Washington - When trying to sleep on a plane, the obstacles are stacked against you. The environment is loud, bright, crowded and uncomfortable. But while it most likely won't be the same quality as at home, it is still possible to get some shut-eye with the right gear.
Focusing on getting rest vs deep sleep will take the pressure off when you buckle up for takeoff. With the right gear, mental state and practice, you'll be snoozing in your seat in no time.
Here's what you need to get started.
Every expert we interviewed recommended buying a good neck pillow before you fly. But pillows aren't necessarily a one-size-fits-all kind of product. What one traveler may love, another may hate. It could take trial and error before you find what works for you.
"I try a ton of them," says Cacinda Maloney, a travel writer and former chiropractor. "Over time, I kind of went to the Cabeau brand that's very soft.
Between the flashing entertainment systems, blinking seat-belt notifications, cabin lighting and the screens of your fellow travelers, there's a lot of stimulating light that can keep travellers awake.
"All of the research clearly indicates that you don't want any blue-light emissions anywhere," says Chris Tomshack, chief executive and founder of HealthSource Chiropractic.
Although you may not have any control over the lights on the plane, you can pack an eye mask to create a light-tight setting. Buy one that doesn't press too firmly on your eyes and still covers enough ground to protect from light getting inside.
While we're on the subject of light, experts say that blue light - that artificial light that beams out of phones, computers and LED displays - is a detriment to your sleep quality. And unfortunately, planes are full of blue light.
"The plane is one of the largest sources of what we call 'junk light' that we can possibly put ourselves in," says Tomshack. "So let's eliminate that variable and wear blue-light-blocking glasses. It tells our brain, 'Hey we're not supposed to be awake. We're supposed to be dialing down.' "
In a perfect scenario, you'd be falling asleep in a dark room with the temperature around 19ºC.
"If you're hot, that's not conducive for sleep. You're uncomfortable, sweaty, itchy," Wermter says. "On the other end, sometimes it's freezing."
Planes don't always have complimentary blankets these days, so don't rely on a plastic-wrapped savior to be waiting on your seat. Prepare for a cold scenario by packing a scarf, shawl or blanket in your carry-on. If you don't need it to keep warm, you can use it to further support your neck.
Compression socks are another way to keep warm on a plane, but that's not the only reason they're recommended by our experts.
"This isn't just for people over 60 or 70 who are at risk for deep-vein thrombosis or blood clots in their legs," Tomshack says of compression socks. "This is for everybody because they improve circulation."
The compression socks will help prevent stagnant blood flow while you're stuck being sedentary on the plane.
Earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones
Planes are loud. Really loud. Earplugs and noise-canceling headphones are your best options for combating noise pollution.
Choosing what to play on your noise-cancelling headphone is up to personal preference. Wermter says to pick something that blocks out the rest of the noise, and at the very least gives you something to focus on that's not your thoughts. You can try audiobooks; sleep or relaxation apps; music or white noise.
You can help send a signal to your brain that it's time to sleep by using melatonin. Melatonin is a more natural alternative to a prescription sleep aid, and it's available at drugstores over the counter. Maloney travels with Sleep Now, a brand that features melatonin and chamomile to help travellers relax.
But less is more when it comes to the supplement, so make sure you're not taking too much.
Consult your doctor before experimenting with any type of sleep supplements.
The best sleep is interruption-free, and unfortunately, that's nearly impossible on a plane. The one interruption you can avoid is the refreshment cart. Pack your own water bottle so you don't have to live at the mercy of the flight attendants' service schedule.
"I used to always be worried about missing the drink cart and Biscoff cookies," says Wermter. "If you already come prepared with a water bottle, you can go into sleep mode without worrying about missing the refreshment cart."
Furthermore, skip the booze if you're trying to sleep on a plane.