Sleeping (or Not) on a Jet Plane

12/05/2013 02:56 pm ET | Updated Feb 04, 2014

It's that time of year. Holiday travel.

I've always been an easy traveler and up until recently have been one of the lucky ones who sleeps like a log on airplanes. Able to fall asleep long before take-off and stay fast asleep until landing, I looked forward to good airborne slumber. No travel pillow, no blanket and no music needed.

No longer.

Unfortunately, sleeping on airplanes has become more elusive, although I do my best to set myself up for some shut eye. Is this another one of those age-related "perks"?

On a recent flight, I couldn't seem to get comfortable. Tried everything but nothing worked. By the time the flight was over, my neck was killing me. For the entire flight my son was fast asleep in the seat next to me without the aid of any sleep accessories. Got me thinking about what I might do to bring back those days of sleeping soundly on planes.

Window seats are my preference. While they're not exactly cozy, something about being next to the "wall" enables me create my own space.

Since "climate" plays a big factor in my ability to get comfortable, I dress in layers, always pack socks and bring along a sweater and some sort of wrap/pashmina to use as a blanket when the plane's temperature drops. While cool temperatures make for good sleep, freezing temperatures don't. And using the fleece blanket (shared by way too many strangers) is not an option. In fact, the first thing I do when I get to my seat is put that blanket as far away as possible.

I've always been intrigued by what other people do to get rest on airplanes. An overwhelming number of passengers seem to favor travel pillows. In case you forget yours at home, the airport shops are filled with them. A Google search for "travel pillows" reveals a multitude of options, ranging from inflatable ones to therapeutic pillows filled with memory foam, gel and micro-beads. In addition to the U-shaped variety of pillows, the inflatable wedge-shaped pillow that you blow up, place on your tray and then lean into seems to be growing in popularity. Ever seen one of those?

While my husband and daughter are fans of the travel pillow (my husband likes the U-shaped inflatable kind and my daughter prefers the kind filled with micro-beads), I have never found them to be particularly comfortable. So I go without. Although my son has always been able to sleep without a pillow, I recently asked him if he'd like to borrow my husband's inflatable for an overnight flight. He took it. Maybe just to make me feel good. Don't have any idea if he actually used it.

I travel with my iPod so I can listen to Bedtime Beats. This is not just an opportunity for self-promotion. The music really does help my mind and body transition from daytime to bedtime when I'm home as well as on planes and in hotels.

I always travel with a big stack of magazines -- shelter, beauty, news, travel, cooking. You name it. I devour them. And by the time I finish the last one, I'm usually feeling drowsy.

Feeling hungry can prevent me from sleeping. So, if it's a relatively long flight, food is an important component. Since I am not a big fan of airplane food, I bring along my own. Usually, nuts, fruit and some kind of salad or sandwich will do the trick. Nothing with a smell. (Anyone who has traveled next to a person eating a tuna sandwich and a pickle understands.) It's also important to make sure your food satisfies the TSA's guidelines for liquids. There's nothing more frustrating than having the TSA inspector confiscate your lunch because he deems it a prohibited item. What do they do with those confiscated treats anyway?

With many of us taking to the friendly skies over the next few weeks, it's time to start thinking about the ideal sleep accessories and snacks. As for me, I'm considering giving the travel pillow another try.

Got any secrets to airborne happiness?


Cindy Bressler
Co-founder, Bedtime Network
twitter: @bedtimenetwork

A version of this article was first published on Bedtime Network.