lifestyle

How to sleep on a plane: Flight attendants share secret hacks


Struggle to drift off after take off? Read this (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Travel is finally back on the cards and that means we’re all booking flights – the further the better.

Long-haul holidays are amazing for winter sun, new experiences, and some much needed rest and recuperation. But getting there can be a little arduous – particularly when it comes to getting enough rest on the journey.

Sleeping on a plane is notoriously difficult. The lack of leg-room, the awkward positioning, the crick in the neck – not to mention the noisy neighbours and fluctuating air-con.

But getting to sleep on a long-haul flight can make all the difference when you arrive at your destination – and can mean you don’t have to spend the first few days of your holiday feeling drained and exhausted.

So, we asked the experts – former and current flight attendants, and even a pilot – for their top tips on how to get the best sleep on a plane, even if you’re flying economy.

Bella Sapsworth used to be a flight attendant for Emirates, so long-haul was her bread and butter. Her first tip addresses a common travel taboo – the debate over reclining your seat.

‘Recline your seat,’ says Bella. ‘You pay for a reclining seat – so use it!’

While it may not win you any Brownie points with your neighbour in the seat behind you, reclining your chair fully will give you the best possible position for sleeping in economy.

Another top tip from Bella is to do with what you’re putting in your body.

What you eat and drink while you travel can have a big impact on how you feel, and how well you can sleep. Yes, you’re in holiday mode, and it’s tempting to think that you can just ‘knock yourself out’ using alcohol – but Bella advises against this.

‘Drink lots of water,’ she says. ‘And avoid alcohol and coffee, because they dehydrate you.’

This makes sense. Research from a couple of years back revealed that drinking alcohol before bed can wreck your sleep – more so even than drinking coffee.

Researchers found that while booze might make it easier to drift off, sleep was more disrupted after drinking, meaning you get lower quality rest and are more likely to feel tired in the morning.

Next, Bella says it’s important to think about where you’re sitting on the plane. That means splashing out to book a specific seat might be worth it if you’re hoping to feel rested when you land.

‘Try and book a seat over wing and away from the toilets,’ says Bella.

‘The toilets are noisy and the over-wing row has more leg-room as it’s an emergency exit.’

So, avoid chatty people going in and out of the toilet, and look out for any seats in the row over the wing – and, Bella says there’s a clever way to nab one of these spots last-minute.

‘If you ask at the check-in desk, they usually keep these seats free if the flight isn’t full – so they can swap your seat for you,’ she says.

Think about bringing your own blankets, sleep socks and an eye-mask (Picture: Getty/EyeEm)

She also has thoughts about the plane accessories that you need to have in your hand luggage.

‘Bring an eye-mask, a blanket and slipper socks (although change into shoes when you use the bathroom) – the air-con can be chilly.’

What about if there are spare seats – is it OK to move? Bella says so.

‘After take off, if the flight isn’t full and you see a full row free (in the cabin you paid for – you cant waltz up to business if you paid for economy), then go and sit there and stretch out.’

Now, these hacks are all well and good – but most people will agree that there is a limit to how well you can possibly sleep while in economy class.

Mike is a commercial pilot who flies VIP business jets. When he is on connecting flights from various locations, he is entitled to fly business class on journeys that are longer than six hours.

For Mike, this is the best and only way to get any real sleep on a long-haul flight.

‘My top tip is to do whatever you can to fly business,’ he says. ‘Look for ticket sale prices – go off-peak – and make sure you have a flat bed seat!’

It isn’t only the on-board staff who know how to hack the system and get a good night’s sleep at 30,000 feet. Regular long-haul travellers are pretty good at it too.

‘As a frequent flyer and polar and mountaineering expedition leader; sleep is a vital element of recovering and preparing for my work, over the years and hundreds of long haul flights I have found multiple techniques and tricks to get a good night sleep; whether on in the Arctic in the Himalaya or on a 12-hour flight,’ shares Mark Walker COO and director of World Adventure Group.

‘Come prepared for bedtime – sleeping in travel clothes is no fun; on long haul flights I’ll wear comfortable clothing throughout (air travel is not a fashion show) and take lightweight pyjamas to change into before nap time.’ 



Sleep hacks for long flights and early starts

‘Drink plenty of water during the flight especially on long ones.

‘The night before an early flight, go to bed without a TV or phone to distract you from getting to sleep.

‘Even if you have to up at 3am for an early flight, eat something at home and then maybe a snack from home or a proper breakfast if you have time at the airport.

‘I see so many people fainting on early flights because they haven’t given themselves enough time to eat or drink before an early flight.’

Helen Varcoe, cabin manager

Another top tip from Mark is to sleep as your destination dictates.

‘As soon as your onboard, set all time to the destinations time and sleep and behave according to that,’ he suggests.

‘The eye-masks supplied on the aircraft are naff – but your own comfortable one which blocks out all light and doesn’t leave you with “sweaty eyes”, will be much better.’

If the noise of the plane or other passengers talking is likely to disrupt your sleep, Mark suggests noise cancelling headphones could make all the difference.

‘Just make sure they are comfortable enough to lie on,’ he says. ‘Pre-download sleep stories or mediation from apps like Calm are a good idea too – there’s nothing quite like Stephen Fry lulling you to sleep.’

Mark adds that just because you’re travelling that doesn’t mean your usual bedtime routine has to go out the window. It’s important to keep that consistency and tell your body that it’s time to sleep.

‘Brush your teeth,’ says Mark. ‘Your bedtime routine should be very much the same as at home, so follow the process that you take. Brush your teeth, get changed, moisturise. 

‘Using a “sleepy” tea is always a good shout. I take enough Pukka Nighttime tea in my carry on for all potential sleep times.’

Mark even says that fitting in some fitness before he flies can help him to drift off into a deep sleep. 

‘Not enough airports have a gym, though a few do,’ he says. ‘Getting some physical exercise in before flying just like while on land will dramatically improve sleeping on a flight.

‘If no gym can be found, find a quiet corner in the airport prior to travelling and pump out some press-ups, sit-ups, star-jumps etc. – it may look odd – but you will have seen far weirder things in airports before I’m sure.’

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Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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