9 Essential Sleep Travel Hacks - United Hub

9 essential sleep travel hacks

By Nick Harper

When on a long-haul flight, particularly to a place where there is a significant time zone change, getting some sleep can make a world of difference. It's also easier said than done, but these nine tips should help you get some shut-eye and arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to go.

1. Lounge around

What goes on behind the doors marked “United Club"? Unless you're a frequent flyer, airport lounges may be as foreign as Timbuktu to you, but they hold the key to a more restful travel experience. Pay to access the United Club and you'll enjoy an oasis of peace and quiet amid the bustle of a typical airport.

Expect comfortable seats, fewer people, an abundance of newspapers and magazines to choose from, more space and an atmosphere more conducive to winding down. Frequent fliers already know the benefits of an annual membership, but occasional fliers should look to take advantage of more affordable one-day passes.

2. The right seat

The only real golden rule in the great seats and sleep equation is that if you're aiming to get some quality shut-eye, it would be better to be seated away from the bathroom. This is particularly the case on nighttime flights, when the relative quiet can and will be destroyed by the sound of other passengers opening and closing the bathroom door.

Otherwise, all seats on United flights offer exceptional comfort, but you may view a window seat as the “golden ticket." Not only does a window seat provide an additional place to rest your head, it also ensures that you aren't being bothered every five minutes by fellow passengers looking to squeeze past to get to the aforementioned bathroom. Of course, such a tactic relies on you not needing to squeeze past your fellow passengers to get to the bathroom too (see point 7 below).

3. Dress code

The general rule for anyone hoping for a restful flight is to dress the part. Loose clothing will help you drift off into a peaceful sleep quicker than tight, uncomfortable attire, which can also restrict your blood flow. Speaking of which, the exception to the loose clothing rule is where your lower legs are concerned — wear compression socks to help guard against deep vein thrombosis. Also, be aware that the temperature on board your flight can fluctuate so be sure to pack additional layers. It is far better to have that extra sweater and not need it than to shiver in your seat.

4. The sleep kit

For the traveler taking his or her sleep seriously, the sleep kit is a key component that cannot be overlooked. The essentials in any such kit include an eye mask and earplugs, enabling you to block out the noise and lights as you drift peacefully off to sleep. Sleep kits are provided to all United passengers in premium cabins on our long-haul international flights and p.s.® Premium Service transcontinental flights. Blankets and pillows are optional amenities for an extra touch of comfort.

5. Assume the position

If you are traveling in United Economy® , you may have limited sleep position options. If you opted for a window seat, leaning your head against the windowpane is about as comfortable as it gets. If you didn't get a window seat, you essentially have a choice between slumping forward with your pillow and head on the fold-down table, or reclining backward as far as the seat will allow. Here's where science comes in.

According to research, slumped forward can result in wear and tear on the lower spine, plus it can put pressure on your neck — not to mention it looks pretty undignified. Sleeping in a 90-degree upright position is even worse as it can promote movement of the spinal discs.

Leaning back to a 135-degree angle is the safest sleep position, as it places the least pressure on the spinal discs — good news for your back, but less good for the passenger sitting directly behind you. Whichever position you assume, make sure you are buckled up and that the buckle is clearly visible, otherwise the flight attendants will have to wake you to confirm you've properly fastened your seat belt

6. Turn off the TV

As tempted as you may be to watch that action/romance movie you haven't had a chance to see yet, avoid staring at the airplane's TV screen directly before attempting to get some sleep. The light from the set is like a laser into your pineal gland, setting your brain on a state of high alert from which you'll struggle to get any kind of sleep, let alone the deep sleep that benefits you most. Turn the TV off and pull out a book — a real book made of paper — instead. You'll encourage your brain to switch down a gear, better preparing it for more restful sleep.

7. Consume with care

There are three key rules when it comes to increasing your chances of sleeping on board a flight, and none of them should be optional.

  • Stay hydrated

The air conditioning on flights will dehydrate you more quickly than if you were in the outside world, which can interfere with sleep. Make sure you drink enough liquids, ideally water, but be aware that what goes in must come out, so drink enough but not too much. Which leads to the crucial second rule.

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine

There may well be booze on board, and if you're heading away on vacation, you deserve a drink to unwind. This is fine, but it may keep you from getting a decent night's sleep. Cabin pressure altitudes can raise your blood alcohol level and exacerbate dehydration. As for the caffeine, well it's caffeine — designed to perk you up, not lull you to sleep.

  • Don't eat in excess

Overeating, or eating particularly spicy foods, is a recipe for discomfort, particularly as you won't be able to walk it off in the confines of the cabin. Eat in moderation for a better bodily balance — a rule for life, not just for your flight.

8. Beat jet lag

Sadly, despite decades of research on the subject, there is no guaranteed way to avoid circadian rhythm disorder — or what we know as jet lag. When you travel between time zones and land somewhere that requires you to wind your watch forward or backward, your brain will become confused. Provided it's a long-haul flight, it's advisable to get some sleep on board to mitigate the effects of jet lag.

Try to align your internal body clock with that of your destination in the days before you depart, so that the shift in time zone is less jarring. The days before flying east, start gradually going to be bed earlier. If flying west, slowly push back your bedtime.

9. Headphones are your friends

We're not advocating outright rudeness, but sometimes a traveler just isn't in the mood to chat with the stranger in the next seat. Nothing says “not up for talking" like a pair of headphones. Invest in a pair of visible cans — i.e., not the too-subtle ear buds — and after offering a polite hello on arrival at your seat, pull them into place. Even if you're not listening to anything, their mere presence will deter midflight conversation. If you do want to listen to something to aid sleep, white noise — such as the sound of rainfall or TV static — has been found to be beneficial.

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