‘If you find it hard to sleep, stop counting sheep and talk to the shepherd.’ (author unknown)
Getting enough quality sleep at the right times helps you function well throughout the day. People who are sleep deficient are less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. So when flying long distances through many time-zones, getting an effective rest is critical to be able to function when you land (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute).
The are many tricks to getting a good rest in transit (and I’ve collected a few for you below), but as Jews there are also religious aspects to sleeping on the plane. Combining Halacha with the practical approach is the best Jewish Solution to Jet Lag.
Halacha of Snoozing on Cloud Nine
- Dozing off and waking every few minutes is not only stressful, it’s also not called sleep by Halachic definition. Only if you sleep 30-45 minutes straight can it be considered sleep (also called “power-naps“). Therefor if you intend to sleep on the plane for more than 30 minutes, it’s nighttime and the stewardesses have extinguished the lights, you can recite Kriyat Shema for the night and also the blessing of Hamapil.
- If the plane will be landing within the next hour or two and they haven’t extinguished the lights, than its better not to say the blessing of Hamapil, since in anticipation of landing, you might not fall asleep.
- If you were awake all night and take-off time is after dawn and you intend to go to sleep during daytime, recite the Shema but not Hamapil. Similarly if you went to sleep before nightfall and intend to sleep into the night, you don’t recite Hamapil.
- If you recited Hamapil before sleep and something disturbed you from dozing off, repeat the Hamapil blessing later on when you go to sleep a second time.
- In general when you sleep in a bed, you should remove your shoes. The Talmud (Tractate Yuma 78b) states that wearing shoes while sleeping is akin to experiencing the “taste of death” AND it makes one forget their Torah knowledge. Nevertheless, when sleeping on a plane in a reclining position, there is no need to remove shoes, since this is not normative sleep. If you fly first class though, and have a full-length bed, you should definitely remove your shoes (otherwise why pay so much for you ticket if you’re getting a “lethal doze”).
- If you were awake all night, you should wash Netilas Yadayim in the morning without a blessing. If you go to the bathroom before morning prayers – you may recite the blessing.
- If you slept less than 30-45 consecutive minutes you are exempt from washing Netilas Yadayim.
- It is preferable to wash Netilas Yadayim upon waking, in the kitchenette and not in the bathroom. If only a bathroom faucet is available for washing, then lower the toilet seat before washing and make the blessing outside.
- When sleeping on an airplane, one normally does not remove their Tallis Kotton. Therefore, when one wakes up no blessing is recited on the Tallis Kotton.
- If you are sitting at the window or aisle, be careful not to wake your fellow passengers (whether they are Jewish or not). Of course if you need the bathroom or some other urgent need, then you may wake your seat-mate to pass through.
Now that you’ve got the spiritual aspects on target, how do you get enough sleep to enjoy your trip?
Practicalities of Snoozing on Cloud Nine
Working out your on-plane sleeping strategy generally requires a bit of trial and error: Some people happily pop a pill as soon as they take off, and others relish the chance to work for hours on end without interruption. Assuming you’re not keen to get medicinal and you do plan to rest at some point, here’s some strategies.
Plan your Sleep Schedule Based on your Destination
You need to sleep on the plane at the same time you’d be asleep at your destination. If your flight arrives first thing in the morning at your destination, you need to sleep up until you land (or as near as you can manage). If it arrives in the evening, you should avoid sleeping at all. And once you arrive, you need to resist falling to sleep before the proper local time.
Choose the Right Seat
Aim for a window seat or one of the two middle seats in a block of four, since these don’t need anyone else to climb over you when nature calls. The trade-off? As a courtesy, you should try to time your own bathroom trips for when your seatmates are awake.
Try to sit in front of the engines for a quieter flight, as jet noise is sometimes louder next to and behind the engines. Be sure to sit as far away from the bathrooms as possible. Sitting near the lavatory makes you more likely to be woken up by slamming doors, lights, unpleasant odors, and other passengers jostling your seat as they wait in line.
Don’t have too much Luggage under the Seat
Have just the absolute essentials (reading material, wallet) in a cloth bag, with everything else stowed overhead. Keeping a bag under your feet might disturb your sleep.
Can’t sleep? Keep your eyes shut
Even if you can’t sleep, you can rest – leave your eyes shut and lay back. As often as not, you’ll get at least some sleep. Even if you don’t, you’ll be more rested than if you remained fully alert.
Will your flight be hot or cold? It’s impossible to predict, so wear layers. Don’t wear anything tight, as that can restrict your circulation (which is already at risk in a tight airplane seat).
Use a Pillow and Pick it Carefully
Prop a pillow against your back or the wall of the plane; you’ll feel more supported. Not everyone sleeps the same way, though. Are you a stomach, side, or back sleeper? Pick a travel pillow that allows you to most closely copy your normal sleeping style.
Wear An Eye Mask
Invest in a mask that blocks all light but still gives your eyes room to move around during REM cycles.
Wear Noise-Canceling Headphones or Earplugs
Did you know that the absence of noise can prevent you from falling asleep just as much as loud noises can? So, if you always listen to the radio or television as you drift off, try to do the same on a plane. If you prefer to sleep in silence, download a white-noise track to your iPod and invest in some noise-canceling headphones. If you hate sleeping with headphones, earplugs are the way to go.
Listen, don’t Watch
It’s tempting to drown out the noise of other passengers by watching a film or television program. Not a good idea. The blue lights of a TV can affect the quality of sleep (and your soul…). Audio is better than video. If you need a distraction to relax, listen to an audio book or a radio program.
Eat Light and Simple
Eating a big meal can interfere with a good night’s rest. Also, if you’ve ordered a custom meal (like Kosher…), flight attendants will often wake you up to deliver it. Once your meal is there, the trash and leftover food will take up space on your tray table until the attendants come around to collect it.
Skip Caffeine (and Alcohol)
You’ll find it harder to sleep if you have caffeine coursing through your veins, especially on a daytime flight. Skip the temptation to have a cup of coffee or Coke before boarding, and stick to water or juice during the flight.
Minimize consumption of alcohol as it has a greater effect on the body while flying than it does when on the ground.
Free your Feet
Some people slip their shoes off as soon as they get on a plane; others wouldn’t dream of it. Further, there’s the issue of keeping your circulation flowing; going barefoot permits your feet to swell.
Whatever you prefer, wear clean socks. Bare feet don’t offend; stinky feet do. Wear shoes you can slip on and off easily. This way you’re not pulling at shoelaces and flinging elbows mid-flight. On overseas flights, some airlines give you socks that will keep you warm and encourage circulation in your feet.
Buckle Up and on Top
The key is to buckle your seat belt over your blanket or sweater, not under it. That way, the flight attendant can see that you’re buckled up and won’t bug you if there’s turbulence.
Sleep well !
- Ahalech Be’amisecha Ch. 12
- Vayehi Binsoa Ch. 3
- Toras Haderech Ch. 13