The Trick To Getting More Sleep On Red-Eye Flights

I just flew in from Copenhagen and boy are my arms (and eyes, and legs, and entire being) tired. As I’ve gotten older, international — and even cross-country — flights have begun to feel more like violent crimes against my body, but I have developed a system for arriving to an exciting destination somewhat refreshed after a red-eye: don’t sleep well the night before.

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“But what would they really do for me?” I wondered, as I tightly rolled my t-shirts and tossed them into my cavern of a suitcase. “I mean, it’s a whole extra layer of fabric, so it’s not like they save space,” I would speculate, as I dug to the bottom of my backpack looking for that flashlight I could have sworn I put near the top.”]

Starting a trip well-rested may seem like a good idea, but it is actually not, because sleeping on a plane is already hard enough as it is. Adjusting to a brand new time zone is never easy, but the key is trick yourself as convincingly as possible into believing you’ve been in that zone all along. For example, when I flew to Denmark, I knew I would be arriving in the late morning, so I would want to capture that late-morning feeling as well as possible. (Luckily, I always feel like shit in the morning, so it wasn’t hard.)

Feeling like I had slept at least a little bit through the “night” was key, but my flight from Oregon left around four in the afternoon, which is not my usual bed time. To combat this, I purposefully deprived myself of sleep the night before—I got about three hours—so that I was ready to crash the moment I got on the plane.

I got to my seat, took a substance that encourages limited mobility (pick your favourite), then ate snacks and listened to music until I passed out. I woke up in Europe having slept about seven hours, fairly ready to take on the day. (I also saw Eddie Izzard during my layover in Iceland, which helped perk me up.)

Did I feel as if I had enjoyed a full night of sleep in my own bed? Obviously not, but I felt rested enough to stay up until 11 pm Copenhagen time, at which point I crashed completely and enjoyed a normal amount of sleep, which then allowed me to wake up at a normal time in the morning, mostly adjusted to the aggressive time change. (I also do this when I fly interstate for work, simply because I cannot stand to be awake on a plane for five hours, so a sleep-deprivation-induced nap works like a wormhole, in a way.)