As a general guide the body takes roughly one day, for each time zone travelled, to adjust to a new cycle of day and night.
So, you can probably travel through three hours without the need for specific counteractive measures (most of us can cope with going to sleep three hours later or earlier than normal once in a while) but more than that might need a bit of help.
We also find it easier to adjust to travelling west than east as it lengthens rather than shortens our day. Whether you’re reading this guide a week before your travels, in the airport lounge or even on your flight, there are some good practical tips you can follow so you can grab some sleep en route and feel rested and refreshed by the time you reach your destination.
Pre-boarding your flight: The day before your flight, ensure you eat three balanced meals, including at least five servings of fruit or green vegetables and one of protein-rich food, eg. white fish or tofu.
In the airport, try to resist carb heavy or processed food. Look for the healthier options. Food plays an important part in setting body clocks and also in how you feel.
Get into the right frame of mind: Try to relax before you board the plane. These days many airports offer massage chairs or a spa, Upper Class passengers and Flying Club Gold members will find spas in our Clubhouses at London Gatwick, London Heathrow and New York JFK.
Onboard: Just like your sleep environment at home, your environment onboard should be as cool, quiet, dark and comfortable as possible to aid restful sleep. Here are some things you can do to achieve rest onboard.
Set the time: At the start of your flight, set your watch to the local time at your destination. Note what times you’ll be eating and try to keep back a bread roll or some crackers to eat at ‘normal’ mealtimes according to the time of your destination. While a few people seem able to catch some zzzs on a flight, most of us struggle.
These tips and suggestions should help you get a great night’s sleep onboard your flight.
Be comfortable: If you’re aiming to sleep, travel in non-restrictive comfortable clothing such as sweatpants, leggings and a loose fitting t-shirt and zip up top. Alternatively, bring your PJs to sleep in. Wearing loose clothing will help you drift off to sleep.
A good tip – remove your shoes too!
Wind down routine: Following a similar routine to home is imperative to some onboard slumbering. That means washing your face, taking off make up, tying hair back and making sure you brush your teeth – a toothbrush and toothpaste are supplied on board. Routines that are associated with sleep signal the brain that it’s time to wind down.
Get into position: It’s harder to fall asleep sitting upright so recline your chair as much as possible, stretch out your legs, and relax.
Snuggle down: To feel sleepy, you need to have a comfortable pillow or cushion and a snuggly blanket. Some people travel with their own, but blankets are provided on every seat.
Use eye masks and ear plugs: You need darkness to make you feel sleepy. Light suppresses melatonin (the sleep inducing hormone) so pop on an eye mask. Equally, noise is a factor in disturbing sleep so use ear plugs to block out people talking etc. We take pride in keeping the noise to a minimum during night flights and our mood lighting is changed according to the time during the flight.
Soothing scents and moisturise: Lavender is a scent that is well known for its calming and sleep-inducing properties so you could consider bringing your own pillow spray or roller ball to use on pressure points to help your sleep.
Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the flight to prevent dehydration and also to help mobilise your energy reserves for your arrival. While you may want to take advantage of the alcohol or caffeine drinks onboard, if you want to sleep it is best to avoid them. Alcohol may initially make you feel drowsy but it will disturb your sleep making you feel thirsty and needing the loo. Switch from coffee and tea to a herbal or decaf drink which you can request from the crew.
Following these tips means you should reach your destination fully rested, whether you indulge in a nifty nap or a solid sleep, and leave you feeling like a happy traveller!
Food for thought: It’s important to eat lightly if you want to sleep. Certain foods are known to calm the brain and help promote sleep such as dairy products, green vegetables, almonds and fish. Avoid eating a big meal and spicy food just before bedtime as it can lead to discomfort and indigestion, but a small supper may be helpful for some. Snack on energy giving foods (eg. nuts, bananas or wholemeal bread/rolls) and avoid reaching for the chocolate or sweets. Cheese and crackers are a great bedtime snack and are offered in all classes.
Switch off tech: Whether it’s a kindle, tablet or even the TV, if you’re looking to sleep switch it off! The light from screens keeps your brain awake. Instead read a book or listen to some soothing music to help you relax. Mediation or mindfulness apps are also very useful in preparing you for sleep and Virgin Atlantic has teamed up with Headspace (guided meditation sessions and mindfulness training) to offer you access to the app throughout your flight.
And… relax: Once you’ve done all of the above, take ten minutes to stretch those muscles, this is a great time to play our inflight exercise workout and practise some deep breathing exercises.. The 4-7-8 technique is a popular one. This is where you breathe in for four seconds, hold the breath for seven seconds and then breathe out, with a whoosh sound for eight seconds. This will encourage your body to fully relax ready for sleep.
Wakey wakey: On our night flights, breakfast will be served about an hour and a half before landing. To pep yourself up, go to the restroom and splash your face with cold water and brush your teeth. Do some simple stretching exercises in your seat too. If you’ve been wearing your PJs, change back into your comfy clothes ready for arrival.
Airport Arrival: Once you arrive, use light (daylight or artificial) to re-set your body clock. Getting some fresh air will help you feel more awake and alert, as will drinking plenty of water.