I just want to get some dang shut-eye
June 20, 2012 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Tales from the middle seat: I'm booked on a red-eye flight leaving Monday night. No problem, I'll just sleep on the plane. I've done it before and it's not so bad. Except. I booked my plane ticket a week ago, and I don't have a window seat. Help me figure out how to get some sleep without a window to lean on...

Is there some sort of be-all-end-all awesome travel pillow you could recommend? I really dislike the ones with little beady things in them because they go weirdly flat after ten minutes. And I don't think they would provide enough support for my head without the window to lean on. Something I can get in a brick-and-mortar store in Phoenix would be ideal, but an Internet source with fast shipping might be ok (like I said, I leave Monday).

I'm usually anti-reclining my seat on long flights, because I know it sucks for the person behind me, but on a red-eye flight? Everybody's going to be reclining, right? Any other tips to get comfortable enough to sleep in a middle seat? Thanks so much!

(I've seen the other questions about sleeping on planes, but they seem to be more general how-to-sleep questions, which I don't normally have a problem with. I'm looking for middle-seat specific advice)
posted by Weeping_angel to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Check the seating plan on the plane every hour. Something on a Window or Aisle may open up. Do this like it's your new religion. Failing that, get to the airport early and see if you can get a better seat. On my last trip to London, very few people reclined. How weird is that?

Check out the Total Pillow, as seen on tv. It's available at stores ending in Mart, and drugstores. At $15 it's a steal.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:09 AM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Use your belt to strap your head to the back of your seat. Most of the discomfort of sleeping sitting up comes from keeping your head stable.
posted by chrillsicka at 8:14 AM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

My partner insists on the window or aisle seat and we somehow always end up on a row of three so I'm an old hat with middle-seat sleeping. Essentially, I can't do it. But I've found a few things that make it more bearable:
  • Don't drink. Even if you think it helps you drop off, you will feel worse for it the other end.
  • Take a sleeping pill, or some drowsy dramamine, or even a herbal remedy if you have an aversion to drugs.
  • Do recline your seat. I am in complete agreement with you about it in general but the person behind you will probably be sleeping and you need all the help you can get.
  • If you are at all sensitive to sound and light, don't forget some earplugs and a mask. If you don't like earplugs, think about an ipod playlist of soothing chillout tracks to help you drop off.
I use one of those horseshoe-shaped inflatable pillows. It's firm enough that I can kind of support my neck and rest the side of my head on it at the same time, but it's not ideal and I'd love a better option.
posted by londonmark at 8:16 AM on June 20, 2012

How do you use your belt to strap your head to the back of your seat? Isn't it stuck in your lap?
posted by grouse at 8:16 AM on June 20, 2012

Oh, you mean a regular apparel belt, not your seat belt. Right.
posted by grouse at 8:17 AM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

I've been wanting to try the SkyRest pillow. It has generally good reviews on Amazon.
posted by stompadour at 8:18 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

My grandpa's tried-and-true method for sleeping while sitting upright is this:

1. scootch forward on the seat so your slouching a little when you lean back;
2. Cross your arms;
3. Put your chin on your chest.

Also, my wife likes those horseshoe pillows for sleeping while we're on long car rides. She has a $5 walmart one.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:26 AM on June 20, 2012

You need a blowup neck pillow. You should be able to buy one in the airport. Recline your seat, take an ambien and you'll be all set for a big sleep.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:31 AM on June 20, 2012

I've had luck getting at least some good catnaps in the middle seat by putting the tray table down and leaning over it to sleep on my crossed arms (like you might in study hall), especially with a folded-up blanket or jacket or something as a pillow.
posted by argonauta at 8:39 AM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

Just did this a couple of weeks ago. Got a solid 4 hours sleep LAX-NYC.

U shaped neck pillow.

Do recline your seat.

Hoodie sweatshirt or mask for light.

Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones with chillax music.

Shoes off. Consider bringing some comfy over-sock socks.

Stow bag above if possible, so your legs have room.

If they give you a blanket, use it--you don't want to wake up because you're cold. Just make sure to buckle your seatbelt over it so nobody wakes you.
posted by dontoine at 8:45 AM on June 20, 2012

I did this a few months ago and alternated naps in two positions:

1) Put underseat bag right up against the base of your own seat, and stretch legs straight out under the seat in front of you. Scootch butt forward on seat, rest hands serenely in lap, keep head straight and relaxed. This is the middle-seat equivalent of trying to fall asleep lying straight and flat on your back in bed, which is not something that works great for me usually but allowed for some brief naps on the flight. When the urge to curl up into a fetal position the way I'd usually sleep got irresistible, I'd switch to:

2) Pull knees up and wedge against seat in front of you. Stack airline pillow and travel pillow on top of knees, lean head forward onto pillow stack, wrap arms around pillow stack. This actually allowed me to sleep somewhat longer.

If you can get your hands on an extra airline-provided pillow or two, they're great for wedging into whatever gaps you have between your body and your seat, for support (I guess that's not just a middle-seat tip, but I found it particularly crucial in the middle seat).
posted by ootandaboot at 8:51 AM on June 20, 2012

I am a picky sleeper, and I can sleep in the middle seat with the combo of the u-shaped pillow (I have an inflatable one) and airline pillows as stability buffers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:12 AM on June 20, 2012

U shaped pillow. Ear plugs, face mask. Resign yourself to resting rather than sleeping and you'll be much happier.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:15 AM on June 20, 2012

I sleep leaning forward on the tray with a balled up jacket or whatnot. It works as long as I'm in economy plus at least; at 5'8" I am too tall to do this in the regular section.

But the "extra leg room but still economy" seats are not very expensive on most flights; I'd guess 20 bucks or so.

Also if you are on an airline with the extra leg room section, there might still be windows/ aisles left up there. Worth a look-see.
posted by nat at 9:27 AM on June 20, 2012

Don't be that dude that sleeps on his tray table. It's not meant to hold that much weight, so every time you jerk or shift you shake the seat of the person in front of you, who is also trying to sleep.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:50 AM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

I take a tylenol/advil-PM as soon as I go through security (or ~1.5 hours before the flight). This way, I am soo so so sleepy by the time I get to my seat that I just pass out (with a U-shaped neck pillow, ear plugs, and eye mask, of course). If the flight is < 8 hours, the medicine will wear off by the time I land if I take it in advance. If I have to wake up < 8 hrs after I've taken it, I am still so woozy and drowsy. And definitely recline your seat! You paid for a seat and it has the functionality to recline, so use it! I've never heard anyone complain about it.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 12:53 PM on June 20, 2012

Also, re: reclining your seat, it sort of depends on the person behind you. If they're pretty tall and the legroom is low, it can be pretty uncomfortable (I'm short enough to avoid this; but people 6' and taller will have issues). I do get a bit grumbly if the person in front of me reclines their seat the whole way and I'm trying to work or otherwise use that space, but really it's part of air travel, and I would expect the person in front of me has a right to try to sleep as much as I have to to try to work. So barring having someone tall behind you, who barely fit as is, on a red-eye reclining is fairly common.

(BTW never.was.and.never.will.be, yes tall folk *do* complain about recliners in front of them. My dad used to get bruises from people forcefully reclining into him. Now he pays for more leg room, but not everyone will be able to do that.)
posted by nat at 1:19 PM on June 20, 2012

I alternate between supporting my head with my hands with my elbows resting on my knees (no tray table, poor form), and a fairly normal seated position with my head lolled back. It's preferable to an aisle seat, where I get awakened by traffic up and down the aisle, especially if I am leaning away from the middle seat as one tends to.

If you recline your seat into my legs, I will hate you for a little while but basically forget about it by the end of the flight. It severely restricts the places where I can put my legs but it's not the end of the world. If I were any taller than 6'2" I have no clue what I'd do, I'd probably have no choice but to ask you not to recline the seat if the flight were of any distance. If you are going to recline it, do it early in the flight and leave it there. The worst is being woken up by it in the middle of the night. I don't complain because I don't feel good about asking you to favor my own comfort over yours. Then again, that's also why I don't recline my own seat.
posted by Kwine at 4:13 PM on June 20, 2012

I wouldn't recline my seat while trying to sleep. If your reclining than the constant vibration of the plane and any small movements you make will cause you to slide slowly down in your seat. This has two effects that I find uncomfortable, first the seatbelt rides up into your belly and secondly your pants will slowly ride up into your crotch.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:51 PM on June 20, 2012

I think on a long-haul flight reclining your seat is cool so long as you wait until after the meal service.
posted by marylynn at 9:15 PM on June 20, 2012

Best answer: Setup a seat alert on Expert Flyer using a free account. They will email you when a window seat becomes available.
posted by zxcv at 10:40 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

A lot of planes now have headrests that you can adjust so that "wings' come out to help support your head. I actually find it easier to sleep not leaning on the window. I have traveled Australia to US numerous times and find the leaning my head to the side onto on the headrest wing the best way to sleep, for me. If you don't have that a folded blanket can help, I don't like neck pillows as I feel like I"m chocking, but they work for a lot of people, I am going to try this on my next flight out in September.

Reclining is fine after meal service on a flight most people will be sleeping/napping on, a quick glance to check the person behind you isn't doing anything and back you go.

Earplugs/noise cancelling headphones and a mask for light can help too.
posted by wwax at 11:06 AM on June 21, 2012

Response by poster: I GOT A WINDOW SEAT!!! Crisis averted. Thanks, guys!
posted by Weeping_angel at 9:57 AM on June 22, 2012

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