How to Survive a Red-Eye Flight

For most of us, the red-eye is synonymous with misery. Trading a bed for an airline seat is a serious comfort downgrade, but these tips can help you get through your next red-eye experience and arrive more well-rested and functional.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

If you're a champion upright sleeper, then overnight flights were made for you. For the rest of us, however, the red-eye is synonymous with misery. Trading a bed for an airline seat is a serious comfort downgrade, but these tips can help you get through your next red-eye experience and arrive more well-rested and functional.

Avoid Connections

You know what's worse than trying to get some proper sleep on an overnight flight? Trying to get some proper sleep on two overnight flights with a late-night connection in between. And while connections are sometimes unavoidable, if you can book a nonstop red-eye directly from your departure city to your destination, you'll be infinitely better off.

Choose the Right Seat

For most overnight flyers, the window seat is the not-so-secret weapon in the fight for a little shut-eye. Unless you're likely to get up multiple times throughout the night -- in which case, do yourself and your seatmates a favor and book the aisle -- you'll find the closest approximation of comfort in the window seat. Bunch a jacket or sweater up against the side wall of the plane to build yourself a makeshift sleeping surface.

Wear Comfortable Clothing

We're not suggesting a pajama-clad walk of shame through the airport on your way to catch your next red-eye, but choosing a flight outfit built around comfort can go far in helping you sleep once you're onboard. We recommend wearing loose-fitting clothing made with breathable fabrics. It's best to avoid clothing that pinches, pulls, or squeezes -- even if it looks amazing. And once you're airborne, kick off your shoes to maximize comfort.

Come Prepared

Being prepared for sleep on a red-eye means something slightly different for each flyer, but in general your prep kit should include an eye mask to block out light, earplugs to muffle ambient cabin noise, and warm socks to fight off the chill. Many people also find that the weight of a light blanket (brought from home, since most airline-provided blankets rank high on the yuck scale) can help trigger sleep even in the REM-inhospitable environment of an airplane cabin.

Invest in a Pillow to Suit Your Sleep Style

Just as there are pillows to suit the needs of back, side, and stomach sleepers, there are travel pillows for every style of flight napper. Classic U-shaped pillows are good for passengers who sleep easily on planes and don't have neck problems. The oblong Travelrest pillow is good for side sleepers, and it's an editorial favorite here at SmarterTravel. Stomach sleepers and those who regularly fall asleep in-flight on the tray table should consider the Skyrest pillow. If you fall asleep easily but wake up because of mid-sleep head bobbing, you might try the Relax Ally headband. And if you're looking to block everything out in order to sleep, you might be interested in the Ostrich Pillow.

Limit Hydration

Every medical and travel expert touts in-flight hydration, but if sleep is a priority on a red-eye, you may actually want to limit your fluid intake for an hour or two before the flight. After all, if you're going to have to work extra hard to fall asleep sitting up, the last thing you want is to be woken up after an hour by the call of nature. Just be sure to drink extra water toward the end of the flight, since dehydration worsens the symptoms of jet lag.


Travelers are on both sides of the fence about whether medicating yourself to sleep on a flight is a good idea or a bad one, but realistically, there are a lot of us who simply can't sleep on planes without a bit of assistance. Popular options range from actual sleeping pills to medications that have drowsiness as a side effect. There are plenty of natural and homeopathic options as well. No matter what you choose, it's always best to know in advance how the medication will affect you. For instance, if you go all Ambien Cookbook when you take the hard stuff, it might be best to look for a milder option for the plane.

Lay the Groundwork

If you're serious about sleeping, you'll have to set the mood even before you board the plane. Avoid both caffeine and alcohol just before flying, and eat a light and balanced meal. (Since your body will be dealing with the stress of flying and the less-than-ideal sleeping conditions, it's wise to spare it additional digestive challenges.) Just before boarding, try to recreate at least a few aspects of your usual bedtime routine. Wash your face and brush your teeth -- beyond just being good-hygiene practices, these actions can signal to the body that it's time to sleep.

Wake Up Right

Getting through the flight is only the first hurdle in the red-eye challenge; you'll still need to make it through the whole next day. Upon waking, be sure to drink plenty of water, and try to have a balanced breakfast at the appropriate hour in your destination's time zone. A bit of caffeine can help you get through the day, but relying on it too heavily or drinking it too late in the day can throw off your next night's sleep, which you definitely don't want to do. And once you land, be sure to expose yourself to plenty of natural light to signal to your body that, yes, it really is daytime.

Go Easy on Yourself

Hit the ground running after a red-eye and you're likely to burn out fast. Instead, go easy on yourself the day you land. When you're planning activities, be realistic about your energy level. Try not to schedule big meetings or all-day activities on that day. And take care of yourself throughout the day, making sure to get plenty of natural light, eat healthy meals, drink lots of fluids, and get to sleep at a reasonable hour in your destination.

--By Chrisitne Sarkis

You Might Also Like:

Read the original story: How to Survive a Red-Eye Flight by Christine Sarkis (Google+), who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

Before You Go