Red-eye flights are simultaneously a life-saver and a giant pain in the butt. Getting on a plane, going to sleep, and waking up somewhere new can be pretty magical—but it can also be exhausting and overwhelming.
In college, I lived an overnight flight away from my parents. I was fortunate enough to fly home several times a year, but I always felt like a complete zombie functioning on minimal sleep in a different time zone—on both ends of the trip. Jet lag sucks when it’s eating into your vacation, and it can also be a major impediment on business trips when you need to be on your A-game.
So, how can you survive and even thrive on a red-eye or long-haul flight? Here’s what 21 seasoned travelers do before, during, and after an overnight.
Choose your seat based on your needs.
“The best place to sleep is a window seat. I like using the window as something to lean on. Your seat neighbor will thank you for not leaning on them instead. If you wake up to noise easily, stay as far from the galleys as possible. Flight attendants work in the galleys during the flight and it can get noisy. And frequent lavatory users should always take an aisle seat. You can use the aircraft seat map if you want to book a seat close to a lavatory as well.” —Kaipo Kauka, a flight attendant with Hawaiian Airlines
Whenever possible, fly direct.
“Avoid booking travel with connecting flights. If you don’t have to wake up to change planes (and battle with falling asleep again) you will have a much more relaxed red eye experience.” —Valerie Wilson, a travel blogger at Trusted Travel Girl, who takes around 100 flights a year
Don’t skip your workout.
“I work out the morning before a red-eye flight. Not too hard, just something I’d normally do (or a light workout if you’re not accustomed to working out). This sets me up to sleep better at night.” —Vanessa Valiente, a fashion blogger who travels at least once a month
Get your “timing cues” aligned to help your body know when it’s time to sleep.
“Sleep, exercise, and eat on local time before you leave so that your body gets the same time information to all organs, no matter what cues they’re sensitive to. Getting bright light in the day is also important, just like making sure it’s dark when you sleep. Going outside helps with the former, and using a sleep mask can help with the latter, especially if you don’t quite sleep on local time the first day or two.” —Benjamin Smarr, Ph.D., a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley and Reverie sleep advisory board member, who travels one or twice per month
Prepare all the info you’ll need when you land before you board the flight.
“Your ongoing travel info, your hotel directions, your landing cards for customs, etc. It’s easier to organize these when you are fresh (and have more elbow room) than when you are bleary-eyed and woozy.” —Kelly Hayes-Raitt, professional house-sitter and author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva, who has traveled full-time for the past nine years
Eat before you board.
“If you can, make sure you have a decent meal before you get on the flight. Airplane food varies considerably in quality, and if you’re hungry you’ll also have trouble sleeping.” —Travis Bennett, founder of NomadStack, who flies internationally two to three times per month
“I ‘get ready for bed’ before getting on the flight. I wash my face, brush my teeth and put comfortable clothes on. I bring multiple layers in case I get cold (and in case the airline doesn’t give out blankets!) including thick socks and a long scarf that I can use as a blanket.” —Alissa Rumsey, R.D., who travels at least twice a month
Relax with some ASMR.
”I’m a devotee of ASMR recordings, which trigger relaxation in the brain and help me feel calm, even when I’m crammed into a tiny coach seat. I purchased a few albums worth of ASMR that I bought on iTunes and keep on my phone. Tingles ASMR is a decent app for downloading and discovering new ASMR artists.” —Megan Wood, an editor at hotel review site Oyster.com, who travels once a month
Bring a scarf or shawl.
“I bring a huge scarf with me to use as a light blanket in case I get cold. It can also be used as a pillow to support your head depending on how much room you have, but this is my secret weapon because it’s lightweight and very comforting.” —Jenay Rose, a yoga instructor who travels around once a month
And buckle your seatbelt over it.
Flight attendants are required to verify whether your seatbelt is secured when necessary. To avoid having a flight attendant interrupting your sleep, I suggest buckling your seatbelt on top of your layers.” —Ernest Shahbazian, founder of YouTube travel channel Trip Astute, who travels internationally three to four times a year
Carry on a pair of slipper socks.
“I wear slipper socks so I can take off my shoes but still not be walking around barefoot.” —Jen Ruiz, a travel blogger who took 20 trips last year
Or compression socks.
“A pair of compression socks is a must for puffy ankles, especially on long-haul flights.” —Erina Pindar, managing director of luxury travel agency SmartFlyer, who flies one to two times a month
Put your pillow on the tray table.
“If you are having trouble falling asleep sitting straight up, try this alternative: lay your neck pillow on the tray table and lay your head on the pillow. As a side sleeper, sometimes I find this position more comfortable than straight up.” —Nina Thomas, blogger at Traveling with Nina, who flies five to 10 times a year
Set an alarm to wake you up before landing.
“If you are able to sleep on the flight then I highly recommend setting a quiet alarm 30-45 minutes before landing. You’ll be able to mentally prepare for your day a bit and won’t be jolted awake by the landing of the plane.” —Tava Hoag, editor at TravelPirates, who travels five to six times a year
“Eat healthy foods low in sodium and high in water content. Airplane air can be very dehydrating, and high sodium intake will only make it worse. Instead, board the plane with healthy snacks like fruit and unsalted nuts, and make sure to drink tons of water. Once you deplane, your stomach and complexion will thank you.” —Peggy Goldman, founder of Friendly Planet Travel, who has flown internationally over 20 times in a year
For quiet, use earplugs rather than noise-canceling headphones.
“Many people, including myself, use noise-canceling headphones, but that often limits what you can rest your head on. Earplugs can block out sound, while giving you the ability to lean against the side of the plane if you are lucky enough to secure the window seat.” —Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach and co-founder of Tuck, who flies around three times a month
Change clothes before you land.
“I always bring a new set of day time clothes to change into before I land. This is also a little mental trick, making me thing it is the start to a new day.” —Megan Trivelli, an account executive at luxury travel agency Fox PR, who flies around 12 times a year
Get ready for the day before deplaning.
“Often when I land after a red-eye flight, I have to be ready to go to straight to work. I take the last hour of the flight to wake up and refresh myself. Makeup wipes help my face feel fresh followed up with moisturizer and lotion for my face, neck, and hands. A touch of non-aerosol hairspray helps to smooth out the static your hair may have accumulated. I always change clothes before or immediately after deplaning to help me feel like I’m starting my day.” —Alison Haselden, a consultant who flies four to 10 times per month
Or as soon as you land, in the airport lounge or bathroom.
“Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on if you need to make a quick turnaround and head to a meeting or event. I pack a small steamer, change of clothes/shoes, makeup bag, hair brushes/styling tools. Changing in an airline club is always a great option, and if you don’t have access, find a restroom where you can use some counter space to get ready.” —Alena Capra, an interior designer who flies once a week
When you get there, get some exercise.
“One of the best things you can do to help ward off jet lag is to work out the second you arrive at your destination. Even if it’s a brisk urban hike, anything helps!” —Kaitlyn Noble, a personal trainer with Thumbtack who takes a red-eye five to seven times a year
Wake up with a cold shower.
“This might not sound like the most fun, but if you can bear it for a short while it can actually help you out on the travel front. Cold showers help dilate blood vessels, which can be helpful for boosting circulation and helping you feel more energized after your flight.” —Kimberly Snyder, author of The Beauty Detox series, who travels around twice a month