Dear fellow travelers, feeling ready for a night adventure in the skies?
Red eye flights feature in thrillers and got their scary name due to the hoards of disembarking sleepless passengers with bloodshot eyes.
Yet overnight flights have their pros too. They are often cheaper, and on top of that they can help business travelers save on hotel money as well as precious time.
So, if you’re about to embark on a plane for a night journey, you may need a few tips to help you survive a red eye flight. If you actually want to fall asleep and get up at least relatively fresh and ready for that 9 a.m. meeting, follow these few simple steps.
Go for the later flight
A red eye flight is typically a flight that leaves late at night (after 9 p.m.) and arrives early in the morning (after 5 or 6 a.m.).
In the USA most overnight flights connect the West Coast and the East Coast. Business travellers from Los Angeles to New York, for example, arrive in an earlier time zone and have the whole day at their destination.
International red eye flights, on the other hand, travel between continents - they may cross between the USA and Europe, or Australia and Asia, for instance. Fun fact: crossing the International Date Line westward means you’ll arrive at your destination 2 days later.
All in all, most of these are long flights (they last the whole night) so it’s always a good idea to try and get some shut eye.
Step 1 to achieving your goal: when choosing your flight, it is a good idea to go for the later option. It would probably be much easier to fall asleep after 10 or 11 p.m. than at 9 p.m.
Generally, if you board the plane close to your regular bedtime, you have a better chance of falling asleep.
Book a window seat
Choosing your seat carefully is critical for a number of reasons.
Firstly, you’d want a seat away from highly trafficked places like the loo. Travellers passing to and fro and the sound of doors clanging or water flushing are not typically deemed sleep inducing.
Same goes for the aisle seat. Yes, you may be able to stretch your legs but you may also get slammed into by the drink cart. Or by a sleepy zig-zagging seat mate coming back from his visit to the loo. You may also have to wake up to help the poor fellow in the middle seat to make his way to the comfort zone.
So, the winning option is: the window seat. If you’re done with the restroom, you can simply make yourself comfortable or even rest your head against the window and… catch some zzz’s!
Wear comfy clothes
You’re travelling for business or simply rushed to the airport straight from the office (with all the presentation paraphernalia in hand)? Then, you’re probably still wearing shirt and tie or the girl’s equivalent. You may well be headed to an important meeting but let’s admit it - this is not sleepwear. On top of all the discomfort, your office clothes will be wrinkled in the morning.
So, step #3 is: wear comfortable clothes for the flight. You don’t have to bring your Santa pajamas or pizza jumpsuit to charm all the flight attendants! Yet you can go for something casual and stretchy that can adapt to your sleeping pose (especially if you are a side sleeper like me).
Bring a blanket
Airplane cabins are notoriously cold. Is it because of the freezing temperatures outside, especially at high altitudes, or do they intentionally blast cold air at you?
Actually, the average temperature in the cabin is usually set at around 23 degrees C (75F). Whereas this may be quite fine for the flight attendants who are moving around, it may feel rather cold for passengers trying to relax and get some sleep.
This is why advice #4 is: bring your own blanket. If you find this too bulky for your baggage allowance, you can simply get warm fluffy socks and a soft cardigan or a large shawl.
Think layers - warm and soft (you are trying to get to sleep, after all).
Avoid alcohol and coffee
After you’ve gone to all the trouble of choosing the proper seat and bringing a blanket, it would be silly to spend the night tossing and turning after drinking a coffee at the airport. And while a glass of wine may sound like a good relaxing and sleep inducing treat, it’s probably a good idea to skip the alcohol.
Remember that the air in the cabin may be drier than a desert. This is why you should go easy on the liquor. It may help you fall asleep but you will probably wake up dehydrated.
Eat a light meal
Although flying after work may be rather hectic, don’t skip dinner. And whereas the plane meal may be one of the few free perks you can enjoy on a flight, remember that not all flights offer dinner. So your best option is to bring your own.
Try to eat a light but nutritious meal. You can have a salad with some lean protein, for example grilled chicken or salmon. Note that your lunch box will go through the TSA check (as long as it does not include liquids over 100 ml).
Try to avoid salty and spicy airport food. Yes, it is an easily available option but it may cause bloating and discomfort - both enemies to a good night’s sleep.
Recreate your bedtime routine
You cannot have your own bed for the night but you can at least tell your body it’s time to sleep.
Before settling in for the night, you can make a quick stop at the restroom. Take off your belt and shoes, change into your comfortable clothes, remove your jewellery (and glasses). Then wash your face and brush your teeth (I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to rinse with the plane tap water, so take your water bottle with you).
Following your typical bedtime routine will help you feel relaxed, get cosy and will signal your body that it’s time to sleep.
Sleeping essentials are worth the investment
I have to be honest: I used to mock my friends for being too blue-blooded and using earplugs and eye masks on planes. Yet to be fair, noise (be it a chatty neighbour or the loo door) and light are the worst enemies of sleep.
I remember being impressed by the 19-th century sense deprivation chamber in the Sherlock Holmes series where the great detective gets his rest. You’ve probably experienced this while floating in a pool - it’s pure bliss. And the best way to recreate it on a red eye flight is to...
Step #8: invest in ear plugs, a good eye mask and a comfy neck pillow. While at it, you may also splurge on noise cancelling headphones. These will help block out the noise, the light and will prevent the neck pain - so definitely worth the investment.
Set a gentle alarm
If you want to avoid waking with a jolt, don’t rely on the flight attendants or your seat mates to do the job. Set your alarm at least 45 minutes before arrival (you’ll have to do the maths with the time difference, perhaps) and make it gentle. Waking up to a heavy metal song may create a wave of unwanted attention and turn into a rough start to your (potentially busy) day.
Recreate your morning routine
Well, now that you have 45 minutes at your disposal, you may well prepare your body for the day. Remove the eye mask/ear plugs and let the light tell your body it’s time to wake up. Stretch and take a stroll to the restroom. Change into the clothes you’ve prepared for the day (in case you know you won’t be able to stop at the hotel). Once you wash your face and brush your teeth, you’ll feel refreshed and energised for the day.
You can also play your favourite morning playlist or read the news - whatever gets you started in the morning!
I’m a big fan of breakfasts. Not simply the morning coffee but the whole deal - the morning smells and tastes and sounds.
So I’d definitely look forward to the smell of freshly baked croissants and coffee as part of my morning routine (along with the podcast and the weather forecast).
We made it there safe and sound, it’s time for a brand new day!