Surprising Tricks: How to Sleep on a Plane
Oh to sleep perchance to … find a way to arrive after a redeye looking even somewhat alive and ready for your morning meeting. Trying though it may be for some of us to catch some shuteye during flights, sweet sleep doesn’t have to elude us forever. And, no, we’re not talking about popping an Ambien with a bourbon chaser. (Please, don’t do that. We don’t want to have to worry about you.) We called on some experts and constant travelers for some help.
Before the flight
Choose your side. Now, the last time you bought a mattress, you thought about what kind of a sleeper you are, right? Side sleeper, stomach, toss and turner? Now unless you afford to book a lie- flat seat (and, if so, will you adopt us?), you’ll need to start thinking of yourself as an on-your-back somewhat-to-the-side sleeper and book accordingly. The big question? Do you sleep on the left or the right side of the bed at home? “Get a window seat for night flights. If you sleep on your right side at home go for the right side of the plane,” says Heather Poole, a flight attendant for one of the “big” airlines and author of Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. (Over the last 18 years as a flight attendant, she’s watched thousands and thousands and thousands of people try to sleep on planes. She knows what works.)
Information is comfort. Oh, not good at choosing your seat? Well, we thought everybody knew about this but … it seems you don’t: SeatGuru.com. (Yes, you’re about to hear angels sing.) The site details the good, bad and non-reclining of every seat on every plane. You’ll never book without it ever again.
During the flight
Comfort. Please, for the sake of everybody else’s eyeballs, do not wear adult footie pajamas on the plane (it has happened, people – it has happened!) but do make yourself comfy for that sleep-in flight. No need to change after takeoff. Wear the nice-and-clean-without-any-holes-in-them sweats to the airport. Carry your suit on and change into it when you get off the plane. “It will look as though you just put it on because you did,” Poole says. So spiffy. And refreshed.
Cradle. Yes, the donut pillow is ugly. And used as expected, with the U bit at the back of the neck, it never really seems worth schlepping along. But Poole turned the idea on its head (or, well, neck): “The trick is to wear it backwards so your neck stays in place.” That means: no more sudden jerking forward neck snapping wow are you awake and in pain moments. Nope. Gone.
Ergonomics-ish. Poole also advises that you use your carry-on as a leg rest or roll the airplane pillow under your knees. And that sketchy blanket they (sometimes) hand out? “Use it for lumbar support,” Poole says. “It’s better to freeze than risk the potential infection.” (Yes, we’re all grossed out now. And off to buy a thin sleeping bag liner to use on our next flight—and wash immediately after returning home.)
Scent control. While there’s no guaranteeing your seatmate won’t pull out some stanky Burger King mid-flight, you can guarantee a bit of a more relaxing scent situation within your immediate nose area. Sam Bruce, co-founder of travel aggregator MuchBetterAdventures.com, suggests spritzing some lavender oil on your u-shaped pillow.
DIY wedge. We’ll let Steve Thornton, an advertising photographer and video director, who’s 6’6” tall explain the custom wedge back pillow he made himself: “I'm all about leg room,” he says. “On one of my long flights I determined that the seat was never going to be comfortable, so I positioned my body where I wanted to sleep. I then took a tape measure, something I always travel with, also in my rollon, and measured how far my backside was away from the seat back and also measured how high the wedge would need to be in order to fill the gap. This works great. I am no longer miserable on long flights.”
Back-up sleep essentials: Bring a baseball hat, says Joshua Craven of Craven Marketing Group. He says it works so well he’ll never board a plane without one. “As soon as I get ready for take-off I pull the bill of the ball cap down over my face. This not only blocks light from my eyes, but also provides a sense of privacy since the bill of the hat covers my face. Then I pop in some earbuds and I'm sound asleep for the duration of the flight.” Also: earplugs, a sleep mask, and lightweight bedroom slippers or wool socks (or both). OK, maybe an Ambien, too. But no alcohol people. That drinking on a plane sleep? That is never good sleep.