Noise. Light. Tight spaces. Frequent disruptions. There are a multitude of reasons why sleeping on a plane can be difficult – and frustrating.
But with a bit of simple planning and a few on-board tricks, weary business travellers can be turned into energised go-getters, or least arrive happier and less jaded.
Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
Choose your seat, and your side
When you bought your last bed, chances are you tested it facing the way you normally sleep. In the same way, pick your side of the plane when you pick your seat. "If you sleep on your right side at home go for the right side of the plane," says author and former flight attendant Heather Poole.
Consider where in the cabin you’d like to sit: up the back puts your closer to the noise of the toilets and the galley but you’re more likely to have spare seats next to you. Window seats give you somewhere to lean your head and fellow travellers won’t need to disrupt you to get to the bathroom. You also have more control over the window shade.
Online check-in makes pre-choosing seats easier these days, and helpful sites like Seat Guru provide seating information for most planes on most airlines.
Pack smarter and lighter
Not having a second carry-on bag means the room under the seat in front can be used for its intended purpose: your legs. Airlines aren’t famous for leg-room so maximise whatever you have access to. And don’t cross your legs.
Your favourite pyjamas may not be the best look but if you feel comfortable, you’re more likely to be able to sleep. Carry your suit on and change after your flight.
Travelling through time
If you’re heading to a different time zone, change your watch and smartphone to your destination time zone when you board. Even better, start to behave like you’re in that time zone as soon as you can. So if you feel like grabbing a coffee, for example, but you wouldn’t normally at the time it is where you’re heading, then don’t.
Take a pillow and a cap
A baseball cap lowered over your eyes helps block out light and is also the airline equivalent of the ‘do not disturb’ sign.
There’s lot of different pillows available, from the traditional traveller’s neck pillow to the Ostrich pillow. Try what works for you, but one tip if you’re using the regular U-shaped neck pillow: put it on backwards so it supports your neck rather than pushing it forward.
The Sleep High Club
Use available resources
There never seems to be enough pillows and blankets onboard, and they’re often not great for their intended purpose, but if you can, grab them. The blanket can be great lumbar support for your back and putting the pillow under your knees can make your more comfortable.
Send visual and audible signals
Remember our ‘do not disturb’ sign, which sends a clear message to the person sitting next to you? If you want to sleep, let the flight crew know too, otherwise you’re likely be woken up and asked whether you ‘would like the pasta or the quinoa salad today?’ Also make sure your seatbelt buckle is over your clothes and visible so the crew does not have to disturb you to check you’re ‘safely fastened’.
Power down the seatback screen (and mobile phones, tablets and laptops) and resist the temptation to just watch one episode of your favourite show. Screens affect our ability to fall asleep and you might find that movie you wanted to catch up on just took up all your sleep time.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and big meals
You may think alcohol helps you get to sleep but it affects the quality of your sleep, so you’re not going to wake feeling rested. Consuming coffee or a big meal leading up to your flight is also not going to help.
Set your alarm
For many people, me included, how you are woken up affects your mood. So if you want to avoid being woken by the pilot telling you ‘we’re starting our descent’, consider setting an alarm 45 minutes before you’re due to land. This will give you time to visit the bathroom before the pre-descent rush and allow you to wake up at your own speed.