The science of sleeping on planes

Two guys sleeping in a plane

Sleeping in a plane. Photo: Ian Mackenzie / Flickr

It’s a common traveler’s dilemma: to avoid jet lag after a long-haul flight, you should really sleep on the plane. That way, you can wake up refreshed and already be on local time. The problem: you can’t sleep on planes.

If you’ve ever arrived at an airport feeling groggy like Bill Murray’s character in the film Lost in Translation, you’re not alone. Seth Kugel, who writes the “Frugal Traveler” column for The New York Times, decided to get to the bottom of mystery of sleeping in the skies: Cramped in coach, or the science of sleep.  Kugel interviews a doctor and a psychologist to learn why someone dozes in the clouds, and find any solutions.

A German friend of mine likes to go dancing in a nightclub until he has to go to the airport. He swears it gets him nice and tired, so as soon as he gets in his seat, he goes to sleep immediately.  I’ve done the opposite, try to wake up extra early so that I’m eager to get back to snoozing.

Do you have trouble getting rest in the air? How do you solve this problem? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | October 21, 2011
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Health


3 Responses to “The science of sleeping on planes”

  1. Sage Says:

    antihistamines… Actually, I don’t have a problem sleeping on a plane except when I have a terrible dream and wake up and find the guy in the seat beside me has split coffee on my thigh (when he fell asleep)… at least it made a blog post: http://sagecoveredhills.blogspot.com/2010/10/wet-dreams-and-sleepless-nights.html

  2. Vasco Says:

    I would have to say that the article is spot on. As someone who has never been able to sleep on planes I can attest that it is pretty tough, and using medication for “help” isn’t really much help at all because it is not real sleep. I recently tried a homeopathic jet lag remedy and it seemed to actually cut down on acclimatization time and I don’t usually handle jet lag well. Maybe it’s all in the head. Booking flights with more convenient timing is also a way to go, even if it means you have to bite the bullet and pay a bit more..

  3. TheInfamousJ Says:

    I got the right kind of neck pillow which I’ve only seen for sale in London Gatwick shops. It has a flat back to it and super puffy sides so basically holds your head upright like a c-collar. It isn’t cheap, but it is wonderful.

    Couple that with an eyemask made out of a sock that is safetypinned together (those shaped eyemask things with the elastic band back just do not work for me for whatever reason) and a pair of earplugs and I am out for the night.

    It also helps that I’m 5’2″ so I always feel like I have loads of legroom.