Whether you've got a 12-hour international flight or a quickie two-hour hop home for the holidays, timing mile-high naps can be tricky. Unless you're the type who immediately passes out before the plane has left the jet bridge, these pointers can help you plan for a more restful flight. You likely know the obvious (wear comfortable clothes, bring earplugs, etc.), but sometimes quality naps need a strategy set in motion well in advance of the actual flight.
1. Book a window seat
Sure, the aisle seats have a bit more legroom, but if napping is your main objective, booking a window seat is key. Not only will you have somewhere more firm to rest your head (make sure to ask for a pillow or bring a sweatshirt to bunch into that corner space), but you won't be interrupted mid-REM cycle because your neighbor needs to go to the restroom.
2. Sit near the front of the plane
Speaking of restrooms, they tend to be in the back of the plane, and the closer you are to them, the closer you are to the never-ending foot traffic of passengers who want to use them. If you can avoid getting jostled or interrupted by the constant small talk surrounding the restroom, it'll be easier to catch some shut-eye.
3. Book a non-stop flight
Of course non-stops aren't available for every destination, but if you have the choice between a non-stop three-hour flight, or two two-hour flights with a hurried 45-minute connection dash in between… which do you think will leave you more rested? It might be tempting to save $35 by booking the cheaper layover flight, but sometimes a solid siesta is worth the extra money upfront.
4. Don't fight your regular sleep patterns
The post-work, rush hour commute to the airport can make evening flights feel like a hassle; but, particularly for international flights, flying during your normal sleep cycle is actually ideal. Airlines already do most of the work for you — the vast majority of transatlantic flights take off from the States after 9:00 p.m., so as long as you don't decide to spend the entire flight marathoning movies, you should be able to carve out a solid five to seven hours for sleep.
5. Fly on off-days if possible
Weekend flights (particularly on Fridays and Sundays) tend to be overbooked as everyone tries to get out of town for a three- or four-day weekend. But traditionally, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are less popular, which spells not only cheaper rates but also less crowded cabins. Your odds at scoring a row with a free seat next to you are much higher mid-week, meaning your odds for uninterrupted dozing go up too.
6. Take out your contacts
You already know that napping with contacts in is ill-advised, but on a flight? The reduced oxygen, humidity, and air pressure in the cabin all contribute to eye and contact dehydration, which leads to uncomfortable, itchy eyes. Not only is this bad for eye health, but it makes for less restful napping as well. Optometrists generally recommend taking out your contacts for all flights, but for longer-distance ones, it's a necessity. Also, plan to use lubricating drops before you actually need them — put a few in after removing your contacts, mid-flight if you're awake, and again once you're on the ground. Not only will you feel more rested, you'll look it too.
7. Pre-load your iPod
Perhaps if you're lucky, everyone else will want to snooze too. But since that likely won't be the case, prep your playlist with a range of sleep-inducing podcasts to help drown out the chatter. Ambient "spa" music or relaxing instrumentals usually do the trick, but if meditation podcasts or White Noise apps are your thing, there are plenty of those you can download ahead of time too. But just as any runner knows not to test out a new pair of shoes on race day, don't try out a new series when you know every precious moment of sleep counts. Namaste.