Sleeping in an Airplane
February 23, 2005 10:12 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to fall asleep on an airplane?

Banjo and I are making our Boston to London flight tonight for this weekend's ATP Festival. We're leaving at 10 tonight and arriving around 8 their time. We have a day in London and I'd really rather not lose it due to being a sleep-dead zombie.
posted by robocop is bleeding to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you willing to take some sort of drug? That's probably the easiest way, although I've never wanted to do it.

I just make sure to bring an eye mask and some warm wool socks since I sit in exit rows and they're usually a little colder.

But how much sleep are you expecting to get? Your total estimated gate-to-gate time is only five hours, so you may only be in the air for about four. If you stay up for dinner and wake up for breakfast, there goes all but a couple of hours.
posted by grouse at 10:19 AM on February 23, 2005

I've heard that earplugs are the answer - shut out the noise and it's easier to fall asleep. Not tried it myself, though; I usually read, even on the long international flights.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:21 AM on February 23, 2005

A good thick eyemask made a surprising amount of difference for me. (The one I bought was $12 at the airport Body Shop, but I'm sure any kind will do.)
posted by escabeche at 10:23 AM on February 23, 2005

I have perfected the following method over decades, and I am now pleased to share it with the world.

Shoes off, socks on. Legs wide, but crossed at the ankles, with the left leg further from your body. Right hand curled, lying in your lap; left hand also in your lap, curled around right hand. Seat leaned back just barely. Head tilted forward or, if in a window seat, toward the window, or, if no one is next to you, against the side of the seat next to you. Eyes closed. Deliberate breathing.
posted by profwhat at 10:26 AM on February 23, 2005

pillow, eye mask, ear plugs and ambien. i get fairly loopy on meds but i've found ambien a grand way to battle the effects of a multiple time zone leap.
posted by heather at 10:26 AM on February 23, 2005

I'll second: drugs+eye mask+earplugs. Ahh, and don't forget the neck pillow!
posted by lorbus at 10:29 AM on February 23, 2005

I'd recommend earplugs and a neck pillow. I always take earplugs on long flights and they're great for drowning out crying babies, loud talkers, etc. I haven't tried a neck pillow, but I've heard good things about them.
posted by driveler at 10:33 AM on February 23, 2005

Simply Sleep works for me, and it is over the counter.
posted by caddis at 10:35 AM on February 23, 2005

champagne! They almost always have it, but no one knows to ask for it.
posted by hellbient at 10:36 AM on February 23, 2005

one-half of an ambien tablet, either after wheels go up (since you are on the east coast) or for west coast departures, after dinner. It makes about 5 or 6 hours of the flight vanish, without leaving you feeling fuzzy or groggy the next day.

Yes, you need a prescription, but it shouldn't be hard to get one for a very small number of tablets.

Also, drink as much water as you can. I've found that staying hydrated helps prevent much of the post-red-eye-yucky feeling.
posted by ambrosia at 10:38 AM on February 23, 2005

apart from avoiding too much of anything that distrubs sleep (like caffeine or alcohol), i've found that the trick to sleeping is to be relaxed. maybe that sounds like a tautology, but what stops me getting to sleep isn't noise, or uncomfortable seats, but worrying about noise and uncomfortable seats. you have to avoid the "i'm never going to fall asleep because of ..." mindset. and i even claim that everyone else's methods are simlpy their way of achieving this.

so, when i'm on a bus or plane and want to sleep, i tip back my chair, find a position that stops my head from flopping around, and close my eyes. if it's late and i'm tired, i'm soon asleep. and if i'm not, it's invariably because i've started to worry about something. so i become aware of that, thing something like "relax, it's not your problem" or "hey, it's worrying about that that keeps you awake, don't sweat it", or whatever...
posted by andrew cooke at 10:43 AM on February 23, 2005

I take Dramamine for motion sickness and it has a drowsy side-effect, which helps. Easy on/off boots are good for comfort and for getting through airport security. And sometimes I find a mid-calf skirt works better than pants when it comes to twisting into positions of comfort... I put my legs into any position I want, and the skirt does a blankety thing on top.
posted by xo at 10:52 AM on February 23, 2005

It is much easier to fall asleep in a window seat, because you can lean against the window and conk out. (I do this on the train every morning.) If you aren't in a window seat, you definitely need a neck pillow.

Ambien is a good thing to have too.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:59 AM on February 23, 2005

There is an advantage to putting on an eyeshade and covering yourself in a blanket and exhibiting other such ostentatious I'm asleep signs that has nothing to do with them being any help in your getting to sleep. People are a little less likely to wake you up every five minutes to try to give you orange juice, a pre-dinner drink, dinner, an after-dinner drink, coffee.... if it looks like you really want to be left alone to sleep. It still doesn't stop them whacking the cart into you though.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 11:08 AM on February 23, 2005

I never liked neck pillows until I used one in combination with a lumbar pillow -- wow, support for both the inward curves of the back made a big difference.

I hate earplugs and love noise-cancelling headphones for air travel. Ditto everyone on an eye mask.

Get a window seat so you don't have neighbors climbing over you to go to the bathroom.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:12 AM on February 23, 2005

I used to fly Seattle->Philly and back again fairly regularly, and my answer was always the same - double-dose of Ambien. Hits you like a freight train for the full 9 hours. I always woke up just about the time the flight was over. Convenient, that.
posted by Ryvar at 11:22 AM on February 23, 2005

Minor addendum: Avoid the double-dose unless your doctor/psychiatrist has specifically told you that you're allowed to do so when neccesary.
posted by Ryvar at 11:40 AM on February 23, 2005

Sleep mask and earplugs do it for me. Get the window if you can, otherwise sit at the aisle (if someone else has the window and you take the aisle, there's a good shot the middle seat will be empty.) With the empty middle seat lean your own seat back and rest your head against the side of the middle seat.

Remember that all sleep masks and all ear plugs are not alike. I have this dream mask and find it infinitely better than the thin little black ones. It has countoured padding around the nose so no light gets in through the underside, it's nicely padded all around, and it doesn't touch your eyelids, so you can actually open your eyes in complete darkeness while wearing it. It's a little pricey, but completely worth it if you're going to be trying to travel and sleep frequently or if you like to take daytime naps.

For earplugs, I really like these. They flare out slightly at the end which makes them more comfortable (and IMO better noise blockers) than the standard little foam cylinders.

I'm short, so I pull my carry-on out from under the front seat a little to give me a place to rest my feet.

Also, I have a strong preference for leaning right (instead of left). That means the F window seats are better for me than the A window seats...if you have position preferences, take them into account when choosing your seat.
posted by duck at 11:48 AM on February 23, 2005

The single best method of falling asleep on an airplane: smoke weed before you get to the airport and take a Xanax or three. I guarantee you'll fall asleep as soon as your head hits the seat. Even if you don't, you'll be about as relaxed as you've ever been in your life.
posted by baphomet at 12:10 PM on February 23, 2005

Say "YES" to that little mini bottle of crappy red wine.

Wine plus neck pillow plus eye mask plus airline blanket equals sleeeeeep.

While that generally works for me, on my last Toronto/London flight (probably about the same length), i had the problem mentioned by grouse that the actual time available to sleep was only two hours. I actually fell asleep in the middle of the Oxford Circus Topshop the next day.
posted by Kololo at 12:30 PM on February 23, 2005

NyQuil is your friend. For that flight-time shifty, shaky, crammed-in, coach-seat, overbooked-with-crying-babies so you can rest medicine.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 12:33 PM on February 23, 2005

Also fun: Movie marathon the night before your flight. Or poker with friends, or the Sims... whatever keeps you awake. I use this technique to great success all the time. I completely eradicated a flight from Madrid to Los Angeles by going clubbing until 4 AM and then spending the next three hours before I left for the airport packing my things.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 1:06 PM on February 23, 2005

BOS - LON is around a seven hour flight. Make sure you get into sleep position immediately. Don't wait for the drinks, the dinner, etc - get the blanket over you, the eyemask on, and be leaning against the pillow. Get a window seat or the center aisle. You do NOT want to be disturbed by someone who needs the bathroom after you've just dozed off. And if you can do it as you settle down, let the attendants know that you do not want to be disturbed at any point until you land. Oh, and keep your seatbelt on, if only so loosely it won't bother you. Attendants WILL wake you to see if it's on. Or some of them will at least...

When you land in London, head for the bathrooms. Wash well. If you're male, shave. Dump cold water over your head. Change clothes. Brush your teeth. Do everything you can to get rid of the idea that you've just been on a seven hour plane journey. And do NOT eat breakfast at the airport. Get into London in the fastest way possible and treat yourselves to breakfast somewhere special. And last, it's going to be collllllllld in London this weekend, so expect harsh winds and sleet.
posted by humuhumu at 1:10 PM on February 23, 2005

All those things (at least many of them), plus imagining the plane's ups and downs as a hammock or cradle.
posted by Pattie at 1:29 PM on February 23, 2005

A friend who is a mega-traveller businessman for a Large Company swears that a dramamine and a shot of whiskey right before takeoff (but after boarding) guarantees a sleepy flight.
posted by adamrice at 1:45 PM on February 23, 2005

just to second what humuhumu said about sleeping quickly. i take an overnight 7 hour bus ride every week and that's my tactic too (on a bus that offers drinks and snacks). you can fasten your belt over your blanket, incidentally, to keep the attendant happy.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:52 PM on February 23, 2005

I love sleeping pills. Half a senior-strength pill puts me to sleep juuuuust nicely. No post-sleep fogginess.

But I only do that for long night or cloudy-day flights, when there's nothing interesting out the window.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:30 PM on February 23, 2005

I would strongly advise against taking ambien anywhere other than in your bed at night. Xanax is much safer, even if it's less effective. Unless you're flying to Austrailia, I wouldn't get any ambien for a plane ride--there is plenty of well-documented (mostly annecdotal) evidence that it's not a good idea. Xanax will make you relaxed without the possibility of extremely odd behavior/disorientation.
posted by fabesfaves at 3:27 PM on February 23, 2005

The best airplane sleep I ever had was the result of two vodka-rocks at the airport bar and a Xanex on the plane. Woke up to the sound of "We're beginning our descent into..."
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:38 PM on February 23, 2005

For me, granted. Choose one or more.
1) get a seat facing a bulkhead, or on an escape row. Lotsa legroom if you're not a 1st class passenger.
1) Loosely-fitting layered clothing. Too hot, take a layer off, etc. A polartec top is a great pillow.
2) Moderate sleep deprivation the night before, ~ 2 hrs. If you can do that.
3) OTC: Your choice, two dramamine or 25-50 mg of diphenhydramine (benadryl or OTC sleeping aid pills).
4) If you're an anxious flier, any of the 'pam's (clonazepam aka klonipin, 0.5-1 mg, or diazepam aka valium, 5-10 mg, do not mix with booze). Uneeda scrip.
5) Take those damn shoez off, wear thick cotton sox, make sure you don't have stinky feet.
posted by nj_subgenius at 5:43 PM on February 23, 2005

I'll second the warning on Ambien. I agree, it provides sweet, sweet sleep with no hangover, but my doctor warned me about potential memory blackouts while taking it. And, in fact, I would apparently "wake up" in the middle of the night, have conversations with my husband, feed the baby, go back to bed and have no memory of it the next morning - not normal behavior for me. It was disquieting enough at home; it's not something I would like to experience in the middle of a airplane.
posted by bibliowench at 8:13 PM on February 23, 2005

Something people haven't noted: If you are a stomach sleeper, putting your head on your tray table will help. I cannot sleep with my front all exposed, and that + sleep deprivation is all I've found to work (though valium makes being awake less bothersome).

Also, to third the ambien warnings--if you don't fall asleep for some reason, it may make you hallucinate.
posted by dame at 8:31 PM on February 23, 2005

Whenever I fly Chicago to London, I get as little sleep as I can get away with the night before. Last time I had about 2-3 hours, worked a 7 hour day and headed to the airport where my flight took off at 9 p.m. Got to LHR at 10:30 a.m., headed straight to Camden to meet friends for coffee and felt about as adjusted to the time difference as possible. I did completely pass out by 8:30 that night, but at least I didn't spend the entire afternoon in bed like I did my first 2 flights over.

And I second hydration! Skip the booze. Never had much luck with the drugs either. YMMV.

Either way, have a great trip!
posted by zombiebunny at 5:57 AM on February 24, 2005

Ask for quiet seats, usually as far away from the lavatories as possible.
posted by AlexReynolds at 7:48 AM on February 24, 2005

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