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How to get a good night’s sleep on long flights

Getting to sleep on long-haul flights can be tricky, whether you're on a cramped, cheap flight to Bangkok, or you figured out how to get an upgrade on that red-eye flight to Dubai. To help you on your way to the land of nod, we've put together our top tips to help you get to sleep on long plane journeys.

1. Choose your seat carefully

If you’re the kind of person who can knock back ten bottles of Evian without needing the toilet for the duration of the flight, the best seats on a plane are by the window. You can take control of the window shutter, avoiding potential blindness when your neighbour yanks it open halfway into the flight, and you’ll be able to lean against the side of the plane, rather than your fellow passengers. Best of all, they can answer calls of nature without waking you from your slumber. However, if you’re someone prone to restlessness (or you’re very tall) it might be better to opt for an aisle seat. You’ll have more room to stretch out your legs and you can embark on laps around the cabin (essential for anyone wondering how to reduce the risks of DVT) without driving your neighbours insane.

2. Raise a toast to your travels (sensibly)

To be perfectly clear: we’re not suggesting knocking back the tequila. The effects of alcohol at altitude are different to those which occur at ground level. Additionally, alcohol can also interfere with your body clock, making your journey to the land of nod even trickier. So if you’re wondering about the best ways to beat jet lag, getting hammered certainly isn’t the answer. Our advice? There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine or a beer – you’ll feel nicely relaxed and a pre-flight glass of vino will certainly kick-start that holiday feeling. Just make sure that you don’t overdo it, and that you’ve got plenty of water to hand to prevent dehydration.

3. Bring your own headphones

We’ve all read horror stories about the headphones handed out on planes, and wondering if those cheap earphones you’ve just been given might contain some weird strain of bacteria is hardly a fast-track ticket to slumberville. Instead, bring your own. And don’t forget that these days, seat-back entertainment systems are seriously impressive; audio options are no longer limited to Michael Bolton albums. Most airlines have options specifically designed for passengers trying to get some shut-eye, including the best mindfulness apps, such as Headspace (available on British Airways). Nature-based audio recordings are often available, too. Sounds such as bird calls or babbling brooks help us sleep because unlike sharp, sudden sounds, which the brain translates as an alarm and which can jolt us awake, these noises imply calm.

4. And breathe…

Breathing might sound like an obvious one, but when you’re trying to drift off, take time to think about how you’re inhaling and exhaling. If you know how to meditate, you’ll probably have this down, but you don’t need to me a yogi-in-training to master some breathing basics. "Close your eyes and focus on your breathing while mentally and softly repeating the words IN and OUT," says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a a physiologist and sleep therapist. "Do this for 10 to 20 minutes to calm any jitters but also to help to balance out your energy. And with your eyes closed, visualise roots coming out from your feet and sending them down to the centre of the earth. This is very grounding and can help to minimise the destabilising effect of flying." It’s also worth investing in a sleep spray or roll-on remedy designed to help you relax. Lavender is one of the best herbs for people who struggle to sleep. We love Neom’s Perfect Night’s Sleep Pillow Mist (£20, Neom).

5. Opt for an upgrade

Figuring out how to get an upgrade isn’t as tricky as it used to be. While it’s certainly still possible to get a decent amount of shut-eye in economy (Vietnam Airlines, Air Canada and Air France have the best economy seats when it comes to size, if you were wondering) bagging an upgrade can mean more room to stretch out your legs and some fantastic sleep-inducing perks. One of the best in-flight amenity kits is offered to Emirates’ first class passengers, who get a beautiful moisturiser-infused pyjama set. We’ve got a handy guide full of tips to help with snagging an upgrade right here.

6. Avoid the caffeine

Love your caffeine fix? Consume with caution. If you struggle to work out how to recover from jet lag, knocking back coffee isn’t going to help – it’s merely going to make it harder to sleep, meaning the inevitable tiredness will hit you like a hammer once you arrive. Instead opt for a herbal tea. Cabin staff will happily provide cups of boiling water, so make sure you’ve got a couple of teabags in your carry-on. The best herbal teas for sleep are ones containing chamomile. This potent herb won’t just help you sleep, either – it’s also one of the best remedies for an upset stomach, which we’re more likely to experience on trips abroad.

7. Dress down

What you wear can have a huge affect on your ability to sleep. Opt for layers which can be removed and added with ease and as soon as you settle into your seat, remove your shoes. Doing so will send a signal to your brain that it’s time to relax, and you’ll find it easier to sleep. Choosing clothes which can be layered will also make it easy to regulate your body temperature, and being too hot will make it much harder to sleep. "We need to be able to lose heat in order to call asleep, so being too hot or too cold can prevent this process and make it harder to sleep," warns Professor Steven Lockley, a sleep expert based at Harvard University. "Traveling with layers that you can add or remove will help you regulate your temperature better. And of course using the air vent to cool down or using a blanket to warm up will also help."

8. Have a flexible approach to flights

While we’re aware that there are plenty of factors to consider when booking your flight, such as finding the cheapest flights and, oh yes, actually getting to the airport serving the destination you’re heading to, a little flexibility can make your journey much more relaxing. If you’re someone who struggles to sleep on flights, opt for a night flight if possible. You’ll feel naturally sleepy, and will hopefully arrive feeling refreshed and raring to go. It’s also worth researching the various perks offered by the airline in question. As we’ve mentioned, Monarch recently hit the headlines for their free upgrades, so they might be your best bet if you’re hoping for an invitation to first class comfort. It’s also important to remember that although that bargain-basement ticket might seem like a dream come true, some of the smaller airlines also have some of the smallest seat pitches, meaning you might well spend the entire flight struggling to slumber.

Like this? Try these other tips to help you get the most out of your travels:

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