I’ve just wrapped up a 16 hour flight on Qatar Airways from Doha to Dallas, which has been my longest flight in well over a couple of years. I was reminded of just how bad I am at sleeping on planes, even on a flight of this length that departs at 2AM, where I’m fortunate enough to have such a comfortable seat.
When I book flights like this I always think to myself “oh it’ll be a really long day, but then when I board at 2AM and am exhausted, I’ll get eight hours of sleep and will feel great.” It never ends up working out that way.
I’m curious what tips OMAAT readers have, or if I’m just a lost cause…
I sleep really well on the ground
Let me start on a positive note. On the ground I sleep like a rock:
- Ford is always jealous of how well I sleep at home — I get a solid seven to eight hours of interrupted sleep every night; I almost never wake up in the middle of the night, and I don’t really suffer from jetlag when I return home
- The catch is that I only sleep well under ideal conditions; it needs to be cold and dark, and I need to be tired and have a white noise app on in the background (being tired is rarely an issue, since we get up very early)
- All that being said, I’m not a good napper (I struggle to fall asleep and am then groggy for hours), and I’m also not the type of person who just dozes off while sitting up
- Ford says I’m a fantastic person to sleep next to, except when I (very rarely) randomly talk in my sleep, but that’s a different story
The other good news is that I can go a couple of nights with little sleep and then make up for it without feeling terrible. I’m not a complete disaster when I’m running on little sleep, and I’m pretty good at getting over jetlag.
I’ve never been a good airplane sleeper
Even though I’ve flown millions of miles, I am beyond horrible at sleeping on planes. I don’t think I’ve ever actually had a full night of sleep on a plane, even on a 16 hour flight:
- I struggled to sleep on planes when I was a kid simply because I was so excited to fly, and I think on some level I still have that excitement
- I think the bigger issue is that I don’t sleep well if conditions aren’t perfect, and they’re almost never perfect when flying, between other passengers making noise, turbulence, announcements about the seatbelt sign, etc.; on top of that, once I wake up I struggle to fall asleep again, which is a problem if you’re trying to rest on a plane
- Often I have a few drinks on a plane, partly because that helps me fall asleep for a few hours; of course I don’t feel great when I wake up, as I’m dehydrated and sometimes a bit hung over, but at least it allows me to get some rest
- My most common long haul flights are from the US East Coast to Europe, so that strategy works; I enjoy a meal for a couple of hours, I nap for a few hours (thanks in part to having a few drinks), and then before I know it we’re landing
The issue is, the “have a few drinks” strategy doesn’t scale. When I take an ultra long haul flight, I almost always get just one nap in. For example, on today’s 2AM flight from Doha to Dallas, I had dinner after takeoff, and then I managed to nap for a bit over two hours (and in this case it was due to exhaustion and not alcohol).
However, for the rest of the flight I wasn’t able to sleep. I tried multiple times, and I got cozy, but after 30 minutes I just gave up each time. On the plus side, the entertainment system had Season 11 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, so I binge watched that.
Should I start taking meds when flying?
Collectively OMAAT readers fly a lot, so I’m curious if there are any strategies I should pursue to sleep better on planes? I think the most obvious solution would be to get some sort of medication for sleeping.
I’ve never taken any prescription (or non-prescription) sleep medication, believe it or not, since I’ve never struggled with sleeping at home. At the same time, that seems like the obvious trick people use to sleep more on planes. I’m not opposed to trying this, but I just have a few general thoughts and concerns:
- At the end of the day I think this would only be useful for ultra long haul flights, and I don’t take that many ultra long haul flights; if I understand things correctly, it’s best not to take meds if you just want to sleep for a few hours
- Since I’m good with sleeping on the ground, I don’t want to take anything that would get in the way of me “naturally” sleeping well on the ground
- Also, while I was traveling from Doha in this case, it’s probably worth mentioning Dubai’s laws against many prescription meds, so these options wouldn’t even work across the board
- As mentioned above, I ultimately function just fine even when I have a 48 hour period with very little sleep, even if it’s not ideal, so I’m not sure if this is even a problem that needs a solution
- Is there some other strategy or solution I’m missing?
I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to fly in comfort thanks to miles & points, yet rarely do I actually sleep well. On the plus side, I have no issues sleeping on the ground, which I’m grateful for, since it’s something others struggle with a lot.
But no matter how long a flight is, I get at most one nap in, and rarely stay asleep for more than a few hours.
Any other OMAAT readers struggle with sleeping on planes the way I do? And to those who don’t, any tips?