Home Travel Taking the Red Eye? Avoid These Sleep-Depriving Mistakes

Taking the Red Eye? Avoid These Sleep-Depriving Mistakes

by Bill Conn

It’s 2:23 p.m. on a Monday, the first day back at work after a 10-day trip to visit family on the other side of the country. I took the red-eye home—in case you’re not familiar, it’s a flight that takes off in the evening and reaches your destination the next morning.

I consider myself a seasoned traveler; I’ve been everywhere from Shanghai to Seoul, Munich to Maui, London to Lisbon and many places in between. But I made some amateur mistakes this time, likely born from my overconfidence. Here I sit paying the price…luckily the coffee is brewing.

Here’s where I went wrong. Avoid these mistakes on your next long trip so you can be productive when you land.

Perfecting the Airplane Sleep Routine

You likely have a sleep routine for a normal night at home, and you should also have one for the airplane.

  • Choose Your Seat Wisely: If you’re hoping to get some shuteye on the red eye, pick a window seat so you can avoid the traffic walking up and down the aisle and from other travelers in your row. My mistake: I picked the aisle, and the flight attendant bumped my shoulder when she passed by. Every. Single. Time.
  • Hydrate: You’ll wake up feeling a lot better if you stay hydrated. Studies show that even a little bit of dehydration can affect your mental state and physical recovery negatively. My mistake: I definitely didn’t drink enough water this time. I was groggy when we landed and also had a nasty case of the dreaded cottonmouth.
  • But Don’t “Hydrate” with Alcohol: The last thing you want is multiple trips to the airplane bathroom. Personally, I avoid that space if I can since it makes me feel wobbly and dizzy. And, let’s be honest, they’re never as clean as you want them to be. My mistake: While I didn’t hydrate with water, I did have a beer (hey, it was the end of vacation). It may relax you, but it won’t improve your sleep on the plane and will actually make dehydration worse.
  • Dull Your Senses: Some people can sleep through anything, while others are fickle. Put me in the latter bucket. If you have trouble sleeping under normal circumstances, bring earplugs and a sleep mask to block out the sensory input. My mistake: I had nothing like that with me, and my seatmate (my wife) insisted on reading with the overhead light.

When You Get to Your Destination

  • Pep Up with Personal Hygiene: When you land and make your way home or to the hotel, take care of your normal hygiene needs: brush your teeth, wash your face and take a shower if possible. My mistake: I eventually did all these things, but not before vegging on the couch for an hour. At that point, I was feeling slow, sluggish and just plain gross.
  • To Nap, or Not to Nap: If it’s a true red-eye, you’ll be at your destination very early. Hopefully you followed the advice above and arrived feeling fresh. Taking a nap is a dangerous proposition; it may make you feel better that day, but it could affect your sleep the following night. My mistake: I took at “nap”—which turned out to be about six hours long. As a result, I did a lot of tossing and turning instead of actually sleeping last night.

This advice can help, but keep in mind that a day or two of jet lag won’t kill you and it’s probably a price worth paying for the vacation you had. If all else fails, there’s always a different type of “red eye” you can fall back on—a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso.

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