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Plane Sleep
August 21, 2006 8:23 AM   Subscribe

What to take and/or tips on how to sleep on an overnight transatlantic flight?

Me and Mrs. ob are flying taking an overnight flight to London soon and neither of us can sleep on planes. We travel quite a lot and we normally get a day flight because of this problem. This time our schedule means that we have to fly overnight and we have to sleep as we have a long drive ahead of us the next day. Any thoughts/advice etc. would be greatly appreciated.
posted by ob to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would suggest eating as early as possible without feeling hungry on the plane. Put a eye cover on as soon as you're on, that will stop the steward from asking you if you want anything. I usually try to get a glass of wine in before take-off, that makes me sufficiently drowsy on the plane.
posted by parmanparman at 8:28 AM on August 21, 2006


1) Earplugs
2) Drink lots (water that is, not alcohol!)
3) Don't stress if you don't actually sleep. Just focus on relaxing. If you start worrying that you're not sleeping it isn't going to help.

Can you take even a few hours at the other end to catch up?
posted by edd at 8:30 AM on August 21, 2006


I do this all the time. It is all about earplugs, eye shade, two pillows, and a sleeping pill (I generally take imovane). If you're worried about taking a sleeping pill because of your long drive the next day and want to stay chemically free, take some valerian root capsules before getting on the plane. (I'd ordinarily recommend the valerian root tincture in a water bottle that you can sip while on board, but the new security regulations nix that.) Tell the flight attendant not to disturb you after take-off.

I also take a muffin or something breakfasty on board with me to eat just before landing. At this point I'm hungry and often a little nauseated from low blood sugar and the motion of the aircraft. A big cup of European coffee on the other side and I'm good to go. Have a great trip!
posted by meerkatty at 8:32 AM on August 21, 2006


I'd recommend the earplugs and eye masks, taking a Unisom (or other OTC sleep aid) just prior to flying -- regular formula Dramamine might do the trick too -- and, if you aren't able to bring a pillow on board, maybe bringing or wearing something suitably squishy, like a fleece hoodie, that you can take off and use to cushion your head.
posted by justonegirl at 8:33 AM on August 21, 2006


Also, depending on what airline and class you're flying, many airlines have arrival lounges in major European airports. I've used a couple different ones in Heathrow and they make a huge difference. Being able to take a shower and have a hot breakfast before a long drive would probably perk you up - maybe check into this?
posted by meerkatty at 8:35 AM on August 21, 2006


I agree with meerkatty and justonegirl on all of their advice, and I'd also add that if you can work out a sleep/drive split with each other for the next day -- so that you know, for example, that one of you drives the first two hours while the other sleeps, then you switch -- it might help take some of the pressure off to get a good night's sleep on the plane. Which, hopefully, will actually let you sleep better.
posted by occhiblu at 8:36 AM on August 21, 2006


Ambien only has a two to three hour half-life, so it won't make you feel like crap when you get off the flight. It's not OTC though, so I'm not sure a doctor would give it to you for flying.
posted by borkingchikapa at 8:37 AM on August 21, 2006


This is the mask I use when flying (in leopard, natch!), and I love it. It's gotten a little stretched over time, but still works very well. Plus, I recall it shipped out very quickly.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:45 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


For me to sleep on planes, it's all about motion. Or the perception thereof.

Follow me, here. Can you sleep on trains? I drop off into a nice doze on trains because I watch the scenery fly by, and the sensation of motion makes me drowsy, and before I know it, I'm having a nice little snooze.

I can't similarily sleep on planes, because I can't feel motion. But, if immediately after boarding, I get myself all relaxed and ready, I can drop off during the taxi/liftoff. If I get too alert during the flight to drift back off, I have to hope for turbulence.

(If you can't sleep on trains, disregard.)

Also seconding the fleece and the not stressing about full sleep, just relax.
posted by desuetude at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2006


Dramamine usually works for me, and it will have worn off before you land. Make sure to get the regular formula and not the non-drowsy one. You might want to try melatonin, but test it out before you go to see if it works for you.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2006


Thanks for the great answers folks. Sleeping on a plane is such a huge problem for us. At home I'm the world's best sleeper, I'm normally asleep before my head touches the pillow, so I have no idea about sleeping pills (I guess we could try some OTC pills -any recommendations?) Mrs ob isn't as great a sleeper as I am but on planes we're both terrible. We always end up staring at each other at 3am (in the time zone that we're going to) having the most surreal conversation wondering why the Gods of Sleep have cursed us so...

Oh just for the record we're on Economy class.
posted by ob at 8:52 AM on August 21, 2006


I fear that the extent of leg room makes all the difference. so emergency exit row seats will be best, or failing that economy plus. Basic economy aka coach will not aid sleep...
posted by A189Nut at 8:52 AM on August 21, 2006


I don't recommend anything with diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Sominex, Tylenol PM, etc.). I've found if I don't get a full night of sleep after taking it I'm sluggish all day. Dramamine and melatonin are much more gentle in that aspect.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:55 AM on August 21, 2006


Pithy answer: get upgraded to business or first. Those big comfy seats make a hell of a difference.

Better answer: as others have said, get down to sleep as soon as you've got to cruising altitude - or earlier. US - London is about a 7 hour flight from the east coast. First two hours of that is take-off, drinks, then dinner, then clear-up. Last two hours is breakfast, clear-up, descent. Leaves you three in the middle for a not-very-good sleep if you go with the timetable of the plane. So sleep as soon as you can and either go with the mask or let the stewards know you don't want to be disturbed. Eat at the airport so you don't get hungry - either get there in plenty of time or bring sandwiches.

Get a window seat. Best way to do this is to check in online before you go - almost all airlines allow this now 24 hours in advance of your flight. Get in there quick and grab a window seat. Then you can slump up against the window. Grab pillows, blankets, whatever you can find as you get on the plane that will help you get comfortable.

Yes, plenty of water. Sip it during the whole day before. I find a nurofen / advil before take-off helps. If you find limited amounts of alcohol make you sleepy, have a glass of wine or a beer, often before getting on the plane.

If you are really tired when you get to London, then go get the hire car, drive out of the airport, and find a car park somewhere near to grab a couple of hours in the car before you set off on driving proper. And take a good meal as soon as you can. Whether you get breakfast or not on the plane, it'll be crap. So stop for a good meal when you can. it's hardly the greatest cuisine, but if you spot a Little Chef - red logo - by the side of the road, grab a breakfast from there. Far better than McDonalds. Either that or find a good hotel (there's a Hilton at Gatwick and plenty around Heathrow) and get breakfast there.
posted by humuhumu at 8:59 AM on August 21, 2006


I my schedule permits it, I try adjusting to the time change a few days ahead, by going to bed and waking up earlier and earlier. If you're leaving from the East coast, the flight is about 7 hours long -- give or take-- so for the best rest, you want to be asleep for most of it. This means eating early, and then going to sleep soon after take off. I don't like taking drugs, so I stick to an eye mask and noise-cancelling headphones. Flying business class or above certainly helps although unfortunately it's not always an option.
posted by blue mustard at 9:03 AM on August 21, 2006


I just did this on a couple of transpacific flights, and found that 2-3 Valerian root capsules, taken about 20 minutes before boarding the plane, helped a great deal.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:16 AM on August 21, 2006


I also have a horrible time sleeping on airplanes and there's only one way I've figured out to take care of it. It's not very scientific, but it works for me - usually I will just try to deprive myself of sleep the day before - like not go to bed the night previous, and stay up until I am practically zombie-like.

You don't need to be brainially functional to negotiate an airport, and after staying awake for 30 hours, I could fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Plus, it has the added advantage of jacking your system up enough that jet lag won't be quite so heinous.
posted by mckenney at 9:44 AM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


Take your shoes off and put a pillow under your feet. That makes an enormous difference for me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:04 AM on August 21, 2006


Second the Melatonin recommendation. Overnight flights are the only time I take it... and if there's an emergency, I wouldn't want to be on a sleeping pill.
posted by Rash at 8:39 AM on August 22, 2006


I second dramamine, which always knocks me out. On the advice of a friend in the Coast Guard, I once took Bonine instead and it knocked me out hard, but only because I took two in about eight hours when each one is a 12-hour dose.
posted by 4ster at 12:48 PM on August 22, 2006


I went to Zambia a couple of months ago and had to endure two red eye flights in a row. I was dreading it and expecting to be dead when I finally landed, but it ended up being one of my better experiences because I was so prepared.

There's a lot of good advice here already, but here's just a little more.

A good pillow is a must. If a neck pillow will work for you, that's great. I bought a strange inflatable pillow called the First Class Sleeper that ended up being great for me. It has supports the neck and the back really well. Whatever you end up getting, test them out ahead of time in a chair and make sure you have enough support.

As for pills, use Dramamine, Benadryl, or Melatonin if you can. Test them out ahead of time and make sure they work. Ambien works for a lot of people, but I had a bad experience with it making me jittery on a flight. I talked to my doctor about it, and he recommended Xanax. I was dubious, but it worked like a charm ... don't think I'd drive on it though. If you're worried about getting to sleep, talk to your doc and try it out ahead of time.

Definitely take off your shoes on the flight and put them on a pillow or a foot rest if you can. I always bring a pair of compression stockings. They help to prevent swelling and keep circulation going. I'd highly recommend them for longer flights.
posted by booizzy at 8:36 AM on August 23, 2006


On my last trans-atlantic, I used Ambien. It's prescription only, but when I called my doctor, and asked what she recommended to deal with jet lag, she immediately suggested Ambien. As booizzy says, you should try out any sleep-aid ahead of time to see how it works. I've found (post-trip) that several days of Ambien makes me hyper during the day, but I can tolerate 1-3 days without any problems.

Not to be more of a shill for the drug industry, but the other place that a sleep aid is very useful is the first night over there. It lets you get a full night's rest, without any of that unpleasant waking up at 2:00am, and tossing and turning for the next 4-6 hours until it is finally time to get out of bed.

Oh...and business class? So worth it. I miss dating the flight attendent and getting easy upgrades...
posted by printdevil at 12:58 PM on August 23, 2006


I live on the other side of the Atlantic, and I really, really don't want to meet you driving around half asleep and/or half-drugged. I guess it is too late to ask you if the pick-up-a-hire-car-from-the-airport plan was really essential.

However, let's keep a sense of proportion here. What is the big difference between the effects of resting quietly for 5 hours and of getting a similar amount of sleep? And if you take the resting seriously you are likely to dip into the sleep mode a bit anyway.

A poor quality night is not a curse from all the gods there are, but a minor inconvenience. A car crash through driving while impaired would be more than a minor inconvenience, so look at what you can do to reduce those chances.
posted by Idcoytco at 3:10 PM on August 23, 2006


don't sleep the night before. isn't there always a lot to do anyway? check you packed everything, lock all the doors, etc.

and avoid the sugar rush - no chocolate, candy, etc.
posted by krautland at 10:12 PM on August 28, 2006


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