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jlm11f's avatar

How do you fall asleep on a plane? Additional questions inside.

Asked by jlm11f (12353points) June 9th, 2009

So I have about 40 hours of traveling by plane to do this summer. Alone. This is not my first time on a plane, I’ve been on them since I was like four years old but since then we have never gotten along. Earlier, I had terrible motion sickness that translated into some of the most horrible hours of my life. Now the motion sickness has mainly gone away, but I still have trouble with planes. I flew from Canada a week ago and I was miserable because I wasn’t able to sleep for a minute of the 7 hour overnight flight duration. Luckily, the plane had individual entertainment screens that probably lost me a few years of eyesight in the long run.

Okay, now to the question. This will be my first time traveling alone (all 40 hours) and the longest flight duration is 15 hours. I NEED to sleep during this time otherwise I will be bonkers (and yes, I really did use that word) when I get off the plane. I obviously can’t take sleep pills because I don’t want to wake up with a) my luggage stolen b) my head on the shoulder of the poor stranger that is seated next to me. So I am looking for suggestions and also for your experiences/stories with planes and being able to be semi-comfortable on them.

Also, I always carry my mp3 player and books with me. Somehow, I am unable to read on the plane (for me, its like reading in a moving car, some of you know what I mean) but I will try again anyway. I plan on buying a bunch of used books and leaving them all over the place world? for bookcrossing once I am done reading them. I am considering purchasing one of those traveling pillow cushion things. Also, I am 20 years old so I can’t drink alcohol to make me feel drowsy.

Sorry if I sound sort of maniacal and like I am exaggerating the situation, but I have patience issues and am terribly bored within minutes during these trips. And the thought of being on a plane for that long without being able to sleep is nightmarish.

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42 Answers

casheroo's avatar

I have the same problem, I can’t fall sleep unless I’m travelling with someone, so I know I’m okay to fall asleep.

I’d say have some alcohol, it’ll calm you down. Whoops, just read that you’re 20 geez, I thought you were my age lol

Hmm, take a book that you’ve read before and you know will make you sleepy? That’s all I’ve got :(

La_chica_gomela's avatar

I used to never be able to sleep on planes either. I’ve only started to be able to in the last couple of years. I attributed it to a few things (1) (unintentionally) not getting enough sleep for before flying (sometimes just the night before, sometimes for a whole week or two before) and (2) flying a lot more often, so I’m more comfortable on planes now. (Maybe all these trips will help you get more comfortable too?)

It sounds like the first thing you need to do is try to relax. I would also recommend the lack of sleep beforehand thing (although it can backfire). Another idea is to bring at least one really boring book. There are a few books that just put me right to sleep. Something about them, I don’t know. Do you still have your textbook to an intro accounting or calculus class? Those totally do it for me.

The pillows never did anything for me personally. I do like having a blanket though, or even just a sweater to throw loosely over my front, there’s something cozy about it that makes dozing off easier.

Best of luck!

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@casheroo; Actually I was thinking alcohol was a lot better idea than all the sissy stuff I said (I didn’t realize she was 20 either). But it could still work. In “international waters” the drinking age is 18 (that’s what they told me on AirFrance anyway), and I haven’t seen too many domestic 15 hour flights.

EmpressPixie's avatar

@casheroo: My thoughts exactly, I asked her age in chat. She doesn’t drink.

shilolo's avatar

Travel cushion: Check
Sleep mask: Check
Scopolamine patch for motion sickness: Check
Sleep aid: Check

augustlan's avatar

Take Dramamine for motion sickness, and that will allow you to read without trouble. Take a Xanax… it’ll relax you enough so that you can fall asleep, but won’t knock you out.

Velvetinenut's avatar

I’ve just done an 18 hour trip (SFO, Narita and SIN). It was broken into an 11 hour and a 7 hour flight. Before the trip, I made sure I didn’t sleep that much and tired myself out by doing stuff here and there. I also take ginger tablets which helps with the motion sickness.

I also put all my valuables in a fanny bag (don’t know what else it’s called) which I carried with me all the time. Didn’t find myself sleeping on someone else’s shoulders.

Have a good journey.

Dog's avatar

Remember to get up and walk a bit during the flight when you are not sleeping.

I agree with @shilolo I fly a lot and that is my list except for the patch thing- I use Bonine. I take a half an Ambien and can wake easily from it. As far as stolen bags I choose a window seat and use my backpack as a pillow.

Regarding reading- I am the same way. Do you have an iPhone? If so let me know as there are cool apps that I have used as a travel library. No extra weight!

bythebay's avatar

@PnL: As usual, @shilolo had some great ideas. I cannot use a sleep mask, I feel like blind bat-man, but I have seen many people do so. The blanket or throw on top of you is key. It makes you cozy and also helps you to feel less vulnerable and exposed. I never fly without my cashmere wrap, not only it it useful when I get where I’m going, it makes a great plane blanket! I would really try to get a window seat, if you can, it’s lovely to have the wall to lean against. My kids and husband all fly with one of those horseshoe shaped neck pillows, they love them.

On your MP3 player, make a play list specifically of quiet, monotonous, relaxing music. Nothing with words. Keeping your headphones on will also help to drown out other noises.

If you are still reluctant to take a sleep-aid, perhaps your Dr. can give you something to take the edge off and help you relax a bit. i wish you safe travels and blue skies!

susanc's avatar

Not sure why a sleep aid is out of the question. I never used to be able to sleep the night BEFORE a flight, so by the time I got where I was going I was, yes, bonkers, because I wouldn’t sleep on the plane either.
So my bff told me to get Ambien and I tried it and it was divine.
Half an Ambien is a good idea. You have to allow yourself 8 hours from swallow to the next required sensibleness-requiring moment, but it sounds like you have that. Also, yes, get up and walk around when you can; there are isometric exercises you can do while trapped in the plane; drink a lot of water (not caffeine, not alcohol) and pee and pee and pee; and check ALL your luggage except what you tuck under your OWN seat, behind your legs. And get a cashmere blanket. Good lord yes. I want one too.

Judi's avatar

I can’t sleep on a plane either. I have resigned myself to use all those hard earned miles to buy upgrades to business class. If I am going to be miserable I might as well at least be able to stretch my legs out. Coach is hell, and 40 hours?!! You poor thing!

f4a's avatar

i was in Canada a week ago. what a coincidence. :) Being in Victoria was lovely. about your sleeping problem, try to adjust your seat to be more comfortable. have you also tried to cover your face with the blanket given to you? it gives you more privacy. it worked for me.

jlm11f's avatar

@fish4answers – Are you serious?? I was in Victoria too!

@everyone – Ahem. More on topic answers (i.e. reply to all your answers) coming in a bit.

eponymoushipster's avatar

“Hi I’m Bob, can you punch me out?” – baby steps , @PnL, baby steps. watch out for numb lips.

f4a's avatar

yup i have pictures to prove it. :) took a ferry to go to victoria from vancouver. went to butchart garden may 30 i checked my ticket.. heheh. maybe i saw you in Canada, and didn’t even know it. small world.

jlm11f's avatar

I did exactly the same thing. BC ferry from vancouver to victoria and then butchart garden. Did you eat dinner at the old spaghetti factory too? :P Now I am sort of creeped out haha. Small world indeed.

f4a's avatar

didn’t intend to creep you out, heehee, though i must admit it really is kind of creepy haha.. where did you stay in vancouver? how long were you in canada?

jlm11f's avatar

@casheroo and @La_chica_gomela – This is one of the few times I feel almost sad that I don’t drink ;)
@shilolo – I love the sleep mask idea because I think one of my problems is that I keep getting distracted when trying to fall asleep.
@Dog – I don’t own an iPhone. Sadly, I won’t have any cool gadget (not even a cell phone!) to keep me occupied (not carrying laptop since that is an unnecessary burden during excessive traveling and has good chances of being scratched and stolen).
@bythebay – I think I might not mind the sleep mask but I shudder to think of people using this travel cushion like thing . That looks suffocating to me. If I had to wear that thing on the plane, I am positive I would throw up (sorry for the visual). Thanks for the best wishes!
@susanc – Two flights do exceed 8 hours, the rest are around 8 or a little lesser. I am slightly surprised by all the cashmere blanket recommendations, I shall look into it, thanks!
@JudiCoach is hell I concur.
@fish4answers – I don’t think I could cover my face either. That again reminds me of the link I referred bythebay to. As for your other questions, I’ll PM you so we don’t bother others.

Thank you for all your answers so far, everyone! I still have two weeks till the craziness begins so I’ll continue to look for the best methods.

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

Noise cancelation headphones have worked great for me. And you can hook them up to your iPod. One time I slept on a plane for an hour or two curled up in a ball. Blankets and pillows are really good.

emilyrose's avatar

not sure if anyone said this, but I have never heard of anyone having their stuff stolen on a plane. I think it’s very unlikely. Bus in a developing country is a different story. Maybe now is a good time to take up drinking? Just a little?

I also take homeopathic stress/sleep aids. Rescue Remedy is a good one, as is Calms. Go to Whole Foods or similar place and they will hook you up. Also you can write yourself a note everyday before you go, ” I will sleep on my flights.” The mind is very powerful. Good luck.

Darwin's avatar

Actually, alcohol consumption and plane rides are not a good combination. You would do better to only drink water to counter the dryness of the air inside the plane.

If you are going to use a sleep aide, try it before you go. My son, for example, responds poorly to Ambien. He tends to stagger around sounding as if he is drunk. Dramamine does make you sleepy and also helps with the motion sickness aspect. Benadryl is a common ingredient in over-the-counter sleep aids and has the added effect of helping fend off allergies.

Walgreens right now has some cute little travel pillows for about $3. They are handy to pad the wall of the plane if you have a window seat.

gooch's avatar

I take sleeping pills when I fly back from Hawaii and nobody steals my luggage. I use a travel pillow and put it on the tray table in front of me for sleeping. If you are really not into sleeping piles motion sickness pills make you drowsey and so does Benadryl. I always sleep while flying even on the short flights.

susanc's avatar

Now that I’ve read about @Darwin‘s son’s staggering after taking Ambien, I remembered that I too staggered the first time I took it – luckily, right into a bed. But
this also made me remember that I found another sleepytime pill, a homeopathic called “Insomnia” made by a company called Hyland. It’s gentler, but works. Let me retract my first recommendation and substitute this one.

Judi's avatar

Im always afraid that id I take a sleeping pill and I’m still not able to sleep I will be totally loopy when I arrive.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@Judi: That happened to me on a place once! It was the first time I’d ever taken ambien (no one should ever take a sleeping pill the first time on a plane, I know now from experience). My mom and I both took ambien, we sort of slept, but when they came to deliver the food, we went totally loopy. I’m pretty sure I said I didn’t want any, because it felt like eating at 3:00 in the morning, but I think my mom said I should try to eat something anyway. All I remember is decided that the chicken really was literally made out of plastic, and I guess that’s why everyone jokes about how bad airplane food is.

jlm11f's avatar

Well D-day is finally here. I’ll be on a plane in 6 hours. Will report back eventually on how things went. Thanks again to everyone for their help :)

Judi's avatar

Have fun. Don’t forget to charge your iPod!

gooch's avatar

PnL wher u going?

Dog's avatar

I am so excited for you- wish I was on such an adventure.

Where is your first stop?

jlm11f's avatar

Hey guys, I am in UK right now (London). We’ll be going to Westfield to shop today if anyone wants to join us :). The flight to London was actually really good. I had amazing seats right next to the gate so we had extra leg room. I even ate on the plane! I had a talkative passenger that kept me entertained when he wasn’t sleeping, which was a plus. I wasn’t able to sleep though but I did try very hard! I had my sleep mask thing on for about 4 hours, but no luck. Next flight is on July 3rd, but it’s a day flight so I don’t have high hopes for falling asleep then either. Oh well, as long as most of the flight goes smooth, right?

casheroo's avatar

@PnL That sounds like so much fun, I’m glad it was a smooth ride. Wishing you safe travels!

augustlan's avatar

Have fun shopping… bring us back something nice. ;)

Dog's avatar

Awesome! I am glad you are having fun!

jlm11f's avatar

I just realized I never really posted an update after the first one. Well, I am back in US now… A quick summary of my other flights: London to India was pretty horrible. The passenger next to me kept downing whiskey like he was in a bar. He had at least 6 glasses (that I noted) and the whole time (even pre-drinking) he kept talking to me when I didn’t want him to. I tried to make that very clear since I would NOT look at him and kept looking at this book that I was desperately trying to read. But he didn’t get the message. Eventually he passed out (this was after spilling some alcohol on me and making me read a “31 things every girl should know” document on his iPhone) and I warned the hostess that she better not wake him up for the last meal. As soon as the plane landed, I fled as fast as I could so I wouldn’t have to be in the same shuttle as him.

All the local flights in India were short (2–3 hours max) and uneventful (thank God!). Ironically, I think I actually napped a bit on one of those local flights.

The flight back to the States, I was next to a mother with a 4–5 year old son sitting next to her and a baby in her lap. The baby didn’t cry much (yay!) but I did have to do quite a bit of babysitting every single time she wanted to use the restroom. Now, I understand that traveling is very hectic for a mother with kids (especially when the dad isn’t there!), and I don’t mind taking care of the baby while mom needs to go, but I wish she had been more respectful of my needs. For example, she would go to the restroom separately, then her son would need to go later on, and then she would take the baby separately. Seeing that I was sitting in the aisle seat (I always always always choose aisle), I had to get up 30 different times. I wish they had had the decency to just go at the same time. The baby also seemed very fascinated by me and kept pulling out my headphones and pausing my movies by touching the screen. In addition, she was a pissy mom. I think she was traveling on such a long flight for the first time because she was all over the place. The hostesses got quite fed up with her too since she kept demanding special rights for having kids with her (she wanted the customs form four hours beforehand and the hostess kept repeating politely but firmly that that was not possible). On the bright side, at least I wasn’t being harassed by an alcoholic and no drink was spilled on me at any point of time.

I had a wonderful trip and miss all the places/people I saw terribly. But I think I shan’t mind if I don’t step on a plane for some time :)

Judi's avatar

@PnL; you were created for business class (at the very least!) Me too

Dog's avatar

I never impose on people when we travel with our 4 kids. There is no excuse for the drunk either.

So glad you are back in the USA. Was the rest of the trip awesome?
Welcome home!

La_chica_gomela's avatar

@Judi: I think we all were! I think they were thinking of cows when they invented Coach. That’s how it makes me feel anyway (and I’m pretty much always in Coach).

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

I have a 7 hour flight to London tomorrow; this thread proved to be quite helpful! I also have trouble sleeping on planes.

jlm11f's avatar

@toomuchcoffee911 Sorry. I always have so much new activity that it takes me forever to catch up. I hope your flight went well. Were you able to sleep?

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

@PnL No problem; unfortunately I wasn’t able to sleep at all, but on the bright side, I didn’t suffer from jet lag because skipping a whole night of sleep sort of gave me a clean slate! :D

jlm11f's avatar

@toomuchcoffee911 Haha good. As long as it worked out! One day, they really need to figure out the solution to this problem though.

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

@PnL They really do. I can sleep on trains very easily; I wish it was the same for planes!

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