Words by Ben Stower
Sometimes I wonder if the Sandman can reach me way up in the sky during a flight. Or perhaps his magic dust doesn't work when I'm cramped between two people with little leg room and a plane engine constantly humming in my ears.
After years of taking long-haul flights from Australia to America, Europe and places in between, I've amassed a list of ways to assist the Zs (counting sheep is not one of them).
Of course, the obvious one is upgrading to a business or first class seat. Nice if you can afford it, but not really a feasible option for most of us.
Here are my tried and tested methods for getting a decent sleep on a plane, regardless of your cabin class.
1. Find A Seat In The Quieter Areas
It's been found that the seats closest to the front of the plane tend to be the most popular. People perceive these seats as having a more desired location for a quick and easy disembarkation, while those seated closer to the back are thought to take longer to get off the plane.
This ideology can work in your favour if you have a chance to choose your seat. Pick one towards the back of the aircraft to avoid the noisy crowd up front. If your flight is completely full you can at least pick a window seat and ensure no one has to wake you to get to the toilet.
2. Wear Comfortable Clothing
One of the tips for scoring a business-class upgrade is to make sure you're well dressed when checking in. You can test your luck, but chances are you'll still end up in economy trying to find a position in which your suit, belt and tight leather shoes aren't uncomfortable.
Loose-fitting clothing helps promote sleep, so consider wearing a pair of track-suit pants, a loose shirt and a comfortable pair of shoes. Feet tend to swell at high altitude, so any footwear with a bit of extra room or give are a plus. There are even travel slippers specially designed for comfortable flying, which might be worth investigating.
Definitely avoid heels, belts and any accessories that might become uncomfortable. Thick scarfs are a great outfit addition, because they can double as a pillow or sleeping mask.
3. Pack Three Very Important Items
It's true, plane cabins can be extremely noisy, bright and not at all comfortable for sleeping. However, by packing the following three items in your carry-on you can help make the aforementioned problems less bothersome.
First, include a set of noise-cancelling headphones. Pop these over your ears and you'll immediately notice a drop in engine noise. Play a little rainforest music or something equally as soothing and the Sandman wull soon be working his magic.
The next must-have item is a sleeping mask. Sure, you might look a little precious, but you'll be wishing you had one when the people around you switch on their television screens. When I last flew with Virgin Australia they actually had a sleeping mask for everyone in the seat pocket.
Lastly, bring a neck pillow to ensure you don't have to rest your head on the hard window or your neighbour's shoulder. Someone brainy people have taken comfort to the next level by designing the Ostrich Pillow (below), which covers your entire face, leaving a small breathing hole.
4. Avoid Alcohol But Not Prescriptions
This list is about how to find quality sleep on a plane. Alcohol-induced sleep is not quality sleep. It may do the trick at shutting down consciousness, but you won't be feeling too rested when you wake up. Also, cheeseburger cravings are not fun while you're stuck in the air with only peanuts and water.
On the other hand, if you really struggle to sleep even with all the above paraphernalia, you might need to consider prescribed sleeping medication. Just be aware that if you're flying and popping a sleeping pill often, your body will eventually become accustomed and they'll stop working as effectively.
5. Research On SeatGuru
You may have heard about this app making waves in the travel community. If not, SeatGuru is the oasis at the end of your long struggle through a sleepless desert. At its most deepest level, SeatGuru offers an indepth guide to an individual seat on a certain aircraft for a specific airline.
You can use the app to search the aircraft you'll be flying on for the best seat as rated by travellers who have spent hours in that exact spot. There are even reviews on seats highlighting the legroom, proximity to toilets and other handy facts when considering prime property for sleeping.