I absolutely detest sleeping on planes - particularly now that I am usually travelling with three children under seven with one or more of them on my lap at all times. But even when I was one of those childless travellers who glared at travelling parents in the boarding queue hoping they wouldn't be sitting near me, I still hated sleeping on planes.
I have been known to curl up in the foetal position on the floor beneath the feet of perfect strangers while disguising myself as a pile of blankets to avoid the hosty's attention and I am completely shameless in waiting until that poor hosty has turned her back and launching out of my assigned seat while the plane is taxiing and the seatbelt sign is on to snaffle a seat in a vacant row. In recent years, I have come to assign a dollar value to the emotional and mental hardship involved in travelling on a night flight and will pay up to $500 more per person for a day flight.
But sometimes, attempting to sleep on a plane is unavoidable, especially if you live in Australia. And then, what does one do? Well, I found these 10 tips from the helpful people at Traveller. I hope you find them useful - I'll be curled up on the floor.
Air travel tips: How to sleep better on a long haul flight
Did you not sleep on your last long flight? There are steps you can take to change that next time, everything from the plane and seat you choose to what you do once you're on board.
The reasons you can't sleep well in flight are legion, and some of them are less obvious than others. As much as possible, you want to re-create the same environment that you experience when you sleep in your own bed. Not easy, but the closer you get, the better you'll sleep. Here are 10 sleep-killers and how you can defeat them.
Sleep Killer #1: Noise
Wind and engine noise create stress and are anathema to sleep. At home, unless you live near an airport you don't listen to roaring jet engines while you're trying to get some shut eye, so block out as much as you can when you fly.
Tip: Bring and wear earplugs (either silicone or foam with a decibel reduction rating of 30 or more). They won't block out all the noise but enough to make a difference. Unless you sleep on your side, put a pair of Bose noise-cancelling earphones on top of the earplugs (don't play music, just turn them on). Flying on a quieter plane helps, too. Airbus A380s fly much quieter, for example, than some other, older models.
Sleep Killer #2: Light
Even when all the window shades are down (and there's always someone who throws one up in the middle of the day/night) we now have those seat back video screens throwing off light all night long along with those lighted signs in the cabin.
Tip: Wear eyeshades. When I fly at night, I see very few people wearing them. No wonder they can't sleep. They hand them out in some amenity kits on international flights, even in economy class, but they're not great quality so buy and carry your own (Tempur-Pedic makes a great one) or grab one from an amenity kit in first and business next time you pass through at the end of a flight.
Sleep Killer #3: Turbulence
How many times have I been deep in sleep on a plane and dreamt that I was in an earthquake only to wake up and find that it was air turbulence? More than I care to recall.
Tip: Choose a seat over the wing, if possible; over-wing seats are more stable than those at the front or rear of the plane (think about a seesaw — if you sit at the fulcrum you move up and down less). And some planes, I've found, experience more shake, rattle and roll than others. An Airbus A380 is going to move less than a smaller A321. (Ask a flight attendant next time you fly which of her company's aircraft have the smoothest ride. She's sure to have an opinion).
Sleep Killer #4: Dry air
You've shut out the light and the noise, but you wake up in the middle of the night with a mouth so dry you'd think you had been chewing dry oatmeal all night. It's because airliners at altitude are as arid as a desert. Sadly, even drinking tons of water before bedding down won't keep your throat, mouth and nasal passages moist. In fact, drinking too much may defeat sleep if your bladder wakes you up.
Tip: Fly on a plane made of composites such as the Boeing Dreamliner 787. The cabin air is humidified at 10 percent to 15 percent compared to 7 percent or so on other aircraft (planes are kept desert-dry in part because metal rusts; planes made of composites have less of an issue). If you wear contacts, you'll find that your eyes remain more comfortable, too.
Sleep Killer #5: Alcohol
Alcohol may make you feel drowsy at first but then it comes back roaring in the middle of the night, in part because it will dehydrate you and that's the last thing you need while flying in an aluminum (or composite) can.
Tip: Limit yourself to one glass if you just can't resist that free Champagne (some international airlines still serve it even in economy class).
Sleep Killer #6: Restrictive clothing
What do you sleep in at home? Well, unless you sleep in the nude, try the same thing when you fly. While I'm a big fan of making an effort to look decent when flying, wearing loose clothing in the air will help you sleep better. And that doesn't mean you have to wear sweatpants (unless you sleep in those, which you shouldn't).
Tip: You can still look presentable while dressing comfortably — maybe take a page out of Hugh Hefner's playbook and don silk pyjamas? Choose loose-fitting clothing made of natural fibres and if you must wear flip-flops or sandals, bring a pair of warm socks on board because cold feet will keep you awake, too.
Sleep Killer #7: Temperature
Planes always seem to be overheated. Most people sleep better in a cool environment.
Tip: Ask the crew to lower the cabin temperature if it's too hot. If your plane has air nozzles (many do not these days), turn one on at full force.
Sleep Killer #8: Altitude
Ever find yourself waking in the middle of the night in a high-altitude city such as Denver, gasping for a breath or perhaps with a headache? It's altitude sickness and it doesn't mix with a good night's sleep. The same thing happens when you fly.
Tip: Since aircraft flying at 35,000 feet are pressurised to simulate 8,000 feet or so, flying in a Dreamliner will help you sleep better. They're pressurised at lower altitudes, typically 6,000 feet. You'll notice the difference on a long flight. The new Airbus A350 and new versions of the Boeing 777 (dubbed the 777-X) will also be flying at lower "cabin altitudes".
Sleep Killer #9: Over-stimulation
Watching an action movie or violent TV show before trying to fall asleep is a bad idea, on land or in the sky. If you don't do it at home before bed (and you shouldn't), then don't do it before bedtime while airborne.
Tip: It's hard to resist the large selection of video entertainment we find on planes these days, but read a book or magazine instead.
Sleep Killer #10: The wrong seat
I've been known to fall asleep even in the most cramped economy seat, but clearly you should choose your seat with aforethought.
Tip: Pick a window seat so you can at least lean against the wall of the cabin, preferably away from lavatories and galleys, which can be noisier, and, as mentioned, over the wings. Window seats also ensure that a seatmate needing to get up won't wake you. Make the seat even more comfy by bringing your own pillow (ignore the stares from other passengers in the security line, it's the best travel tip I can give you, and no, those neck pillows aren't the same thing but they're better than nothing). Speaking of seats, not all economy class or even business/first class seats are created equal. Some are clearly more sleep inducing, such as Air New Zealand's new premium economy seats (they're well-padded). Premium economy on foreign-based airlines is worth the splurge at fares far below business or first class.