For most of us, the prospect of a long-haul flight is exciting, mixed with a few nerves. We’re off somewhere different – perhaps a holiday, maybe to catch up with friends or family. Even work can be more interesting when you’re in a new location.
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Of course, you want to arrive fully rested and ready to go. But by its very definition, a long-haul flight involves travelling for a long period of time, often more than 12 hours. If you’re on a flight from New York to Singapore, it can be close to 19 hours.
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All that time you’re confined in a seat that’s supposed to recline but feels like it hardly moves, while the seat in front seems to recline ten times lower than yours. So, what can you do to get a a decent rest?
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Humans are just not well designed to sleep in an almost upright position. Unless you’re lucky to fly in a class with a lie-flat seat, you’re very unlikely to get a solid eight hours of sleep. So, even if you can’t get your usual eight hours during the flight, any sleep you do get will help you feel and function better at your destination.
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Alcohol makes us feel sleepy, but it interferes with our brains’ ability to have REM sleep (also known as dreaming sleep). Although you may fall asleep more easily after consuming alcohol, your sleep will be more disturbed once your body metabolises the alcohol and attempts to catch up on the REM sleep it’s missed out on.
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Some people find taking a sleeping tablet or melatonin can help on a plane. Before taking sleeping medication or melatonin you should see your doctor, and only take what’s prescribed for you. Many sleeping medications do not allow perfectly normal sleep to occur and can make you feel groggy and drowsy after waking.
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Wear comfy layers, so you can take things off if you get too hot or put things on when you cool down, and hang on to that blanket instead of losing it under your seat. Light and noise disturb sleep, so pack eye shades and earplugs (or a noise cancelling headset) to block these out.
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Finally, if you wake up and are struggling to go back to sleep, don’t fight it. Take advantage of the in-flight entertainment. This is one of the few times sleep scientists will tell you it’s okay to turn on the technology – watch a movie, binge-watch a TV series, or if you prefer, listen to music or read a good book.
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