Sleeping In Economy
I spend far more time than I'd like to on long-haul flights, and I've developed a number of techniques designed to help me get some shut-eye. As Google suggests that no-one else has written up their accumulated wisdom, here is mine.
Equipment required: earplugs, blindfold, pillow, blanket, neck pillow.
1. Make yourself tired
This may sound obvious, but you won't sleep unless you are tired. Plan when you are going to sleep on the flight, and make sure you are tired by that point. Watching back-to-back movies is a good way to bring on the yawns.
When you try and sleep will depend on takeoff and landing times, whether you are flying east or west, and the aircraft routine. Going to sleep straight away is usually impossible, as they insist on serving mini pretzels, drinks and food first. You can't fight this, so don't try.
2. Complete the preliminaries
Drink two glasses of water, and visit the bathroom, in that order. If you dehydrate, you are more likely to wake up. Don't drink alcohol at all - it'll just dehydrate you and worsen any jet-lag symptoms. Even if it is free.
3. Shape the space
Recline the seat. It's not automatically better to recline it all the way; the further back you go, the more problem you'll have with sliding forwards. You need to put it far enough back that your head doesn't fall forwards.
Support your back. In my view, airline seats never seem to come with sufficient lower back support. This may be the place to deploy the pillow.
To be comfortable and relaxed, you want to put all of your weight on your backside and thighs, and none on your feet. If your feet are needed to keep you in your seat, then you can't relax them. You need to elevate the front part of the seat, so you are sitting in a "bucket". You can use either your pillow, a rolled-up blanket or your jacket for this - whatever you aren't using for other purposes.
If your seat has the adjustable head rests which stop your head rolling to one side, use those. A second best is an inflatable neck pillow - but I haven't yet found one that doesn't give you a very sweaty cheek. Even if it's covered in material, it's still plastic underneath.
If you have a window seat, don't be tempted to lean on the hull, unless you normally sleep in a massage chair. You'll also get much better sleep if you are straight rather than twisted or at an angle.
Try and find somewhere to put your arms where they aren't in contact with cold metal or the armrests. Laying them in your lap is fine. Having a long-sleeved shirt helps. Remember to fasten your seatbelt, otherwise they'll wake you up to remind you. Tight is good - it'll help stop you sliding out of the seat, or feeling like you are about to.
4. Control the temperature
With 300+ people in a tin tube, it can get hot. Having air moving around you will make the difference between getting a good few hours, and waking up after 45 minutes sweating. Turn on the overhead air vent if there is one. It doesn't have to be on full, just enough to get things circulating.
5. Dull the senses
Get a proper blindfold - standard aircraft issue is fine. In desperate circumstances, sunglasses are better than nothing. Also, get decent earplugs - in this case, you'll probably need to do your own shopping. I recommend these*, with the stems cut down to about 7mm so they don't protrude and get knocked out. Read the insertion instructions - it does make a difference. If your cabin mates smell so badly it's preventing you from sleeping, I can't help you.
A word on drugs: in our highly medicated society, there are many pills which claim to help with this problem. I haven't tried them; I prefer to take drugs only when I'm ill, and I'm sceptical that we understand sleep patterns well enough to mess with them chemically in a side-effect-free way. If it works for you and it's legal, then fine - but remember to notice and take into account any longer-term effects (that is, over the following few days) the pills may have.
You need to get enough sleep so that, when you land, you can credibly believe that the time is what it is, and can stay awake until the next time you are actually supposed to go to bed. This won't be easy. If you wake up and you realise you've only had 45 minutes, close your eyes, count sheep and have another go. You'll thank yourself later.
* Two disclaimers. First, this company is run by my mother. Second, I had nothing whatsoever to do with their website design.