The Flat-Bed Sleeping Dilemma: Should I Be Excited Or Jaded?

Filed Under: Travel

Everyone can remember the excitement leading up to their first flight in business or first class. For me, that was flying a reconfigured Continental Airlines 767-400 many years back. The concept of having a seat that turns fully flat is mindblowing. You picture yourself having a delicious meal, watching a few TV shows and then drifting off to sleep in your plush bedding. However, once you close your eyes, it’s not quite as perfect as you had hoped. You end up lying there trying to sleep for five minutes, 15 minutes, one hour, etc. In the end, you’d probably have slept better in economy.

Finnair A330 Economy Class.
Finnair A330 Business Class.

So, besides the obvious factors like time of day, energy level, and cabin noise level, why can’t you sleep? Personally, I’ve seen a direct link between excitement versus jadedness and sleeping ability. When flying a product that I’ve been dying to try for a long time, I simply can’t fall asleep. That applies regardless of whether I’m in a wide first class seat or an angled business class seat.

Lufthansa First Class bed.

Recently when I flew Lufthansa First Class, I tried to get some shut-eye, but couldn’t no matter how hard I tried. Similarly, when I flew Thai First on the short overnight from Bangkok to Sydney, I was in bed for four hours without getting a minute of sleep.

Conversely, when I flew Oman Air’s leased Kenya Airways business class, which features a basic forward facing design, I slept like a baby in the middle of the day.

What’s different on the flights where I sleep well seems to be that I’m jaded by the product, or simply not so excited to be onboard. It’s quite sad it has to be that way, especially when you’ve used hard-earned money or miles to enjoy the experience.

So, my question is: what’s the key to balancing these two opposites? If there’s one thing I don’t want, it’s to become jaded by premium travel. However, there’s a big cost to being excited as well. Not being able to make use of a flat-bed isn’t ideal when you’ve paid extra for one. I’m sure many people who travel premium less frequently will especially be able to relate to this.

So far, the only tactic I’ve worked out is to meditate before trying to sleep on planes, just laying in bed and completely clearing my mind for a few minutes. Doing so helps me calm down and simulate jadedness, at least for long enough to fall asleep.

  1. “Not being able to make use of a flat-bed isn’t ideal when you’ve paid extra for one.” Who’s paying? You throwing 10k on LH F?

  2. My first LH F experience was wasted on the fact that I slept so much. I had gotten up early in Barcelona and was already tired, then headed to the FCT and had some champagne. I got to the beautiful 747-8, seat 1A, and expected to enjoy the service. I had a couple LPGS and then conked out, not having the caviar or any of the meal service. I woke up not too long before landing, starved, and wolfed down some gorgeous langostino soup and that was it.

    That said, I ALWAYS sleep better in a flat bed than I do in coach. It isn’t even a question.

  3. I got the exact same ‘issue’, sometimes I have business class flights in the middle of the night. I am just too excited to sleep, I rather stay awake and enjoy the plane, the seat and the whole experience. I only slept one time, it was for a Delta “first class” domestic flight. I couldn’t care less about that experience.

  4. I’m a stomach sleeper, so I rarely get any shuteye on a plane. Add to that I sleep in a “free fall” position which basically looks like spread-eagle chalk outline from a hit and run accident. I just can’t get comfortable, when it be in business class or first class. The closest I’ve come to getting any rest on a plane was in JAL first class, and even then it wasn’t much.


  5. To echo one of the previous commenters, when you will actually pay for your bed or travel for business you will have a completely different experience. Believe it or not, people usually don’t make their flight choices based on how excited they are about a product – Although I myself I might once or twice have taken a detour to try a new product 😉

  6. I find that even if I don’t fully fall asleep, as long as I don’t keep getting up and checking my phone, I’m more rested after laying flat and relaxing than I would if I had pulled an all nighter.

    It could just be psychosomatic, but I’ve had plenty of flights where I’ve not slept very well at all and was still able to function the next day.

    In other words, I no longer worry about it if I can’t fall asleep.

  7. “For me, that was flying a reconfigured Continental Airlines 767-400 many years back…”

    Many years back? You’re 19!!!!!!!

    Nice pictures – keep up the good work Daniel.

  8. “‘Not being able to make use of a flat-bed isn’t ideal when you’ve paid extra for one.’ Who’s paying? You throwing 10k on LH F?”

    What are you even talking about? Seriously, why would you ask such a question here? Where did you come up with $10,000? Why not $5,000? Why not $15,000?

    There are plenty of people who read and/or comment on OMAAT who pay money (vs. points, which is still paying…) for international first class tickets, and that includes on LH.

  9. just because it’s flat doesn’t really mean anything. If it’s flat and hard as a rock it’s not going to be very comfortable. And then there’s the noise. And the dry air. I can’t really sleep on a plane, period. Some of the F class suites that are fully enclosed all me to doze for a couple of hours but it’s not really sleeping. As for sleeping in Y, I don’t know how anyone does that.

  10. @TravelinWilly

    It was a dig at Daniel who most certainly didn’t pay anything near $10,000 for his LH F ticket (or any other airline ticket, for that matter).

    As far as points “paying”, they are a form of payment. One might also notice that points-based payment for international first-class seats are harder to come by (higher redemption costs, restricted availability, selective blocking) than in the recent past. Perhaps this has something to do with points not paying “enough” for the seats.

  11. Don’t worry, it took me well over 100 International First and Business class flights to become jaded. I think for plane nerds it takes a long long long time…hahah! I wanted to experience the WHOLE service or as much as possible. Now it varies. I still love it and feel grateful, but its pretty much meal, a movie (usually half a movie) and then Im out. As of this year I no longer wake up for breakfast, unless the flight is over 12 hours.

    If traveling for work where you need to sleep, the best way to relax: Steam session and massage before the flight. Less sleep the night before so that one is really tired and then you will sleep.

    If its an amazing new product then I will fly the day before so I can enjoy it with less sleep and catch up on rest at the hotel. I say stay up and enjoy the product!…this is suppose to be fun for you.

  12. Clonazepam works ever my time. Lax to Seoul 12 hours straight sleep in Korean F every two months. Like clockwork.

  13. No. First time in Thai F, Lufthansa F, Singapore Suites, etc., my battle was to stay awake to experience full meal service, not to fall asleep after meal service.

  14. I feel like I always wake up feeling like i’m having a heat stroke and profusely sweating because beneath comforters I feel like no premium cabin is kept comfortably cool!

  15. Those who truly need to be well-rested for where they are going (business travelers) will sleep. It doesn’t seem like you need that, you just want the premium experience. So what does this matter to you?

    I find that even if I want to stay up, such as on LH F or NH F on a daytime flight, by the time I have the multi-course meal with plenty of wine refills, I need a nap! I have never not slept at least a few hours on an international premium cabin flight.

  16. If you sleep better in economy, please fly that and leave the premium award seats to those of us who can enjoy them. Smh

  17. Sometimes it is hard to fall asleep on a plane, but I always have melatonin in my backpack for those instances. On long haul flights, I’m definitely going to sleep some. I want to make sure I don’t miss the meal service but after that if I crash out so be it. Maybe if I was flying in the Residence I would want to be awake for most of the trip. As long as I safely get from origin to destination I’m good!!

  18. I swear by ambien — try it, Daniel.

    I could not sleep business or coach before it. It makes you rest like a baby.

  19. @Ari – Thank you for the explanation. When I first read what I quoted I was all like “What the heck?!” I read the “you” as the plural you (meaning everyone who reads OMAAT), not realizing he was making a personal dig at the author. Which I don’t understand either. But that’s just me, I guess. There are many things in life I don’t understand… 🙂

  20. The irony of it is when I’ve been in econ I try to sleep as much as possible despite being upright in a very tight uncomfortable seat and usually scrunched next to a seat-mate. I usually sleep the majority of the flight.

    Then I score First class and think to myself finally I can travel in comfort and get to my destination rested. However usually my FOMO (fear of missing out) keeps me awake the entire first class flight no matter how long it is. Usually over indulging in food and booze arriving at my destination looking/feeling like a train wreck.

  21. “So far, the only tactic I’ve worked out is to meditate before trying to sleep on planes, just laying in bed and completely clearing my mind for a few minutes. Doing so helps me calm down and simulate jadedness, at least for long enough to fall asleep.”

    This is what I do whenever I want to sleep. Just clear the mind, stop thinking so darn much (some people focus on breathing, i just close my eyes and focus on what I can see, which is darkness), and (this is also a key) completely relax your body. That last part is easier said than done, but once you figure it out, you realize how tense your body is even when you’re lying in bed ready to sleep. You can feel it in your chest, arms, neck, even your eyelids.

  22. Well, when you grow up you can knock back a few drinks before bedtime and all your problems will be over. Until then, maybe fly in economy where you apparently get better sleep and leave the premium cabin to the adults.

  23. Try knocking down several double Whiskey’s and I’m quite confident you’d be sleeping like a baby in about one hours time

  24. I’m on the overnight CX flight from BOS to HKG in F tomorrow. I already know I’m going to have trouble sleeping, but here’s hoping I get few hours. Don’t want to land and be a zombie.

  25. I don’t believe that “Jaded” is a correct word. Rather, “thinking” is perhaps a better descriptor. “Too busy evaluating” is a good phrase. Because you are intent/concerned/focused on describing the entire flight experience for your readers, you do not/will not/cannot actually “relax and enjoy.”

    Contrast that with a “normal” traveler like me: I sit down, insert earplugs, and proceed to thoroughly ignore everything around me. I revel in the comfort, the good food, the elbow room, the cocktails and the wine, and the view out the window. I take a few pictures and read my book. I am not consumed with comparing & contrasting the most minute of (to me) meaningless details. I just soak up the ambiance and drink more wine.

    You’re in the business of describing. Us other folks are in the business of enjoying the travel experience for what it simply is: something tons better than anything economy could provide.

  26. Some ambien, Xanax, Benadryl, Valium, Vicodin, soma, alcohol, all together, one at a time, or however you like to take it, you’ll be out like a light.

  27. I agree Daniel!!!!!
    On my first business class flight as a grown up (as a kid I dont remember what the experience was like so much) I was SO excited to reach my destination (London) and was so excited i was flying business that I probably slept for 40 min the entire 12 hr flight.
    But honestly just laying there is exciting, and I found that even if I get 4-6 hours of sleep on a flight Ill STILL be tired no matter what. So it doesnt really make a huge difference. Flying is tiring.

    Now, Ive never tried Ambien but Im excited to give it a try. Just fear ill get addicted to it.

  28. Not all flat beds are created equal. Some have more bumps and lumps than others (best is CX F; worst is LH J), some have unlimited legroom while others confine you to a tiny foot cubby with no room to turn (worst is DL One 767 and A330), some are super wide head-to-toe and some feel tighter than economy (worst is again LH and DL), and some feature mattress pad and some don’t.

    Then there’s cabin temperature. I was on SQ Suite ZRH-SIN (14 hrs!) but could not fall asleep because of warm cabin – even after I asked the purser to turn it down.

    So for me it’s not a matter of mental or psychological state. It’s the physical environment.

  29. I have the same dilema but regarding alcohol and over eating; should I drink and eat so much or should I keep a light meal and stick to water? If I really want to rest I should avoid alcohol, but once I see smell the food, and see the beverages being served I always tend to fall for temptation; a couple of hours later I wake up all sweaty and land looking like sh..t!

  30. I get your points as I struggle with this. To me the secret is to not drink or eat too much on the plane. Use ear plugs and maybe meltonin at the most. Try to not to over think it because the stress of worrying about sleeping or not will make you not sleep. The other trick I use is that I make a deal with myself that I have to sleep on the overnights and I can stay up on the daytime flights unless it’s to Asia and then you have plenty time for both.

  31. I find (over)indulging on the champagne in the lounge beforehand and for at least 4 to 5 hours on the Syd to Dub route via Abu Dhabi results in a grand sleep for about 7 hours! The only time this failed was when I was on the A380 for the first time and chose a seat too close to the bar area, the bottles rattled for the whole flight and kept me awake!

  32. Great topic. @Gregg I sleep exactly the same way so almost impossible to get comfortable. Plus not a great sleeper anyway. Barely got a wink in Singapore Suites from LAX->NRT and that was really comfortable. Best sleep I ever got was Alaska first from OGG->LAX. Slept sitting up almost the whole way because I was so relaxed from being in Hawaii.

  33. Used to be I never slept on any aircraft, in any cabin, whether short, mid or ULH, because I wanted to enjoy being on the aircraft, watch movies, experience the full dining etc. And I travel a lot, and have done so for decades. But as I’ve gotten older, particularly the last couple of years, can’t help it – I will fall asleep.

    Even though it’s nowhere near as comfortable as First or Business, it is in some ways easier to fall asleep in Economy, because there is just less stimulus (more than their used to be true, thanks to IFE, but even then) compared to Business or First were dining is often a longer experience, and more things tend to be done as part of the service (those larger IFE screens also throw more light back out at you), there is just more stimulus to keep you awake (because things are more interesting and more varied). Of course, from a comfort perspective, Business and First are easier to sleep in, but a greater level of stimulus can offset that a bit.

    I’ve yet to fly a First seat that came anywhere close to the comfort of my own bed, but it’ll usually be enough if you are tired and fading. And when you are getting old, and a little bored, it’s definitely going to happen lol.

  34. I was a small child when I flew first class, that was before airlines put flatbed seats, and the first class seats back then would barely just be above what premium economy seats are today.
    Been jaded since I flew on the Concorde. For me, it’s hard to top that, except a trip to space lol.

    I’ve rarely slept well on planes, even in flatbed seats. I usually end up sleeping cosmonaut style anyway lol.

  35. @Gregg

    I had to lough out loud about your “spread-eagle” comment – I was in Lufthansa Business a couple weeks ago and a guy was sleeping exactly like that haha

  36. 16 hours in Cathay Pacific business class JFK-HKG is time best spent asleep; and sleep I did. I work to depart well rested and healthy and sleep rather quickly after a relatively short period of time. I do not partake in alcohol or the miracles of medicine to sleep. I do skip the first meal more often than not. The key is lie flat. I do not sleep well sitting up. 16 hours in economy is hell. The last adventures in economy involved 1/2 empty planes and “lie flat” via three seats in a row.

  37. @Donna

    You do realise that in the EU it is legal to drink at 18? I thought you were an experienced world traveller? Daniel is Swedish, was brought up in the UK and was on a German airline. Your point is?

  38. I can never sleep on British Airways first class. The seats are so uncomfortable – for me. My husband sleeps like a baby. As much as I dislike BA Club World design, they are more comfortable on new planes to me than first. I sleep well on Qarar, Qantas and other business and first class flights. Seems I may be allergic to BA.

  39. The first time I experienced a fully lay flat seat on a longhaul flight (EVA Royal Laurel from Taipei to SFO), I was so tired from the connecting leg from Bali and transit in Taipei that, as soon as the seat belt sign was off, I reclined my seat about as far back as a premium coach seat goes and… was woken up for a light supper 2hrs before landing in SFO. Let’s just say that’s an experience I hope not to repeat if I’m lucky enough to experience something like LH or CX First.

  40. I am flying NYC – Lima Business Class (my first ever!) & I am so excited already! I know i am landing really early and need the sleep, but I don’t want to miss the business class experience 🙂

  41. On any long distance journey I will take 2 capsules of Valerian root and one tab of 3mg melatonin about an hour before flying. The valerian root rests your mind. (yes the capsules smell like poop but get over it). Usually that helps me get at least 2 hours of sleep and with no lingering affects after the flight is done.

  42. The more I read this and other travel blogs the more confused I get. Between my wife and I we earn around 200k a year which makes us wealthy by most standards. We put all of our daily spend on various credit cards looking to earn points for travel. Neither of us have jobs that require any real paid travel so the travel we do we generally pay for. And yet with living in an expensive city and the costs that go with owning a home and 2 kids there is no way on earth we can pay thousands of dollars for first or business class tickets.

    Here was have a young man (19 according to one post) who travels on average every 5 days and from what I can see publicly is a YouTuber and travel blogger. I just don’t get how he is doing it. Or the rest of the people like lucky etc on these blogs who seem to always be traveling in luxury and constantly redeeming huge point totals for first class seats or dropping thousands of dollars so they can try out The Residance. The level of income in both dollars and points that this lifestyle seems to require seems way beyond what a blog like this one would be worth in terms of credit card referrals and ad revenue.

    Please what am I missing?

  43. You’re missing that these bloggers make more than you think. On top of that, they have no children or any expenses.

  44. You’re also missing that they may play the points game aggressively, using strategies that allow for point accumulation well beyond what everyday spending would provide.

  45. Matt Vorwald

    “Dude you’re a liar or high. Just stop.”

    At the risk of being branded a liar or high, I too sleep better in economy. Probably due to the excitement of having a lay flat bed but I find turbulence seems exaggerated when I’m laying down. Having said that, at least J and F are a better form of discomfort if I can’t sleep.

  46. Just went to Chicago/Singapore RT on United. Upgraded to Polaris business class. Slept about 4 hours on the way there, and maybe 2 hours on the way back. But nodded off quite a bit. My feet sure felt better after I got there (feet tend to swell due to cabin pressure, sitting too long, etc). At any rate, was well worth the money to upgrade (~ $800 or so each way cash + points). 20 hours on a plane is very long in coach. I’d do it again if it was available.

    However, unless you are real thin and short, you get this feeling like you are lying in a coffin. You still have the width of a seat (though a very comfortable seat; nothing like coach) But still, just being to lay out flat is worth it.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *