In-Flight Experience

Don’t Do This Before a Flight

Ever since my first flight, a hop across the Atlantic to London, I’ve been unable to sleep on airplanes. Put me on a train or in the passenger seat of a car, and I’ll nap like a champ — but something about the cramped conditions and ultra-dry air of a plane keeps me from drifting into anything more restful than a semi-conscious doze.

On my last flight I tried taking an antihistamine, which makes most people so drowsy that the label warns against operating heavy machinery while taking the medication. But while my head felt hazy and my eyelids drooped, I still spent the entire overnight flight awake, casting occasional jealous glares at the sleeping passengers around me.

As a last-ditch effort, I’ve been tempted to try to skimp on sleep in the days leading up to a flight. However, in 10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight, Ed Hewitt cautions against it:

“Don’t count on a long-haul flight as a good place to catch up on sleep — it’s not. As attractive and intuitive as it seems to get on a long-haul flight extremely tired, hoping to sleep the whole way, you are in for a world of hurt if you can’t sleep for any reason. You will be on the plane long enough to catch a few winks even if you are somewhat rested.”

Another reason not to skip sleep before a flight: Staying rested and hydrated can help combat the effects of jet lag. Traveling and changing time zones are hard enough on your body without adding more sleep deprivation than necessary into the mix.

[st_related]Tips for Sleeping on Planes[/st_related]

So I’m going back to the drawing board. On my next flight I’m going to try a stronger sleeping pill — but I’ll bring a few good books, just in case.

Do you sleep well on planes?

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at

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