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How to Sleep in Economy

Flying Economy? Here's How to Actually Get Restful Sleep on a Long Flight

On a long flight, catching some solid zzz's can be difficult. There's constant noise, distractions, and lights, and honestly, a cramped economy seat does not make the most comfortable temporary bed. But to ensure you arrive at your destination fresh and rested, there are steps you can take to help you drift into dreamworld and actually get restful sleep. Through ample personal experience (I've flown from NYC to Southeast Asia several times in coach — I'm practically a pro at 15-hour flights) and a little help from travel and health experts, we're bringing you a foolproof plan for operation REM cycle on your next international trip.

  1. Get an inflatable footrest. For me, this one travel accessory has completely changed the game of long-haul air travel. They pack down to nothing, but once on board, you inflate, and like magic, your seat is transformed into a reclining sofa. Kiss swollen feet goodbye! The footrests work best in a bulkhead seat, but will still help in any row.
  2. Lay off the coffee. Lindsey Bristol, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with Swanson Health, advised travellers to avoid caffeinated beverages within six hours of departure time. This gives your body enough time to flush the caffeine.
  3. Meditate. Bristol also recommended meditation to prep your mind for bedtime. "Meditation and deep breathing exercises can help calm your mind, promote relaxation, and support stress reduction for easier sleep. Put on your headphones and listen to a quick meditation to help you wind down."
  4. Get support. When all else fails, there's no shame in reaching for an all-natural supplement to help. "Natural supplements like magnesium and melatonin promote relaxation so you can rest better. Magnesium in particular may help relax your muscles, reduce tension, and calm your mind to help you get better rest all around!" offered Bristol. Don't forget the essentials: eye mask, ear plugs or headphones, a gel or memory foam neck pillow, a blanket, comfortable clothing, etc. The key is to bring whatever will help you make you comfortable.
  5. Bring your sleep scent. If there's a scent you use on your pillow at home, bring it with you. It will help your brain realise it's time to go to sleep. If you don't have a scent you already use, lavender is a pretty safe bet. Joyce Striar, a travel agent with Protravel International, recommended the scent via a sachet, mist, or gel to promote relaxation.
  6. Avoid unwanted wake-up calls. You might typically be an aisle person, but you're much more likely to get woken up in the middle of the flight for a bathroom run. Choose a window to ensure you won't be bothered. Striar recommended buckling your seat belt over your blanket so the flight attendants know you are strapped in.
  7. Make a white noise playlist. Music might be distracting, but the sound of snoring, crying, talking, or moving around isn't any better. Create an hour-long white noise playlist and listen to it on repeat to help cancel out the background commotion.
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