit. Humans are simply not designed to sleep in a nearly upright position.

Unless you’re lucky enough to fly in a class where the seat can be placed horizontallyit is very unlikely that you will get off the plane having slept straight for 8 hours.

People sleeping on the plane
Lowering expectations helps help you relax. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

Research by colleagues and myself has shown that pilots – who have a bunk to sleep in during their breaks in the flight – sleep lightly and fragmented.

Even though they don’t get a lot of quality sleep, you can rest assured that our research also shows that pilots are still very good at their job during long-haul flight.

This, added to other findings from various laboratory studies, tells us that even a few hours of light sleep has its benefits.

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So even if you can’t sleep your usual 8 hours during the flight, getting some sleep will help you feel good and function better in your destiny

Also, we’re not good at judging how much sleep we get, particularly during light and interrupted sleep. With which it is likely that you have slept more than you think.

Calculate your sleep and your drinks

The time of your flight, and the consumption of alcohol and caffeine they will have a direct impact on your ability to sleep on the plane.

Assuming you’re adapted to the time zone the flight is departing from, day flights will make it much more difficult to sleep on the plane, while night flights will make it easier.

Man drinking coffee on the plane
Caffeine and alcohol have a direct impact on sleep quality. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

All humans have a system of circadian timing (24-hour) that programs us to sleep at night and be awake during the day. Being asleep (or awake) against this biological timing system presents significant challenges.

Our alertness naturally decreases in the midst of latewhich makes this a good time to try to sleep on a day flight.

On a night flight, it will be easier to sleep after dinner is served. Otherwise you will be fighting noise, light and the movement of people around you.

As a stimulant, caffeine helps us stay alert. Even if you are a regular coffee drinker and can fall asleep after consuming caffeineyou sleep will be lighter and you will wake up more easily.

On the other hand, alcohol makes us sleepy, but interferes with the brain’s ability to enter REM sleep (also known as dream sleep).

Although you may feel like you fall asleep more easily after drinking alcohol, your sleep will be more disturbed once your body metabolizes the alcohol and tries to catch up on the REM sleep it lost.

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What if I take melatonin or other drugs?

Some people find that taking a sleeping pill or melatonin can help them on a flight. This is a very personal choice. Before taking any sleep medication or melatonin you should consult a doctor, and only take what is prescribed for you.

person taking a pill
Taking something to sleep on a flight is a very personal choice. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

Many sleep medications prevent normal sleep and can make you feel groggy or sleepy after waking up.

It is important to remember that melatonin is a hormone that our brain uses to tell us that it is night. Melatonin can help you sleep, but depending on when and how much you take, it can throw off your circadian clock.

This could cause you to move even further out of alignment with your destination time zone.

Taking melatonin in your biological evening and evening will shift your circadian timing system to the east (or earlier) and taking it towards the end of your biological evening and morning will push your circadian timing system to the west (or later). Everything gets complicated very quickly.

Prepare your clothes and accessories

Prepare yourself so that you can create the best possible sleeping situation within the confines of your seat.

Wear comfortable layers of clothing so that you can take things off if you’re hot or put on if you’re cold, and keep your blanket and don’t lose it under your seat.

woman on a plane
Dress in layers and don’t lose your blanket. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

Light and noise interrupt sleep, so bring a mask for the eyes and ear plugs (or a headset that covers the noise) to block them out. Practice with both items around your house, as it can take time to get used to using them.

A normal and necessary part of the process of falling asleep is relaxation, including that of our neck muscles.

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When sitting down, this means that our heavy heads are no longer well supported, leading to those horrible nods that most of us have experienced.

Try to support your head with a neck pillow, or if you sit next to the window, against the wall of the plane. Unless you know the person sitting next to you, supporting their head is not a good option.

try not to force it

Finally, if you wake up and have a hard time going back to sleep, don’t insist.

Take advantage of the entertainment offered by the flight. This is one of the few times when scientists will tell you that it is okay to turn to technology, and watch a movie or many episodes of a TV series, or, if you prefer, listen to music or read a good book.

Father and son on a plane
If you can’t fall asleep, don’t insist, take the opportunity to watch movies or listen to music. (Photo: GETTY IMAGES)

When you get sleepy, you can try to sleep again, but don’t stress or worry about getting enough sleep.

Our brain is very good at sleeping, trust your body to make up for what it lacks when it can.

*Leigh Signal is Professor of Fatigue Management and Sleep Health, Researcher, Massey University, New Zealand.

*This article was published on The Conversation and reproduced here under the Creative Commons license. Click here to read the original version.

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