THE BEST AND WORST OF THE REST
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.