I’m one of those lucky people who always manage to sleep on a plane. Once I fell asleep before the plane had even left the runway, seriously. And it’s not because I’m a great sleeper. At home I often struggle to sleep, but there’s something about flying that seems to relax me and sends me off into a welcome slumber.
But I know most people aren’t so lucky and for many, the long-haul flight is the worst part of travelling.
Before we start talking about tips to help you sleep, it’s important to think about whether or not you should you actually sleep? If you’re flying in the middle of the day and arriving at your destination in the afternoon or at night it’s probably a good idea to stay awake. Perhaps catch up on some reading, watch the latest movie or your favourite TV show or play some games, anything to help you pass the time. I like to write; you’ll often find me scribbling away in my journal.
That way you’re more likely to sleep when you arrive at your destination.
But if you’re flying overnight you’ll want to get at least a few hours of sleep to arrive a little brighter.
Two’s a Crowd founder and director Ken Morgan recommends setting your watch to your destination time before getting on board.
“It’s a subconscious thing, but it seems to help with jetlag,” he says.
If you really struggle to sleep, or just want a bit of extra comfort, you might want to think about upgrading your seat to business or premium economy. The flat bed or extra leg room and recline makes sleeping much easier. Also, fewer people in the cabin means less noise and disruption.
Tony Gauci, Two’s a Crowd tour host, recommends looking out for deals on premium economy, particularly outside of peak northern summer.
But if you’d rather keep the extra cash for your destination, here are some tips that might help you sleep better while flying.
Think about where you will feel most comfortable. If you’re likely to need to get up every hour or two, ask for an aisle seat. I like the window seat because it means I can curl up, can gaze out over the clouds if I want to and won’t be disturbed by others leaving their seat or asking for extra drinks or snacks.
Tour host Elise Barassi goes one step further. She recommends asking how full the plane is when you’re dropping off your bag and swapping to a row with a spare seat if possible.
And when it’s time to sleep, recline your seat; the people behind you will no doubt be doing the same. Just make sure you put it back during mealtimes. And take care not to kick the back of the seat in front of you.
You wouldn’t sleep in jeans at home, so why would you try on a plane? Wear something comfortable or take something to change into. Loose fitting clothes that allow you to move are best. Also, it can get very cold mid air so make sure you have layers. I always take a sarong with me, as well as making use of the airline-supplied blanket. I’ll wrap the sarong around me if I’m feeling cold or can fold it up if I need an extra pillow.
Many people swear by taking their own pillow on a flight, I tend to use the airline-supplied pillow as I find they take up too much room in my carry on. But I know many people who find it much easier to sleep on their own pillow. I also know people who take their full size pillow on the plane with them, which, I must confess does sound VERY comfortable!
There’s a whole range of styles and types of travel pillows, so choose what’s comfortable and what you are prepared to carry with you on your trip.
Guest tour host Brooke Squires from Raw Africa Ecotours swears by her travel pillow.
“A good travel pillow is a must for me. It’s great on the longer car days too,” she says.
And if you don’t take your own and the airline hasn’t left one on your seat, ask your flight attendant, they usually have a stock of them on the plane somewhere. Just be sure to get in early, if they’re not on the seats, they may only have limited numbers.
Airlines are noisy, there’s the engine noise, the clatter of the food carts and of course the general sounds that come with hundreds of people sharing a confined space for hours.
Take earplugs. Again, the airline will often supply these for you and if they’re not on your seat will often have a stash somewhere on board, but I like to take my own just in case, I also find them useful if I’m staying in a noisy city somewhere (I’m thinking of you Ho Chi Minh).
And a good set of noise-cancelling headphones is worth every penny. I prefer the in-ear buds, but know many people much prefer the over ear sets. Regardless, they will cancel out much of the ambient noise inflight. But if you have them on for sleeping, make sure you listen to something relaxing.
Don’t! Every expert will tell you drinking alcohol is not conducive to a good night’s sleep. The same is true on a flight. Better to stick to water. If you do like a drink, enjoy one or two with your meal, but don’t go overboard.
It will be light on the plane, even when all the lights are dimmed and the cabin crew are trying to put you to sleep, there’ll be one or two of your fellow travellers who will want to finish watching their movie. Take an eye mask. The airline will supply you with one, but this is something that will make a big difference and you want to make sure it’s comfortable for you.
If you really think you might struggle and would like to take sleeping tablets, make sure you discuss it with your doctor first.
Melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates sleep cycles, is a good option for many people.
I prefer to take lavender oil. I have a small roller bottle of lavender and coconut oil that I rub on my neck and wrists. It immediately relaxes me…
This is a controversial one. I always prefer to take off my shoes. I find it impossible to sleep with them on. Even comfortable shoes will feel restrictive mid-flight. But I do tend to put on the socks the airline provides, over my own socks.
And of course be sure to buckle your seat belt where the flight attendants can see it so that they won’t disturb you.
Diane Squires is a tour host with Two’s a Crowd