I’m lucky that I sleep well on planes. Give me a window seat, a pair of headphones (god I wish I had the dough to buy a pair of noise-cancelling ones, but just I don’t fly regularly enough to justify it), my blow-up neck pillow and my padded eye mask — both of which I carry in a special ‘travel bag’ and use on all long-distance flights — and I’m snoozing soundly for at least half the flight. But insomniac suffering boyfriend doesn’t have it as easy.
This great New York Times article interviews different sleep doctors about their best tips for catching a few zzzzs while sitting in economy.
“David F. Dinges, a psychologist and the chief of the division of sleep and chronobiology (essentially the study of our internal clocks) at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, told me that the angle of the seat matters.
He cited a study showing that a seat reclining 40 or more degrees allowed for better sleep. Less than 40 degrees didn’t do much good. The lesson: take business or first class if you can afford it.
He also said temperature was “a big, big deal” and that allowing your body to breathe and release heat was also important. That’s an argument for taking your shoes and socks off and for not using the polyester blankets that many airlines provide. Instead, wear cotton or wool clothes and bring your own blanket. Paradoxically, he said, the guy in a fine wool business suit may sleep better than you will in polyester sweat pants. “Sleeping or resting in a high-quality suit – without the jacket – is really comfortable,” he said.
But the point that hit home hardest for me was just how much is going on inside a commercial aircraft. “People underrate what an emotional and sensory overload being on a plane is,” Dr. Ellenbogen said. Those sensory inputs include the sights and sounds of those around you, people brushing you as they go down the aisle (or shifting position next to you), and the smells coming from the lavatory, not to mention the perfumed, undeodorized or barefoot passengers near you.”