Getting some shut-eye on a plane is a perennial challenge for travelers, but there are a few low-tech tricks that can make switching time zones and taking long-haul flights a little easier. David Hamer, director of the Travel Clinic at Boston Medical Center and a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University’s schools of Public Health and Medicine, shared some strategies for catching a few Zs at 30,000 feet.
Adjust your bedtime before you go: Tweak your sleep schedule before your flight so when you land you’ll be more in sync with local time. “It’s pretty well established that resetting your biological clock one hour a day for each hour of a time difference is effective,” Hamer said.
Eat and drink moderately onboard: Some foods are thought to foster sleep, like trying to induce a “carb coma” by loading up on carbohydrates. “But there’s not much good data in the scientific literature to support it,” Hamer said. Instead of eating to get sleepy, just eat when you feel hungry. Try not to overeat, and avoid too much caffeine or alcohol.
Act like a local after you land: “I try to set my sleep schedule to the local time zone as quickly as possible,” said Hamer.” On the first day I take a short nap, but try to stay awake as much as possible during daytime hours. I also try to eat at the same time of day as locals. Your body may say you are not hungry, but it’s important to try.”
Consider sleep aids carefully: “The jury is out,” Hamer said, on the wisdom of using medication on long flights to induce deep sleep for extended periods. “I don’t do it for a couple of reasons.” Some sleep aids, he explained, may compound symptoms of jet lag, like fatigue, nausea, headaches and poor concentration.
Being knocked out for long periods may also mean less mobility, which makes deep vein thrombosis a greater risk, and if there are unexpected disruptions or emergencies on the flight, travelers won’t be fully alert to react appropriately.
Get reliable advice: If you’re looking for more options, high-tech devices like “smart” sleep masks and headsets are on the market. Many use light a proven factor to regulate sleep, Hamer said. But while some products may hold promise, relatively few rigorously designed studies have evaluated them, he said.