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Travel Tips

6 Tips for Sleeping Well on a Plane

Let’s face it. An airplane is NOT a bedroom — there are no comfy cots (unless you’re one of the #blessed few in first class), no feather pillows, and you’re certainly not going to find peace and quiet. But that doesn’t mean sleeping is downright impossible. Alex Pasquariello gives the lowdown on how to pass the hell out on a plane.

See recent posts by Alex Pasquariello

Some people like to watch movies. Others, have their noses in a book. But most fliers spend their time in the air blissfully unconscious. Whether jetting over the North Pole on a long haul to Moscow or zipping out to the Rockies, we prefer to partake in the miracle of human flight sleeping like a baby. Here’s what you need to know to get some zzzzz’s from 35,000 feet up.

Get an upgrade

Avoiding the coach cattle car is a crucial step when you want to snooze. Luckily, airlines are rolling out more seating options than ever, so you don’t have to snuggle with the stranger sitting next to you. No, that doesn’t mean forking over thousands for an Emirates First Class Suite with Jennifer Aniston (though one can only dream). Upgrading can be as simple as moving to a Premium Economy window seat, or the exit row for space-hogging sprawlers. Add an inflatable travel pillow, and you’ll be on cloud nine in no time.

Take the redeye

We get it, not everyone is a night owl. But the redeye does have its perks: You’ll have more time in your trip destination AND you’ll feel well-rested upon touchdown because the flight is during your normal sleep schedule. Bonus: These are often the cheapest flights available in dollars or points — I once cashed in my miles for an American Airlines first class ticket on a cross-coastal redeye for a smidge more than it would cost to fly coach. Score!

Invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones

Newsflash: You can actually go deaf from sounds louder than 85 decibels — and engine noise hits a whopping 120 decibels at takeoff! At that level, it’s a wonder how anyone can get shut-eye. Enter noise-cancelling headphones, which as opposed to simple earplugs, use microphones that "listen" to noisy sound waves and then produce a counter signal to flatten them into sweet silence. Although a pair is pricey (the Bose QuietComfort 25 are $300), they’re worth the splurge.

Ditch the booze

After the stress of security lines and getting to the gate on time, the temptation to kick back with a double Scotch is real. But when you’re looking to rest, imbibing is rarely the right choice. Studies have repeatedly shown that even moderate alcohol consumption before bed severely disrupts the sleep cycle (even if it does knock you out quickly). Drunken deep sleep also increases sleep-walking, sleep apnea, and snoring, all definite no-nos while packed like sardines in a plane. Plus, nobody likes nursing a hangover on vacation.

Watch what you eat

Eating the right meal before boarding can be the difference between an invigorating nap and a flatulent flight. When the plane climbs to cruising altitude, air — including that in your digestive tract — expands. As a result, gas that might otherwise have been harmless at sea level can wreak havoc on your stomach (and on fellow flyers). Avoid veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage at all costs; shun fatty fast foods; and cut carbonated beverages. Instead, snack on bananas, pineapples, oranges, and tart cherries, which increase melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep cycles. Turkey or chicken sandwiches, peanut butter, cheese crackers, nuts, cereal, or sugar-free oatmeal are also good options, especially when chased down with a cup of Yogi Bedtime tea.

Buckle up

Sometimes it’s the simple things that trip up your in-flight catnap. If you doze off without your seat belt latched, flight attendants will wake you up when the captain turns on the dreaded "buckle seat belt" sign. To snooze sans interruption, be sure to strap in (above your blanket, just in case).

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