Sometimes an article is poorly written in a way that makes it hard to tell if it’s satire or not. This recent NY Times article on How to Sleep on a Plane, fits the bill:
If you can sleep on a plane, after all, you must have a higher consciousness that doesn’t stew about cramped quarters or fellow passengers. But you also arrive well rested. You use your time wisely. You recognize that people have been sleeping as long as there have been people; you don’t get hung up on brief fads like pillows, sheets and brushed teeth. Is it too grandiose to say that the airplane sleeper is in touch with his humanity in a profound way?…Plane sleep is among the most rewarding and satisfying and even impressive skills a modern person can acquire.
Most of the article has this dreamy, navel gazing tone, which results in a writing sin – not offering any advice despite the word HOW being in the title of the article.
Here’s my advice on how to actually sleep on a plane:
- Get exercise before you fly. On planes you sit and eat and watch for hours. It’s unnatural. Before you fly, go the gym, or at least make sure you go the night before. I guarantee there is a quantity of exercise that if done before you fly will ensure you sleep on a plane. The question is: are you willing to do it? The more you do, the better your odds.
- Get there early. Then you don’t need to rush and can walk instead of taking trams, automated walkways (flat escalators) and shuttles. You can carry your bags and get some extra exercise, instead of putting everything on wheels. Your stuff isn’t that heavy – just carry it. The walking and carrying are exercise your body needs to relax and feel like its earned its sleep.
- Dress for flying. Do you sleep in a suit or a dress at home? No. Wear something nice but comfortable. Wear comfortable layers so you can control your temperature at any time, even if they run out of blankets. Pack to make this possible. Wear decent socks so you can take your shoes off (Do you sleep with your shoes on at home? I hope not).
- Get your ticket early. Everyone has their preferences on aisle vs. window (See my Top Ten Die Hard Travel Tips) and you’re more likely to get them if you book early. It’s worth an extra $15 or $30 to me to get the seat of my choice, especially if I know I need the rest.
- Walk the plane. When you go the bathroom, take a stroll. You are allowed to walk up and down the aisles if you like, or linger in the bulkheads to stretch or just stand. A walk, or a stretch, gets the blood flowing which can make your body more relaxed, which makes sleep easier.
- Comfort is size related. I’m about 5’9″ and in good shape. I can be comfortable just about anywhere. But my 6′ 4″ or more portly friends have an entirely different challenge in getting comfortable and sleeping. Some things can’t be compensated for. The people you see sleeping on the plane might simply be a better fit for flying.
- Don’t eat or drink too much. Everyone is different, but booze and food likely makes it harder to sleep, not easier. Booze should be limited anyway since flying dehydrates you and alcohol does as well: hangovers are easier to find up in the sky.
- Pack light so your legs are free. I see people cram the largest possible duffel bag into the area under the seat in front of them. It’s pure masochism. Pay the extra $15 for checking another bag, or be willing to wait for checked bags to arrive if it’s your only bag. Most people don’t pack well, so they take many things they never need, causing unneeded suffering at every stage of the trip, including the flight.
- Get a good pair of headphones. Even if you don’t like music, listening to something of your choice, including silence, has a big impact on relaxation. Planes have tons of bad background noise (engines, babies, movies, annoying passengers) The headphones they give you are always awful – spend $30 for a decent pair you like.
- Don’t depend on working on the plane. It’s a bad environment for work. You might be able to get a few things done, but never at the same level of quality for time invested. If you are depending on flight time to get work done, you will be stressed and worried and less likely to switch into a restful state of mind.
- Learn to Relax. Many people don’t sleep well at home and its no surprise they fare worse in the air. Learn a simple breathing technique (Take 10 deep breaths, focusing on the breath, with your eyes closed), which is a kind of simple meditation. Just do it. You’re guaranteed to feel better. And if you don’t, you just succeeded in killing some time.