Overnight Flights: How to Get the Sleep You Need on the Red-Eye

Overnight flights = cheap flights. They're not always the most comfortable, though. So how do you actually ensure you have a good red-eye?Read More

The morning after (Source: Shutterstock / Monsterstock)

We all do it. Most of us dread it. The overnight flight, or as it’s affectionately known, the “red-eye,” has become a much-feared necessity for travelers worldwide. Indeed, few experiences are more exhausting than struggling to get a little airborne shut-eye before your early morning landing. Since the world of commercial aviation won’t be eliminating night flights any time soon (and you will likely still take advantage of them), here are a few things you can do to make your time in the midnight sky a little more relaxing:

1: Hydrate yes, but before you board.

Airplane cabins are notoriously dry, and staying hydrated is important. But nothing is more disruptive to sound sleep than having to get up every hour or so to use the restroom.

Instead, start hydrating the day and evening before you board. Pass on caffeine and alcohol at least 24 hours before departure (we know it’s hard — just try) and substitute with water. If you drink on the plane, keep it to a minimum. If you’ve hydrated well beforehand, you should be reasonably comfortable for the duration of the flight without a slug from the water bottle every 30 minutes. Once you land, by all means, refill – and get that well-earned cup of joe, too.

2: Eat before boarding.

While you can wait for the (often) subpar meal service to finally reach your row, this will only delay your slumber. And what if the menu is not to your liking? Do yourself a favor and dine on your favorite eats before boarding (we recently posted about some our favorite airport restaurants here). This will allow you to start snoozing sooner and ensure you won’t wake up famished midflight because you skipped the lukewarm turkey surprise.

3: Actively unwind at the airport.

Nothing says “relax” like a great massage or facial, and thanks to xPressSpa (currently in 24 major airports), you can get yours right near the gate. Schedule a spa treatment ahead of your flight (we recommend the 15-minute neck and shoulder massage for $42) and prepare to float down the jetway. You’ll be dreaming in no time.

4: Maintain your nightly routine.

We humans are creatures of habit and our behavioral patterns are often reinforced with external cues. Tell your mind and body that it’s time to sleep by acting like it’s just another night at home: brush your teeth, wash your face, and change into comfortable clothes (we recommend joggers, t-shirts, and hoodies), or do whatever it is you do before bedding down for the night. Your mind and body will happily follow.

5: Stay warm.

Planes are typically chilly and feeling the cold not only makes falling asleep more difficult, but it can be bad enough to wake you up later. Wear layers that insulate but are easily removed if (or when) necessary. We recommend fleece tops, insulated vests, and wool socks. All are light, effective, and easy to repack when no longer needed.

6: Nothing says sleep like a blanket and pillow.

While airlines usually provide both, the blankets tend to be too small and pillows too flimsy for achieving that authentic snuggly feeling. If you can, bring your own. For a light and toasty travel blanket, we recommend this one. Ditch the airline pillow altogether and rest your weary head on a properly designed flight pillow. Our pick can be found here.

7: Keep toiletries handy.

Rather than forge around in the overhead compartment for that eye cream or toothpaste, keep it close by in your seat pocket or under your chair. Getting in and out of your seat is not conducive to getting any shut-eye for you or your row-mates. And while you’re at it, consider bringing eye drops along in case you need a bit of ocular relief. They don’t call them “red-eyes” for nothing.

8: Don’t forget the earphones and eye mask.

If the soporific sounds of Enya’s “Watermark” don’t do the trick, a meditation or white noise app just might (check out seven of the best here). Regardless, you need a reliable and comfortable pair of earphones. We recommend a headband with cushioned, flat earphones that you can sleep against. While a bit pricey at a starting point of $99.95, these are widely recognized as some of the best available. Add an eye mask to your look if only to block out the glare from your neighbor’s annoying reading light.

Don't forget the earphones and eye mask. (Source: Shutterstock / frantic00)
Don’t forget the earphones and eye mask. (Source: Shutterstock / frantic00)

9: Kill the blue screen.

While some people may find binging on Netflix’s latest must-see or flipping through Instagram relaxing on an overnight flight, research suggests otherwise. For most of us, staring at the screen and constant surfing only make us more anxious and less likely to fall asleep. Once settled, turn the screen off and try a (non-digital) book instead.

10: Consult your doctor before using sleep aids.

Not surprisingly, it’s easy to find a wide range of medications and over-the-counter options designed to help promote sleep. While we don’t recommend their use here, we understand that for some of you, this may be a necessary part of the normal sleep routine. Before you decide to include a sleep aid in the mix — including any “natural” supplements, like melatonin or over the counter aids like Unisom — consult a medical professional for guidance on appropriate use and dosage.