The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - TRAVEL WISDOM | SLEEPING PILLS - KIRK OWERS

Iam en­vi­ous of any­one who can sleep on a plane. The idea of nod­ding off half­way through a movie and wak­ing up at your des­ti­na­tion, well-rested and jet lag free, is the most ap­peal­ing type of voodoo magic to me. In­stead, I watch screens, read books and then slump in my chair and stare at the seat in front of me for eight or nine hours.

Which is why, while re­turn­ing from Tokyo re­cently, I thought I’d pop a sleep­ing pill. It was an im­pulse pur­chase from the air­port phar­ma­cist who trans­lated the in­struc­tions for me. Take two and wake up in Syd­ney was the gist.

I downed them af­ter din­ner, re­clined my chair, switched on a movie and awaited obliv­ion.

It never ar­rived.

In­stead I be­came hot and then ag­i­tated. I felt a pow­er­ful ur­gency to move but was trapped in a win­dow seat next to two bliss­fully slum­ber­ing pas­sen­gers. Know­ing full well how pre­cious in-flight sleep is, I re­fused to wake them. In­stead I clam­bered over them, us­ing the arm­rests as footholds, hop­ing tur­bu­lence wouldn’t top­ple me into their laps.

Af­ter sway­ing about the aisle for a few min­utes, I re­alised my limbs were on a time de­lay. I slumped into the toi­let to take stock and swooned through waves of foggy stu­por be­fore re­turn­ing to my seat, again by pre­car­i­ously clam­ber­ing over my obliv­i­ous com­pan­ions.

The rest of the flight was a form of de­pri­va­tion tor­ture. Ev­ery time I’d ap­proach the drop-off point of sleep, my body would jerk awake like it’d just re­ceived a small elec­tric shock.

I fo­cused on my breath­ing and even­tu­ally the worst of it passed.

But I was still an ad­dled zom­bie on ar­rival, barely ca­pa­ble of fill­ing out my ar­rival card.

In hind­sight, I made ob­vi­ous mis­takes. I should have sought ad­vice from my GP. I should have bought the pills in Aus­tralia. I should have tried them be­fore the flight.

Bet­ter still, I should have avoided the med­i­ca­tion path al­to­gether. Doc­tors rarely rec­om­mend sleep­ing tablets for fly­ing for sev­eral rea­sons. Some tablets ren­der you im­mo­bile, which would be prob­lem­atic dur­ing an in-flight emer­gency.

Even if you’re OK with that small risk, avoid sit­ting near an emer­gency exit where you could be re­spon­si­ble for many lives in an emer­gency.

Ad­di­tion­ally, there is the chance of a bad re­ac­tion like mine or the much more se­ri­ous risk of get­ting deep-vein throm­bo­sis (DVT).

DVT oc­curs when a per­son is slumped in the same po­si­tion for a long pe­riod of time, caus­ing blood clots to form in the veins.

In some cases, the clots travel through the body and lodge in the vi­tal or­gans, caus­ing se­ri­ous in­jury or even death.

Dr Deb Mills ad­vises against sleep­ing tablets. “Sadly, on an air­craft, it is good for you to be un­com­fort­able. It is not healthy to sleep in the sit­ting po­si­tion.

“When you are un­com­fort­able you move around, rise from your chair for a walk, go for a drink etc. This keeps the blood flow­ing, and stops clots form­ing,” she writes.

Thank­fully, there are other ways of get­ting to sleep on a plane which don’t in­volve med­i­ca­tion.

If you’re au­rally sen­si­tive, noise­can­cel­la­tion head­phones will help. Try lis­ten­ing to a chilled-out play list or a guided re­lax­ation au­dio.

Med­i­ta­tion is an­other tech­nique to lower the heart rate and in­stall a calm mind, con­ducive to drift­ing off.

If you’re a ner­vous flyer, an an­tianx­i­ety drug like Val­ium may be help­ful (ask your GP). If you’re jump­ing across time zones, mela­tonin tablets can as­sist you to fall asleep and es­tab­lish a new sleep­ing pat­tern on ar­rival.

If none of that helps, there is a fool­proof method: book day­time flights or, for longer jour­neys, sched­ule lengthy stopovers so you can catch some hor­i­zon­tal Zs in an air­port ho­tel.

You may pay a lit­tle more, but you’ll ar­rive fresh and ready to rumba.


A panda makes it look easy in Chongqing, China, but deep sleep can be elu­sive on an overnight flight.

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