You’d be hard-pressed to find a better feeling than napping after a red-eye flight. But should you?
Ah, red-eye flights. Often cross-country or transatlantic, they are usually cheaper, let you slightly extend your trip, and can get you in with time to spare for that 9 a.m. meeting. But despite the benefits of such a flight, red-eyes can be bad for your health, and can seriously mess up your schedule: You land at what is 5 p.m. in Tokyo but 4 a.m. in New York City, for example, not sure if you should eat eggs for breakfast or tonkatsu for dinner, and are tempted by the thought of sleeping for a few hours—or just calling it a night. Is there a right answer? In our latest debate, Traveler editors make their case.
Sleep it off
“The longer the overnight flight, or the later it departs from your time zone, the better your chances of not feeling rotten on arrival. Regardless, not being able to check-in to hotels or apartment rentals until mid-afternoon means wandering unfamiliar cities, dragging luggage and aching bodies around, and more often than not arguing when fatigued, overwhelmed, and hungry. Far less than the cost of an airline upgrade, try booking a day room at an airport hotel—many are within walking distance of terminals, and some sites to help you locate them can be found here, here, and here. All you need is a good power nap, blinds drawn, an invigorating hot shower, and perhaps a nibble to see you through the rest of the day and night. It’s even better if you’re planning on renting a car and cruising down unfamiliar highways and byways—often on the left-hand side of the road—or meeting-up with family or friends without wanting to appear disoriented and disheveled.” —David Jefferys
“If it were up to me, I would immediately jump into bed after a red-eye flight. First, I tend not to sleep very much when I’m flying overnight. I always say I will, but it just never happens. There are always movies to binge-watch, and oftentimes I am simply just not tired enough. It’s only once I land at the destination that the lack of sleep catches up to me, and I feel like a heavy blanket has been thrown over me. The times that I have stayed up after a red-eye have almost ruined my entire trip because I end up always feeling groggy and fatigued—exploring the streets of Belgrade is fun, sure, but a lot less enjoyable when you can barely keep your eyes open. And who wants always be tired while on vacation? So my advice is always to sleep or at least take a nap, if you have time, and slowly adjust to the new time zone.” —Francina Morel
“Staying up after a red-eye or a transatlantic flight is torturous. I know it’s the right thing to do—so is working out regularly and eating salads. That doesn’t mean I want to. As a perennially terrible flier who can’t sleep more than 40 minutes on a plane unless I’m drugged or lying flat, I have to crawl into a bed when I arrive at my destination. There’s no other option. I don’t pull all-nighters anymore; this isn’t college! This is real life, when you’re expected to have coherent conversations with colleagues and family and Lyft drivers and waiters if so prompted, and that requires a solid five hours of sleep. Yes, it’ll take me a few days to adjust to the jet lag after that, but I will be a much friendlier person after a nap.” —Laura Redman
Walk it off
“As much as I’d love to snooze after a long flight—and, since I’m basically cursed when it comes to falling asleep while in transit, I really would—I’d almost always prefer to stay awake, at least until 9 p.m. local time, to better adjust to the change in time zone and get myself on (at least some semblance of) a schedule. And, since I don’t often eat on planes, my first priority once the wheels hit the tarmac is usually sniffing out the best non-airport grub, rather than collapsing in a heap on a bed somewhere. So, staying awake is as much a response to a primitive need as it is a practicality. I say, use the travel adrenaline rush to keep you powering through the daylight hours so that you can better enjoy the rest of your trip—I’m almost always glad I do.” —Betsy Blumenthal
“While in most areas of my life I still seem to possess the self-discipline of a small child, the one thing I can make myself do is stay awake after a red-eye. Yes, it is awful—especially if you’ve gone straight to work from the airport, sans shower—but my reasons are twofold: Firstly, it’s the most efficient way to beat jet lag, and, secondly, it means I can maximize the time I have when I’m actually on vacation. Why, having just landed in some far-flung, exciting place, would I want to close the curtains of my hotel room and go to sleep? A leisurely stroll with the help of some strong coffee and plenty of pit-stops means I can find somewhere to have a decent meal—therefore minimizing post-flight hunger rage—and start exploring straight away (or just lounge on the beach, for that matter—I’m not crazy). On the flip-side, if my return flight is a red-eye, the same still stands—vacation days here in the U.S. are few and precious, and I’d rather not have to use one of them for napping.” —Lale Arikoglu
“I sleep terribly on planes, and given that I fly overnight to the same spots in Europe quite often, it’s tempting to shower, put on clean pajamas, and slip into a soft bed: I’m not anywhere new, after all, and there are few better feelings after a long flight—that much I realize. It’s easy to persuade myself, and I won’t deny that I’ve gotten close to giving in. But a little voice always seems to win out; a voice that says, ‘Hey, you can sleep later. You usually sleep eight hours a night, and you’ve got enough reserve hours. You sleep every night in your bed in New York. Get over it!’ I don’t love this voice, but I do begrudgingly admit that it’s right. Time off the clock is precious, and time off the clock, away from your home, even more so. Plus, if you want to make it easier on yourself in the long run, you can’t argue with science: Slowly adjusting your sleep schedule before you leave, then getting out into the elements after you’ve landed, helps your body acclimate faster to the new time zone. Until then, there’s always caffeine—lots and lots of it.” —Katherine LaGrave