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How a goofy-looking cap makes airplanes more bearable

The Nite Hood sleep mask.

The Nite Hood, designed by a Canadian graphic designer, has been a godsend for lousy sleepers

I'm now into my third decade of spending much of my life on the road, and, as most frequent travellers, I take what small steps I can to make hotel rooms, airports and long flights in steerage class more bearable. I have tried most things; I have honed my strategies. And when someone tells me they have found a great new thing, I am skeptical. Travel accessories is not a field with a rich scope for innovation – or so I thought. A year ago, when a sister-in-law who travels even more than I do gave me a Nite Hood and swore it would change my life, I was, frankly, dubious.

The feeling did not diminish when I put on the hood: a blue cap straight out of Dickens, complete with tassel, but with a wide bottom that was meant to pull all the way down over my eyes and block out that glaring airplane cabin light. I felt ridiculous; I was fairly certain I also looked ridiculous, but I couldn't check, because the cap was covering the whole upper half of my face. The guffaws from my children were a reliable indicator.

But then, dear reader, I actually used the hat on a plane – and since that first flight, it is the first thing I pack for every destination. The hood is of particular value for lousy sleepers, of whom I am one: I use it in hotel rooms where dawn light leaks in through ill-fitting curtains, in tents and in the back seat of cars on long road trips. It's so soothing, so cozy, so dream-inducing, that I now use it at home, most nights. My partner no longer snickers when I flick off the light and pull down my hat; the hat, it is clear to everyone, makes me a better sleeper and thus a nicer awake person.

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The hood is the invention of a Toronto graphic designer named Chris Parsons, 52, who is also a lousy sleeper. After trying and discarding dozens of conventional sleep masks over the years – the ones shaped to cover your eyes, with a notch for your nose and an elastic strap – he started sleeping with a black T-shirt flipped back over his eyes at the neckline. One day in 2012 he found himself in a fabric store, fingering a bolt of organic bamboo weave that reminded him of his much-used T-shirt. Although he had never sewn a stitch in his life, he resolved to try to make something functional that would work like the shirt did.

After a great many iterations, the perfected hood now comes in three sizes or an adjustable version. Parsons ships the Nite Hood to lousy sleepers around the world, relying on word of mouth – since no advertisement he can devise gets people past the "you want me to wear a hat over my face?" block.

They simply need to try it. The bamboo fabric is just stretchy enough to feel cozy without being smothering or sweaty. It blocks out the light if you pull it down to just above your nostrils and helps holds earplugs in place. The packaging contains bafflegab about pressure points on your head to induce sleep – Parsons admits there is no science behind this, just an idea he's borrowed from the shavasana pose in yoga – but there is something about the cap's snug feeling that is soothing. He added the tassel simply because it looks right, he says – "It's pure whimsy. Otherwise it's just a bag on your face."

The hood is washable – and mine hasn't lost its stretch after a year of constant use. They're made in Canada, cost $28 ($30 for the adjustable version), are available online at nitehood.com and everyone to whom I have given a hood has fallen in love with it once they were finished giggling.


A place to rest your head

The Mulgore Airplane Travel Pillow. Alyssa Schwartz

Inflatable and bright blue, the Mulgore Airplane Travel Pillow looks vaguely like a life vest meant to camouflage the Cookie Monster.

But while the pillow has what appears to be arm and neck holes, it's not meant to be worn at all; rather it's a headrest that stands on the meal tray in front of you, with holes you can wrap your arms through, a pose that's not dissimilar to an upright fetal position. While my friends mocked my Facebook post about it, I had the last laugh on a 16-hour flight to South Africa: The pillow was soft and comfortable, and the position had the added bonus of stretching out my hamstrings and lower back, both of which tend to get tight and achy on long flights. Totally worth the teasing. (Available from amazon.ca for $26.99.)

Alyssa Schwartz, Special to The Globe and Mail

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