Overnight flights are the worst. Here’s how to make them better.
Red-eye flights can easily ruin the first day of your vacation or your first day back in the office after a great trip. While some people have sworn off red-eyes for life, there are some advantages: they’re usually cheaper, they maximize time spent in your destination, and hey, you don’t have to pay for a hotel room that night. Red-eyes are far from fun, but sometimes they’re necessary. Here’s how to make the most of a sleepless situation.
INSIDER TIPWhat exactly is a red-eye flight? Anything that flies overnight–essentially giving you an overnight flight, but without enough hours to actually get some sleep. The most common red-eye flights for our readers are from the West Coast to the East Coast (usually taking off around 9 or 10 pm local time and landing around 6 am local time–but with only a five-hour flight) or from the East Coast to Europe.
Plan Your Day Accordingly
If it’s the last day of your trip before flying home, you’ll want to plan a day with plenty of down-time (and a comfortable place to spend that down-time). Save your cushiest hotel for the end of the trip, ask for a late checkout, and stow your bags at the front desk for the day while you do some sightseeing or just take it easy by the hotel pool.
Make sure to keep a change of clothes handy for the plane–you don’t want to fly overnight in the clothes you’ve been wearing all day, especially if you have to go straight to work when you land.
Dress in Something Comfortable
If you’re somebody who refuses to wear yoga pants or sweats on the plane, you can still be comfortable. Loungewear disguised as streetwear is on-trend right now, so you’re in luck. JJ Winks has a “nightgown” that looks like a maxi dress but with a built-in bra and super-soft fabric. Daily Sleeper, who markets their clothes for men and women “the world’s first walking sleepwear” has pajama-esque dresses and pantsuits you can wear anywhere, while Lunya has washable silk sets that look like black-tie pajamas. DUER has rugged (yet comfy) pants for men and women–the sort of thing you can go rock climbing in and wear to work.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by getting to the plane empty-handed. They barely even give out blankets on overnight flights these days, let alone pillows and eye masks. As a frequent flyer, you should have a bag of plane sleeping essentials: a great travel pillow (we love Travelrest and Turtl), an eye mask, over-ear headphones (we’re partial to Bose and Sennheiser) and earplugs, a blanket or shawl, and a footrest (either the hanging kind or the inflatable kind).
You’ll also need to be smart about where you’re sitting–in the aisle seat you might get bumped by the drink carts, and in the middle seat you might get bumped by your seatmates. Get a window seat toward the back of the plane, where the likelihood of having an empty middle seat next to you is high.
Don’t Eat on the Plane—Unless You’re in a Premium Class
If you’re trying to cram a full night’s sleep into a five- or six-hour flight, it’s just not worth it to waste any of that precious time eating microwaved meatloaf out of a plastic trough. Eat before you travel or eat at the airport, but in the case of a short overnight flight, you’ll need to be asleep by the time the meal cart rolls around. If you’re not waiting on food or drinks, you might even get lucky and fall asleep before the plane takes off.
There’s one exception to this rule, and that’s if you’re flying internationally in first or business class. Meal service, in that case, is a fun treat that you won’t want to miss out on.
Sometimes the stress of having to sleep can keep you from actually getting some sleep. Thankfully, there are tons of safe over-the-counter sleep aids. Visit the health food store for kooky woo-woo stuff like adaptogenic ashwagandha herbs and CBD spray (and don’t forget to pick up a little lavender essential oil to douse your pillow before the flight). If you want something a bit more mainstream, melatonin is a great sleep aid (but try it at home before you take it on a plane–it gives some people nightmares) or you can just pop an Advil PM.
Caffeine Is Your Friend
Even if you’re not a coffee or tea drinker, there’s a reason why everybody else in the world is obsessed with it: It works! Your first day after a red-eye should be fueled by caffeine, whether that’s in the form of a double Americano or a light green tea. Make sure to have a cup within an hour of waking up–not only will it save your day, but it will also get you acclimated to the time difference faster.
If you’re flying to a place that might not have coffee or tea (what is this, the moon?) then make sure to BYO. Instant coffee, tea bags, or chocolate-covered espresso beans–pick your poison.
One of the fastest ways to tell your body it’s morning while it still thinks it should be asleep is with food. If you’re not usually a breakfast person, at least have a granola bar when you land. Not only will it set you on track for the day, but it will also keep you from getting hangry.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re flying internationally, change some money before your flight so you can go straight to the coffee shop without stopping at a currency exchange or ATM.
Tell Your Hotel or Host You’re Arriving Early
Hotels, Airbnbs, and friends all have one thing in common: They hate to be surprised by an early guest. It’s unlikely that your hotel will have your room ready, but if you let them know when to expect you, there will be less of a fuss when you try and check your bags at the desk and head out for the day.
Take It Easy
Here’s how to have a perfect first day of vacation after a red-eye: Make a plan for a very indulgent and early lunch, followed by a long, meandering walk that maybe involves a museum or a boutique and an afternoon at the spa or pool. Have dinner unreasonably early, get into bed, and see if you can make it to 9 pm–tomorrow’s when the real fun starts.
Here’s how to have a not-terrible day of work after a red-eye: Treat yourself to a second latte or cappuccino to go along with your sad desk lunch, send a bunch of emails so you look busy, and start getting ready to leave work at 4:55. Order takeout on your way home from the office and fall asleep before the sun goes down–you’ll feel great tomorrow.