They say it’s the journey and not the destination. Let’s face it though, sometimes that journey can be a pain (in the back, neck, and legs) especially when it comes to long-haul flights.
Air travel is one of the great gifts of the last century. Journeys that would previously have taken years to make by land or sea now only take several hours by air. However, plane travel does come with some pitfalls that are difficult to ignore.
Curing jet lag across time zones and dealing with cramped cabin spaces seem like a small price to pay for the privilege of air travel – but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to alleviate some of the travel pains that we go through right from take-off.
One of the first problems most people encounter? How to sleep on a plane.
11 Tips for Getting Better Sleep on a Plane
If you aren’t part of the privileged percentage of people who fly business class or first class, welcome to the club! The majority of flyers ride economy class to their destination, but with the number of people in this portion of the plane, it can get pretty cramped.
Not the most comfortable flight experience when you are trying to get some snooze session in.
Don’t fret! Here are our top tips that might work for you:
1. Don’t Sit Near the Lavatory
One of the places you definitely DON’T want to get stuck in on a plane is the area near the lavatory.
The side effects of high traffic in this area and the strong chance of getting a whiff of terrible bathroom odour are enough to disrupt your in-flight sleep. Good thing you can bring the most comfortable travel pillow onboard with you and still end up waking up every few minutes just because you’re right next to the loo.
2. Choose the Right Seat
Apart from sitting far away from the toilets, this is the type of seat you should be looking for on a plane – a window seat forward of the wings.
Why the window seat?
There are several reasons. One is that you are right next to the wall of the aeroplane. Unlike middle and aisle seats, this gives you an extra area on which to rest your head, giving you options to find what is most comfortable for you.
Another reason is that you are not in anyone’s way. Sitting on the window seat of your row means that the middle seat won’t be waking you to get up and go to the bathroom or stretch your legs.
Lastly, the window seat gives you control of, well, the window. You decide when to pull the window shades up or keep them down, so you control the amount of sunlight and when it comes in. (It’s a good idea to keep the shades down if other people nearby are still asleep. Let’s be respectful flyers.)
Why forward of the wings?
On most commercial aircraft, the engines are located beneath the wings, giving everything aligned with and behind them the full brunt of engine noise.
According to one JetBlue pilot, Christian P., “Sitting in the front the wing is like being behind a speaker. All of the sounds of the engine and disturbed air are projected away from you. For a more peaceful ride find a seat in the front of the cabin.”
Of course, depending on the type of aeroplane, the front of the plane may be reserved for business class and first-class flyers. They may be more expensive but definitely worth the extra cost if aircraft noise threatens your sleep routine.
3. Avoid the Light
Not a tip exclusive to sleeping on planes, but in general it is a good idea to avoid the blue light of your gadget screens, overhead reading lights, and sunlight from the window for better sleep.
As part of our circadian rhythm, our bodies produce melatonin also known as the “sleep hormone”. Suppression of melatonin tends to occur when our bodies are exposed to light before bed, making it hard for us to get a good night’s sleep.
So while you might think looking at your phone makes your eyes more tired, it actually only keeps you awake longer. And if nearby reading lights and sunlight are out of your control, best to pack a travel sleep mask with you to block out the light.
4. Bring a Neck Pillow with You
One of the most sensitive areas of the body when it comes to sleeping on a flight is your neck. The movement of the aircraft tends to make your head loll around during sleep.
This is easily avoidable however by bringing a neck pillow with you. Keep your head supported and you’ll have better sleep on the flight.
PROTIP: Try putting the travel pillow in the front of your neck instead of the back. It will keep your head from rolling forward and causing you neck pain that disturbs sleep.
5. Make Use of the Headrest
Not all airlines have this feature but check to see if your seat has headrests with adjustable flaps. Not a lot of people may be taking advantage of this, so take note.
Check for these, raise them forward, and you can use them to rest your head to the left or right of you. This is especially helpful when you are seated in the middle or aisle seats with no wall to lean on.
While you’re at it, give the footrest and armrest a look to check if they’re also adjustable. The extra wiggle room won’t hurt!
6. Buckle Up Above the Blanket
Safety protocol requires you to buckle up when the seat belt sign is switched on. It won’t be on for the whole flight though, and while you might find this a bit annoying to have it buckled up for the duration of the flight, you should.
It’s not only better for your safety, but it also keeps you from being interrupted in your sleep. You might be asleep when the sign goes on mid-flight and if your blanket is above your seat belt, a flight attendant will probably have to wake you up to see if you are safely buckled in.
Save yourself from the irritation of being woken up and keep your seat belt buckled up above your blanket. This tip works for both frequent flyers and the occasional traveller so take note!
7. Don’t Drink Alcohol or Caffeinated Drinks
It is fairly common knowledge that drinking caffeinated drinks (or eating food with caffeine) can keep you awake, so it’s probably best to avoid those.
You may think that alcohol has the opposite effect, but it actually leads to disrupted sleep in the latter half of the sleep cycle.
Both are also considered to have diuretic effects, leading you to wake up to go to the bathroom more often.
8. Drown Out the Noise
Not lucky enough to get a seat near the front of the plane? It might be time to invest in noise-cancelling headphones or a pair of earplugs to drown out the noise.
Noise levels can be tricky for the majority of the people on major long haul flights. This includes engine noise, the rattling of the carts across the aisles, the sound of footsteps, and the crying of noisy toddlers that we just can’t escape sometimes.
Do yourself a favour on this front and bask in the silence.
9. Recline Your Seat
Be considerate of the person behind you on this one. But generally, when the cabin lights go down and everyone is trying to get some shut-eye it’s acceptable to lean your chair back a bit.
A more reclined position allows your body to relax better when you sleep. Leaning your seat back lessens the strain on your torso and prevents neck and lower back pain. This is doubly true for long or overnight flights.
Just make sure you check to see that the person behind you doesn’t have food or beverages on their tray tables. Let’s be considerate of our fellow cabin mates.
10. Make Room for Legroom
On long flights, it’s probably best to keep most of your bulky carry-on luggage in the overhead bins. This will keep the space under the seat in front of you completely free.
If you are willing to pay a little bit more, the best solution to this issue would probably be to fly business class or first-class. Alas, not all of us are lucky enough to get that extra legroom.
We need to stretch out comfortably as much as possible when we try to sleep. Stiff muscles and lack of proper blood flow don’t lead to good sleep. Economy seats, in particular, don’t provide the most legroom, but you can make the most out of what you have by keeping the space clear.
However, you may need some essentials with you in the middle of the flight so you might decide to bring a bag to stow in front of you – it would be an inconvenience to dig around overhead every time you needed something.
Pack light, keep your bag small if you feel like you need one, and make as much room for your legs as possible.
11. Anticipate the Flight
Knowing the time of your flight, what time it will be when you land, how long your travel time is, and your schedule prior to the trip are all factors that can affect sleep on the plane.
This means avoiding alcohol, coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc. even off the plane and adjusting your sleep schedule gradually to account for your trip. Try the best hydration option there is, WATER!
Plan ahead and anticipate if you will need to get some sleep during the flight. Factor this into avoiding jet lag when you reach your destination and it will help you considerably.
Find what’s comfortable for you and get the shut-eye you need on your trip. On your next red-eye flight, plan ahead, choose your aeroplane seat, pack your neck pillow, eye mask, and noise-cancelling headphones for a few peaceful uninterrupted hours of sleep.
This way, you’ll enjoy both the journey and the destination. Sweet dreams, travellers!