How to Sleep on a Very Long Flight

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Photo: Thomas Widmann / Flickr

As someone with family in a galaxy far, far away (or, as it's more usually called, "England"), I've spent a lot of the holidays on transatlantic flights — and if you don't get at least some sleep on these 12-hour monsters, you are dooming yourself to spend the first two days of your visit  in a miserable jet-lagged haze.

Luckily, over the years I've developed a (personally) foolproof system for being an absolute champion sleeper on flights like this that enables me to wake up on the runway and waltz into London Heathrow Arrivals like a well-refreshed boss. And I'm sharing it here with you, dear reader.

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You will need in your carry-on luggage:

  • A big soft scarf (like, big)
  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Pajamas
  • Benadryl
  • Face moisturizer
  • Vicks VapoRub or generic equivalent
  • Neck pillow
  • Facial wipes
  • Water bottle full of water from the Departure lounge

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And here's the patented Méthode de Carly:

  1. Get on the plane, fire up a movie, eat the dinner they give me or that I've brought aboard (strongly recommend the latter here). Have a glass of red wine with my dinner, accompanied by a good amount of water. (Plane travel dehydrates you super-fast and I do not want a "plangover" because they are the absolute worst.)
  2. When finished with the above, take Benadryl (anti-histamine that also makes me sleepy). I am not going to tell you the dosage I take because I am not a doctor and you should read the back of the box.
  3. Go to the restroom with carry-on bag and do the following:
    • Change into PJs. Yes, I am that person in PJs on the flight. Deal.
    • Take off all my makeup with facial wipes and apply inch-thick layer of moisturizer (remember: plane travel dehyrates!)
    • Fill water bottle because I don't want to have to get up again when thirsty and disturb my slumber
    • Apply Vicks VapoRub to nose, because planes can smell and menthol makes me feel zen
  4. Go back to seat and make self as comfortable as possible on 10+ hour economy flight: pillow, noise-canceling headphones (to block out the sound of jet engines next to my face) and -- this is the weirdest part -- arrange big scarf over head like a drape on a canary's cage. (And you thought the PJs were going to make you look weird.)
  5. Ensconced in sound-proof, light-resistant tent of comfort, and already sleepy from Benadryl, fall asleep for many hours and wake up refreshed and capable of dealing with a vastly altered time zone.

And there you have it! A version of this guide appears in this episode of The Cooler, a podcast you really should be listening to:

What tricks do you have for making plane travel bearable? Leave a comment!