Instead, I prepare for semi-adequate, often interrupted sleep in my economy section seat. This often means strategizing and preparing ahead of time. I place a sleeping mask and earplugs in my carry-on bag so that I can eliminate (or at least reduce) light and sound. I might even bring along a neck pillow or at least keep the blanket provided by the airline – so that I can crunch it up as a pillow to lean against. The key is often choosing the right seat ahead of time. For some of us, the priority is a window seat (so that I can lean against the window). For others the priority is an aisle seat for easy access to the rest room (hoping beyond all hope that our seat mate doesn’t have to frequently nudge us to get by for their own trip to the rest room). Then there is the matter of loose clothing, a comfortable scarf or cap, and perhaps some outer socks (to wear in place of our shoes). Support hose is recommended if the circulation of blood is a problem (often exacerbated by long durations of sitting without much movement—the reason why frequent standing and stretching is recommended). There are even small massage machines that can be brought on an airplane (though I have yet to see one in operation).
Then there is the matter of sleep aides. I recently counted more than 80 different sleep aides on Amazon. Some are homeopathic, others are not. Some include alcohol, others do not. Of course, there is the standard and frequently recommended melatonin. Do we take a sleeping pill? What kind? I will have much more to say about this when addressing the Fourth Pathway to Sleep (focusing on sleep aides). What about a glass of wine or something stronger? Is this a good idea? It is important to remember that airplanes operate with reduced air pressure in the cabins. We are living in a temporary world of high altitude. There is less oxygen and the air is much drier than most of us live with when not flying high. This means that alcohol and most medications have a much greater impact then when we are not floating at 35,000 feet. This also means that it is easy to get dehydrated. Alcoholic beverages lead to dehydration. All of this means that we should consume many liquids while flying – but in most instances this should be water rather than booze.
Other nonmedical and nonalcoholic technologies might be considered. There are earphones that produce sleep-enhancing sounds (or at least block out cabin sounds) and eye shades that produce sleep-enhancing patterns of light. Those in the business of long-distant travel to far-away lands often praise these new technologies and never travel without them. Much less expensive are the musical soundtracks and nonmusical relaxation recordings available on the playlist of most high-capacity airplanes. There is also the paradoxical use of technology that I will feature in a later essay: this paradox concerns the watching of a boring movie or listening to boring music or a boring recorded lecture. All of these inputs tend to put us to sleep. We are told not to watch TV or a movie when trying to fall asleep; yet, we all know that sometime this is the best way to fall asleep whether we are tucked into our bed at home or flying high in the sky.