Six secrets of in-flight snooze

DAVID FLYNN
Last updated 10:00 08/11/2012
Sleeping in flight

COMFORT TRAVEL: Qantas is rolling out a new 'sleep service' with quilted duvets.

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To sleep, perchance to dream. But in business travel it's "to fly, perchance to sleep".

It's not easy to enjoy a sound sleep in flight. I'd suggest it's all but impossible.

The movement, the noise, the sounds and smells, the cabin pressure all work against achieving a deep, relaxing and truly refreshing sleep.

But even six hours of a fitful doze make all the difference when you arrive. You can bound off the plane for a solid day of work (or pleasure) instead of staggering around like an extra from a bad zombie apocalypse movie. The airlines know this. That's one reason the latest generation of business class is all about fully lie-flat beds and creating a more private space.

Qantas is also rolling out a new "sleep service" in international business class this week, starting with the daily Sydney-Los Angeles flight (QF107/108) and then extending to other overnight runs including the long haul to London.

Flight attendants will place a mattress over the existing Skybed business class seat to provide a more cushioned surface, which also removes any noticeable bumps when the fold-down seat converts into sleeper mode.

Travellers can also request a quilted duvet instead of a blanket, and sip on a special T2 blend designed to encourage sleep.

But even being at the pointy end is no guarantee of a good night's sleep, so I've put together six strategies for a decent in-flight snooze.

Dress for comfort

Choose your in-flight wardrobe for comfort, although I suggest drawing the line at shorts and Crocs!

Wear clothing that's lightweight and affords a loose fit, such as cotton chinos instead of tight jeans, and empty your pockets.

Take a chill pill

Over many years and scores of trips I've experimented with several types of sleeping tablets.

The problem with most prescription pills and even over-the-counter tablets is that they're true knock-out drugs.

That's fine at home where you can chalk up a solid six-eight hours sleep and even tolerate an hour of being groggy before you start your day. But flying requires gentler options that ease you into sleep and let your body take over.

Melatonin is the choice of many frequent flyers.

"Melatonin is a hormone, which your body creates in the evening to help you start to fall asleep, so it's 100 per cent natural and doesn't leave you feeling drugged out," explains Kira Sutherland, head of nutritional medicine at Sydney's Nature Care College.

Although available only by prescription in Australia, melatonin is sold over the counter in the US and New Zealand, which is where Sutherland buys hers, in either 3mg or 5mg doses.

"You can get homeopathic dosages of melatonin at health-food stores but I don't find that to be very effective," she says.

Other natural remedies Sutherland recommends include valerian, or compounds containing mixed ingredients of valerian and hops, such as ReDormin.

"It's all about helping you have a good sleep by relaxing the nervous system or creating that sleepy sensation, rather than being hardcore knock-out drug," she says.

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No matter if you choose heavy-duty or herbal, always 'try before you fly'. Sample the tablets at the recommended dosage a few nights before your trip to gauge how effective they are, if the dosage is sufficient or too high, and how you feel the next morning.

Choose your seat carefully

All seats aren't equal — even in business class, and especially not in economy. You'll want maximum leg room, which is usually afforded by an exit row, and sometimes in the bulkhead row behind the cabin wall.

That said, those walls are where you typically find bassinets, so you tempt the God of Screaming Babies every time you book the bulkhead seat.

Likewise, avoid being too close to the bathrooms and the kitchen or galley areas, which generate their own unique noises and smells.

Windows seats let you prop your head against the window or cabin wall. You won't have aisle traffic constantly disturbing your slumber, nor seatmates waking you as they climb over you to get to and from the toilet.

You may want to roll up the standard-issue blanket and wedge this between the edge of your seat and the wall so your pillow doesn't slip down that cavernous crack.

Note however that some exit-row seats don't have a full recline. The SeatGuru website can help you nut out the best and worst seats for most flights.

Eat light

Airlines don't do us any favours by serving large, carb-heavy meals, which demand extra work from the digestive system while we just sitting there, unable to burn off the meal.

Try to have your larger meal at the airport lounge and be sure to include a sizeable salad. Once on the plane, eat light. Consider a second entree instead of the main meal.

For long flights in economy, pack some low-carb protein bars to snack on.

What to drink

Here's where I part company with conventional wisdom.

Yes, alcohol can dehydrate you, but if a glass or even two of your favourite tipple helps you relax and get drowsy, then bottoms up!

I'm not suggesting you get sozzled or become a bother to other passengers. And you should still have enough water to keep hydrated, especially once you wake up.

Avoid coffee and tea, and remember that even green tea contains caffeine.

Choose a caffeine-free herbal tea such as chamomile or peppermint, especially if the airline offers a blend to help promote sleep.

If you're in economy, BYO herbal teabag and ask the cabin crew for a cup of hot water.

For your eyes (and ears) only

By blocking out light, eye masks help ease your body into sleep mode. But unless you're in business class or better, don't rely on the airline's standard issue eye mask.

Frequent travellers should invest in a quality mask that is well-padded around the eyes and the bridge of the nose, and not too tight. Give it a soft spritz with a calming sleep spray or a relaxing ingredient such as lavender.

Consider a pair of noise-reducing earbuds that fit inside the ear canal, instead of headphones that enclose the ear. They make it easier to enjoy in-flight videos, and you can pipe gentle music through them to help lull you to sleep.

What are your tips for sleeping during a flight? Comment below.

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

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