1 – “I always try to sleep on the plane.”
“It is important to decide whether sleeping on the plane is in the best interest of the passenger,” says Dr. Lisa Medalie, behavioral sleep medicine specialist at University of Chicago Medicine. If it’s daytime at your destination while you’re flying, Medalie suggests forgoing sleep and “use the plane time for relaxing or working.”
In general, experts advise to put yourself on the time zone of your destination, ideally beginning days before you leave. “Most people sleep best in their bed, and therefore it is best to gradually shift at home,” says Medalie. “If flying east, passengers should gradually advance (i.e., move bedtime earlier), and if flying west they should gradually delay (i.e., move bedtime later).”
3 – “Watching the movie will help me fall asleep.”
Actually, it may do just the opposite. “We suggest turning off cell phones, ipads, and laptops one hour before your desired plane nap time,” says Chicago’s Medalie.
4 – “A cocktail will put me right out.”
“An in-flight cocktail may make it easier to fall asleep,” says Medalie, “but can lead to more fragmented sleep and is likely to leave you feeling groggy upon waking.”
5 – “For a long flight, I’ll just take a sleeping pill.”
Our experts aren’t anti-sleep aid, as long as it’s used appropriately. That’s a function of flight duration, timing, the specific medication and your body’s reaction to it.
First, the flight needs to be long enough. “If you have 7 or 8 hours or more on the plane, a sleep aid can be useful,” says Medalie. Shorter than that, “use of a sleep aid may lead you to be under the influence of medication in your initial hours at your destination. This could be problematic on many levels.”
6 – “I need my morning coffee just to get to the airport.”
U. of C.’s Medalie advises against it. “Caffeine has a long half-life and stays in the system several hours after consumption,” making it more difficult to sleep on board. She advises avoiding all caffeine on flying day. “Keep in mind caffeine is in chocolate and even many ‘decaffeinated’ beverages.”