How to Get Good Sleep Anywhere
5 expert tips
We’ve all been there. At 35,000 feet, regardless of whether you turn left or right when boarding, there are just some occasions when you can’t sleep. Everything seems to be against you: your seat, the temperature in the cabin, the lights on for meal service, unfamiliar noises and other passengers.
But with 11 hours ahead of you and a 13-hour time difference on landing, getting some serious shut-eye is absolutely critical. Luckily, help is at hand, and one person who knows more than most about the benefits of quality sleep is Alison Jones, a certified Sleep Sense™ Consultant based in Hong Kong. “People need sleep more than they realize, both for health and emotional well-being,” she says. “Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and many other negative health effects can be linked to a lack of good sleep, but there are many things you can do to help yourself get that.”
Matthew Walker< https://www.sleepdiplomat.com> agrees. The professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on sleep and its impact on human health. He has found fame in TED talks such as Sleep is your Superpower, which has garnered millions of views. “There’s a simple truth: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life,’ he says. ‘Sleep loss will leak down into every nook and cranny of your physiology, so sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity — your life support system and Mother Nature’s best effort yet at immortality.”
With those powerful thoughts in mind, we’ve distilled five top tips from Jones and Walker to help you get a great night's sleep — be it on a plane or anywhere else.
1. Get Comfy
It may be hard to achieve a relaxing position on a plane. That may come with a change of clothes into pajamas or similarly loose and comfortable clothing; some frequent flyers swear by slippers from home instead of regular shoes. The top tip from Jones, however, is to take your own pillow wherever you go. “I’ve been traveling with my pillow for 20 years — there’s always space in my luggage for it. If you can trust your pillow, it goes a long way. There’s no sore neck and it’s also a source of comfort,’ she says.
2. Monitor Your Diet
While for some, a glass or two of wine may seem to make it easier to fall asleep, the reality is that alcohol, along with caffeine, should be consumed very sparingly, especially at altitude where the effects are amplified and lead to dehydration. Likewise, it’s best to avoid especially spicy or rich food.
3. Build Good Habits
Regularity is a point drilled home by Walker, namely trying to go to bed and wake up at the same time: “Regularity is king, and will improve the quality and quantity of your sleep,” he says. Jones agrees: “You can never make up for the sleep that you’ve lost, but being able to get into a consistent rhythm of good-quality sleep helps mitigate how bad the effects are.” It may not be an easy win when flying, but makes for a golden rule back on terra firma.
4. Try Melatonin
Our bodies are naturally designed to follow the sun, slowing down as evening comes, so as night falls our bodies produce melatonin to help us fall asleep — and stay asleep. There are countless treatments and pills, natural and otherwise, on the market. Walker advises against sleeping pills, referring to them as “blunt instruments that don’t produce naturalistic sleep.” Jones has a fascinating alternative suggestion: “Drink tart cherry juice before going to bed!” Numerous studies have shown that this increases melatonin, improving sleep duration and quality.
5. Be Screen-Free
In our always-on digital age, the last piece of advice may be the toughest of all to follow, especially in a plane where a screen is right in front of you. Jones explains that ideally, “You need at least 90 minutes screen-free before going to bed, particularly for kids.” She adds that “Beds and bedrooms should be for sleeping — we shouldn't be working in our bedrooms.” Artificial light, especially blue light from mobile devices, slows down our sleep process, so blackout windows are invaluable. In flight, earplugs and eye masks are already popular choices for frequent fliers, but are beneficial at home too — they also prevent us from reaching for our cell phone every time it pings, even though it shouldn’t be in the bedroom in the first place!
Ultimately, as Jones reminds us, “The beauty is that learning to fall asleep is a skill — which means that it can be learned.” So, with that in mind, happy travels and sleep well!