I have a theory that the babies are out to get me. Flight after flight, no matter where I choose to sit (away from me, bassinet seats!) or which flight to take (maybe families tend to fly in the evenings? Better try a morning flight), I always seem to be near a tiny human who is unhappy about being squished up in economy class for 10 hours straight and vents their frustration audibly.
I know they can’t help it (and I feel for their poor parents, who are getting much more of an earful than me) – sometimes, long flights make me want to scream too. But I also get very grumpy on less than 8 hours sleep, and since I cannot afford a seat in business class (the magical land of personal space and a real reclining seat) I am already fighting a losing battle thanks to seats that require me to hug my knees. Add in a screaming infant (or overly chatty nearby passenger who fails to pick up the headphones-mean-I-want-to-stop-talking-now cues) and I’m basically resigned to zombie eyes and a bad mood.
Fortunately, I have a scientifically formulated (not really) way to increase the likelihood of sleeping on long-haul flights. Today, I’m sharing them so you can prepare. Any of these steps should help in isolation, but they achieve superpower status when combined.
You think a window seat is a good idea until you’re stuck between the armrest-stealer in the seat next to you and the hard wall separating you from the freezing air outside. Since many of the longer international flights continue through the night, you probably won’t have a view of anything but blackness out that window anyway. Rather choose an aisle seat for the few extra centimeters of leg room.
Since people tend to flock to window seats, don’t choose an aisle seat nearest the windows either – go for the central column of seats in the middle of the cabin to increase your chances of an open seat next to you on a plane that isn’t fully booked. If they’re not already taken, try to get an aisle seat in the last row of the cabin – that means you can push your chair back and no one behind you will complain or kick your seat. Bonus!
Another benefit of this seat is that you can also store your belongings and unwanted aircraft paraphernalia (extra pillows, etc.) under your own seat instead of in the space in front of you. More space = higher chance of sleep. Even if you don’t secure a spot in the last row of the cabin, consider just keeping your most valuable items with you in the space under the seat in front of you, and put the rest in the overhead compartment. Then you’ll have more wriggle room and foot space.
Aim to travel in the closest (publicly acceptable) clothing to pajamas. Think stretch fabrics, elasticated waists and fuzzy socks, and a long sleeve top or light jersey so you aren’t cold (those thin blankets they give you don’t help much).
If you wear contact lenses, take them out (don’t sleep with them in!) and opt for glasses you can easily remove and place in the seat pouch in front of you when you want to go count sheep.
If you usually pass out at 10pm, don’t stay up until 3am watching in-flight movies. However, if you’re crossing big time zones, try and adjust as soon as possible to avoid jet lag. In that case, consider staying up until it’s an acceptable time for people in your destination country to go to sleep.
The same rules apply as with terrestrial sleep – stay away from sugar, caffeine, lights from gadget screens or series with dramatic plots that will keep your mind whirring. If you want more rest time, consider ordering a special meal when you book your flight (even if you aren’t vegetarian). These are delivered before the rest of the food, so you can eat quickly and get back to sleep sooner.
Don’t own noise-canceling headphones? Well, you should consider investing in a pair. I’d also take along some slow, soothing music (acoustic folk is good), an eye mask and a neck pillow to reduce distractions and increase comfort levels. Some of my carry-on essentials are rounded up here.
Buckle your seat belt loosely around your waist over your blanket so you won’t be poked and asked to do so if the warning lights go on while you’re sleeping. Consider asking your neighbour to tell the air staff not to wake you for meals, if you brought your own snacks or prefer shut eye over sustenance.
Even if you’re spread out over two chairs in a blanket cocoon, chances are you’ll be bumped by a passing passenger or awakened by a turbulence announcement at some point. Don’t admit defeat and return to the Vampire Diaries box set! Close your eyes and try to settle back in. Maybe you’ll only sleep for 2 hours before they wake you up for breakfast — but it’s better than nothing.
Do you struggle to sleep on flights? What have you found works for you? Let me know in the comments!