How To Survive Long-Haul Flights
Long distance flying is tough. Tough on the body, tough on the brain, and tough on sleep patterns. Irritability, fatigue, constipation, and insomnia are just a few of the consequences of spending 24+ hrs on a plane. It doesn’t matter if you are on a long-haul flight for business or pleasure, the impact it can have at the other end is usually pretty awful!
Recently, I travelled to the other side of the world and it took 27.5 hours from door to door. In the past, if I had a long distance flight like this one, I would do one or two recommended things that were supposed to make me feel okay at the other end. Unfortunately, they never seemed to work and I always ended up being a walking, cranky zombie for days.
During the last few years, I’ve had some really long bouts of crippling insomnia and I knew that this kind of flight was one of those flights that could put me out for ages. It was clear that I had to be very strategic about how I approached it. It was a 2:45am get up, so I knew that this was going to have a big impact when I got to the other end and in the days to follow.
I am pleased to say that this time I had great success, which is why I would like to share with you the seven points that I followed to make sure that I was able to deal properly with such a long, long flight from Australia.
Many people suggest getting a really intense, hard, long workout in the day before or the day of your travel. Now, like I said, I was up at 2:45am so it was never going to be my flight day that I did my exercise but I certainly did the afternoon before. This helps to tire your body a little bit so that sleep comes easier to you when you’re on that plane.
2. Switch Your Clock – Physically and Mentally
The first thing you should do when you get on a plane is switch your clock and all your devices to your destination’s time, date, and day. Click to tweet You’ve also got to do a bit of a mind shift in your brain because it’s really easy for us to always keep saying, “Oh, yeah, but I’d be at this time in Sydney”. Or, “I’d just be getting up now.” Or, “This is when I’d normally be eating.” You must try and prevent yourself saying that. Change your mindset to, “This is the time I would be eating, sleeping, being active…” in the place of your destination.
3. Liquid Consumption
Alcohol and caffeine can all have a big effect on your levels of dehydration. Now, if I am about to go on a holiday, I like to have a little champagne to celebrate that fact at the airport or on the flight and, you know what, that’s okay. You’re allowed to have some balance in your world and do what’s right for you to help you get in the mood and to celebrate the start of your break… just don’t go overboard. And this is the same with tea and coffee. The caffeine will dehydrate you so you need to be drinking lots of plain water to rehydrate.
Talking about water… you need to drink lots of it during the flight. I am not sure about you, but it feels to me like my skin, my cells and my whole body crave H2O when I am on a plane. Drink, drink, drink.
4. Food Consumption
Of course, your food consumption is a big deal. Now I like to speak about things being an MVO. What is the minimal viable option? The best case scenario, of course, is that you wouldn’t eat any of the airline food. You would take all your fresh, organic food that you’ve made at home. But, of course, that’s unlikely to happen. So what’s the next layer that you can do? Well, depending on where you’re sitting in the plane, depends on the quality of your food. But you can still make some pretty good choices no matter where you’re sitting and that starts with before you even get on by indicating any food issues that you may have i.e. if you are dairy or gluten intolerant or vegan or vegetarian… make sure that you specify that prior to getting on the plane so that you have the right food that’s right for your body.
I would even suggest to say (and the airlines will hate me for this, but) that you’re dairy or gluten-free because then the food that you’re going to be served will be much better for you on that flight. If you’re not getting cheesy, creamy pastas that are going to stick in your tummy, that’s going to be a real benefit. And finally the bread. I don’t know where that bread’s baked, but it is like glue in your stomach after you’ve eaten it. So, try to avoid the bread at all costs.
But, of course, minimal viable option is that you just pick and choose a little bit. You usually get some kind of choice, so have something with vegetables and salad, and protein. Avoid the bread and butter, biscuits and the desserts and things like that. Just eat fruits after your meal if you can. It will make you feel better because there’s no doubt that after being on a long flight, our digestive systems don’t work as well and that’s usually due to the dehydration that has occurred and the type of food that we’ve eaten and because it’s so irregular and out of sync with our body clocks.
When it’s your destination’s daytime, see if you can move as much as you can so your body starts adjusting to that time. You want it to believe that this is daylight time; the normal time to be participating in activity. Manipulate your body clock. Trick it into adjusting itself. Move your body. Walk up and down the plane or sit in your seat doing some calf, glute, neck, back, etc. stretches. You want to stretch and move your muscles as much as you can.
The next point is to sleep when it’s sleeping time at your destination. Try to do everything possible to get to sleep and stay asleep. As I’ve said, I’ve had crippling insomnia for a long time, which means I have very strict sleep rituals I put in place every single night before I go to bed. I knew that I would have to do the same on this flight. Two of the things I make sure of is that I’ve got the eye pads to keep out as much light and activity because you do see shadows going past if you only have your eyes closed. The other thing is to get some really comfortable and effective noise-cancelling headphones/earplugs because it doesn’t matter which end of the plane you’re at, even if you get to lay down flat, that engine noise is going to keep you awake. So, if you can cut out all that noise from the engine, it’ll be a lot easier for you to sleep.
If you have a sleep ritual that you normally do before going to bed each night (which I highly recommend to everyone) then you should also do them on your flight (if appropriate). Click to tweet For example, turning off all devices at least 45mins before sleeping. One of the great joys of flying is that you get to binge watch movies and TV shows without interruption, but it is still important to have screen-free time prior to sleeping. Read a book instead.
One of the last rituals I have before turning out the lights each night is to rub lavender hand cream into my hands and enjoy the scent. Lavender has properties that encourage sleep, so I also take it on the plane and use as part of my sleep ritual.
7. Fresh Air
My last tip is about what you do when you get to your destination? Of course, so many things depend on what time that is. I was really lucky. We got in at 8:30pm, so by the time we got back to my relatives’ house, we had a cup of tea, some hellos, and then straight off to bed. That later arrival time definitely made a big difference, so if you have choices around your flight times, try and book this one. The hardest flight is the one when you arrive first thing in the morning (which was the case on the way home). If you have not had a lot of sleep, and you’ve been on the plane for 27 hours, and you’ve got to try and stay awake all day, it’s very very hard. The best thing you can do is try to get out in the fresh air, get into the sunlight. This will activate your pineal gland, which then secretes melatonin. Melatonin helps to adjust your body clock so that you can sleep at the correct time for your destination.
Getting outside will make such a difference to that first night’s sleep. You don’t have to do a full out workout or anything. Just get outside and have a walk, explore where you are. Maybe do some sightseeing if you feel up to it. Or maybe it’s just walking into one of the parks and sitting on the bench and just getting the sunlight on your body.
Anyway, I hope this has helped you. It made a big difference to me on this recent long distance flight from Australia to Ireland. In fact, I was shocked that, by putting all those seven points in place, what a difference it could make to the way I felt when I arrived there. I hope that you too might be able to put things in place next time you have a long haul flight. I know many of you who are reading this often have long business flights, so hopefully this will help you to be a little more strategic about how you approach it.