By Vicky Anscombe on 27 May 2015

Seasoned travellers and newbies alike are often horribly optimistic when discussing a long-haul flight. “Yes, it’s 11 hours - but I’ve got a paperback to finish, and I’ll sleep for most of it,” they smile. “I have a travel pillow. It’ll be fine.”

Meeting up with these people after their journey home tells another story. They are hollow-cheeked, with tawny shadows contouring their eyes. “I slept for two days, and now I can’t seem to do it again,” they croak. Jet lag has claimed them, despite their best intentions. So, how does one successfully sleep on a flight?

Eat and drink properly. You know what we’re going to say first, don’t you? Avoid caffeine for a few days before your flight (a week is best - really get it out of your system), don’t drink any booze for a few days before you fly, and avoid it at all costs during the flight. Booze does not help you sleep, fact. Make sure you avoid any heavy meals before your journey (eat little and often), and avoid anything which you think might give you issues further down the line, like iffy-smelling sushi or seafood.

Don’t stay up late. You might be tempted to pull an all-nighter in order to ‘force’ your body to sleep the next day. Anyone who’s ever been to an all-night party will tell you this - there’s no guarantee you’ll be tired at 7am. In fact, you may find yourself wide awake, wondering what to do with yourself, and you’ll suddenly feel the fatigue when you land.

Lie back. Are you one of those people who hunches forward onto your tray table and covers your head with a coat? Don’t do it! Recline your seat as much as possible and stretch out. Avoid being shaken awake by cabin crew by making sure your fastened seat belt is visible above your clothes, or anything that you’re using as a blanket, as they’ll wake you up without a second thought to check you’re strapped in.

Go for the window. In the past, we’ve suggested that the aisle seat is superior, but if you want to sleep, you want the window. Nobody will be climbing over you (well, hopefully not - we can’t think why anyone would) and you can lean on it.

Enlist the basics. You know the drill - eye mask, travel pillow, earplugs, and if you want to listen to a podcast while you sleep, noise-cancelling headphones. If you don’t mind looking a bit strange, these Ostrich Pillows are great for shutting the world away. Light from phone and TV screens will keep your brain active, so save the downloaded boxsets for after you’ve had some rest.

Hang loose. Make sure that you’re wearing clothing which you can easily relax in - with the exception of compression stockings, which need to be tight in order to do their job properly.

It’s sometimes best to avoid the front of the plane. This is where parents with babies and small children are often seated, and as we all know, babies don’t understand ‘ssssh!’ very well. This is also the area where cabin crew will be clanging about with drinks trolleys and making idle chit-chat when they have a spare minute or two. However, this isn’t always the case - many long-haul planes are bigger, and have a couple of bulkheads and galleys running down the plane, so so there are other spaces to stretch out if you need to.

Image credit: Flickr, with thanks to SpirosK photography

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