Off to Saipan With Overnight Flight Tips


This week I traveled to Saipan for my annual trip to help those with sleep and neurological disorders. I tend to get pretty anxious before I leave, and one reason is the long flights. Today, I’ll dive into how to optimize your sleep and wakefulness on overnight flights, a challenge I know all too well.

The goal during long flights is to 1) trick our brains into syncing with our destination's time zone and 2) ensure that you get some sleep when the time is right. It's all about managing light exposure and sleep.

Before we move on, My #1 tip is to set your clocks – and subsequently your brain – to your destination’s time zone. Do this right away – meaning on your way to the airport! Everything else I’m going to talk about hinges on this. So don’t skip this step. 

Okay, next: our brain manages our body’s clock, also called our circadian rhythm, and it does this through cues - mainly light exposure, but also through meals and down time. Spending lots of time in the air and crossing multiple time zones wreak havoc on our systems. And while we will never fully eliminate this sudden shift in body rhythms, we can minimize the impact. 

Here are my 3 “must haves” before taking any long-haul flight. The timing of their use is the real key. 

#1 Blue Blocking Glasses:
Firstly, arm yourself with blue-blocking glasses. These aren't just trendy accessories; they're essential tools in controlling your exposure to blue light, which is the light that has the biggest impact on your sleep-wake cycle. When the clock is after 8pm at your destination, put on these glasses. If you already wear glasses - get yourself a pair of clip-ons - no problem. Conversely, if it is daytime at your destination, take off the glasses and pull up that window shade, or if that’s not an option, just stare at those awful lights in the tiny bathroom. 

#2 Eye Shades and Neck Pillow:
Next, eye shades and a comfy neck pillow. Why? Because you can't rely on airline cabins to manage light effectively. They often miss the mark. Use eye shades to block out light when it's nighttime at your destination and take your neck comfort into your own hands. Since we’ll be trying to sleep in an upright position, it’s important to mimic the support of a pillow. A supportive neck pillow also allows you to switch positions from left to right, something that helps comfort when sleeping for a long duration. 

#3 Sedating Medication:
And third, consider a sedating medication, prescribed by your doctor. This isn't for long-term, believe me, but for adjusting to a new time zone or sleeping on a plane, it can be incredibly helpful. Be sure to take the sedating medication and schedule your sleep at your destination’s bedtime, even if you don’t feel particularly sleepy. Importantly, don’t mix the medication with alcohol or use excessive alcohol to force yourself to sleep. Alcohol worsens the dehydration already experienced on planes. 

If you have sleep apnea, you can bring your machine on board - just be sure to have a portable battery, or check with the airlines to determine if your seat has power and if the outlet can support a CPAP machine. 

Manipulating light is key. Block out light when it’s night at your destination, and during 'daytime hours', try to stay awake and expose yourself to light. It's about creating an environment conducive to your destination’s time zone, right there in the cabin.

Remember, effective sleep management while traveling is not just about comfort; it's about maintaining health and well-being across time zones.

Thanks for being here, I’ll see you next week!

Waiting on a Machine or Just Getting Started With A CPAP? 

Due to the recent recall and general delays in healthcare services, many people are forced to wait to get their CPAP machines. There are things you can do to prepare, so download the first of its kind guide with actionable tips you can start on today.


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