My friend Bob, an investment banker who practically commutes by airplane, says he can’t sleep on planes and so he won’t fly red-eye flights. I, on the other hand, have had to fly many overnight and long-haul flights. I do it to save money (no hotel room!) and time. I also catch up on movies!
During the recent press trip to Asia, I took 9 flights in 13 days. Of those flights, 2 were overnight and the threesome that brought me back to America put me transit for nearly 24 hours. Needless to say, I’ve become adept at flying red-eye and long-haul flights. Airlines such as Cathay Pacific have set up their schedules so that customers can efficiently arrive in the morning to flexibly do business or catch a connecting flight to another destination.
I’ve managed to sleep and rest on a plane with a few simple strategies, none of which entail prescription drugs or lots of alcohol! Here are my tips:
Before Boarding: Relax, Eat Light, Get Ready for Bed
I try to work only half a day before a red-eye flight. That way, I can eat a light early dinner a couple of hours before leaving for the airport. No one wants to get on a flight with a queasy uneasy tummy. My typically dinner is vegetarian: rice, stir-fried vegetable, something with tofu. I’ll have some wine but definitely drink a strong cup of chamomile and mint tea to push me toward deep relaxation.
Then, I go through my nightly ritual of ‘duties’ such as brushing my teeth, doing a quick facial, and changing into lounge wear (a.k.a. “public pajamas”). I remove my contact lenses and don my glasses. In summary, I do whatever I normally at night but do it earlier.
During Flight: Reset Watch, No Jet Lag, Eat and Drink Light, Plug Ears and Eyes
I’m relaxed with my comfy outfit and am ready for bed. The first thing I do is reset my watch to the time at my destination. Why resist the inevitable?
Just to make sure I’m fully ready for nighttime and will adjust, I take No Jet Lag – homeopathic pills available at health food stores and pharmacies. I’ve been using it for years and I arrive nearly as fresh as a daisy. You take pills at takeoff and landing, and every 2 hours or so (whenever you awaken during the flight). No Jet Lag has arnica and other stuff that help your body get into the groove of the new time zone. It’s neither funky nor full of narcotics.
I usually don’t eat on red-eye flight because I’m trying to simulate a night’s sleep. Who wakes up and eats in the middle of a night? But I do get a bottle of water and keep it at my seat to hydrate during the night.
On a long haul that lasts for 12 hours plus, I eat lightly. Above are all the things I ate last week while traveling from Hanoi to Hong Kong to New York on Cathay Pacific. That included things I ate at the airport. The Hong Kong airport has many terrific options for food (including roast duck!) but I tend to stick with steamed or boiled things.
At the Cathay Pacific business class lounge, there were steamed siu mai, bao, and xiao long bao. Additionally, they had a noodle soup bar with fabulous Sichuan dan dan mian that wasn’t overly spicy (great for a flight!). I also eat fruit and drink water. You can get mixed drinks at an airline lounge or in an airport bar but for a long-haul, I skip it because I tend to overdo things. During the flight I tend toward the more simple meal offerings, which on a Cathay flight, means that there is either rice or noodle involved. I’m not good with dairy so I skip rich cakes and eat fruit and some aged cheese, when available.
If it’s a long-haul overnight flight, I put my ear plugs in and eye mask on to fake total privacy and get some shuteye in between meals. If it’s a long-haul flight that lands late at night, I watch a lot of movies, read, or work on my computer as long as I can. I force myself to take a long “afternoon” nap according to the time zone of my destination. That way, I’m awake for all the meals too!
Upon Arrival: No Jet Lag, Start a New Day or Night
The plane lands and I pop my last No Jet Lag pill. If it’s a morning arrival, I brush my teeth, change my shirt, and put on some deodorant at the airport to refresh myself. Then I drink a cup of coffee and/or take an Airborne to boost my energy level and immune system. I’m ready for the day.
For a nighttime arrival, I eat a light meal followed by a cup of relaxing chamomile tea. I’ll then wash up and go to sleep.
So it’s just like people say – fake yourself into the new time zone. A few smart strategies help though. If you have tips on how to survive redeye or long-haul flights, do share them!