Sleeping on planes: a pastime for deities

Posted on
Jun 9, 2011

This man is a god:

What’s that? Er, no, I’m sorry. Not the man in foreground. The man in the foreground is my husband. He has many lovely attributes, of which “god-like” is not one. He is charitable and kind and good, and he often smells fantastic. While he is one of the best humans I’ve ever been fortunate enough to encounter, he is still human.

No, the man to which I refer is this one, here:

He is no mere mortal. Mortals cannot sleep on planes. Mortals require quiet surroundings and consistent altitudes to sleep. They need dark rooms devoid of screaming babies; to spend long hours free of screechy announcements from the cockpit. But this man? He required none of those things. Instead, he boarded our flight from Boston to Seattle, sat down, and within minutes, enjoyed the golden dew of sleep. And he did not stir. Not when the passengers next to him, imprisoned in their middle and window seats, finally gave up any hope that he would wake and climbed over him to use the facilities. Nor when the beverage cart lumbered down the aisle, crudely banging his elbow (for in his mindless oblivion, he did not hear the 120-decibal warning blaring from the speaker above, instructing him to tuck in his arms and legs). Through turbulence and smooth flying, through ascent and descent, from east coast to west, he slept.

He is no mere mortal.

Would that I had his power. In otherwise pitch-black hotel rooms, I find myself draping articles of clothing over every blinking light and digital screen (to the good staff of a-hotel-that-shall-remain-unnamed: I am sorry for slapping a pantyliner to the digital thermostat on the wall. The blinking lights were driving me crazy. Also, the pantyliner was clean.) I’ve worn earplugs to bed, because a sound in the distance, barely above a whisper when it reached me, was too much to endure. And I’ve have trouble falling asleep in the past because the sound of my blood pumping in my own ears was too much for me. All signs that I am not a by-product of countless years of evolution, as my lack-of-sleep should have rendered me eaten by wolves long ago.

If only we had a Prometheus, to steal this god’s gift of sleep and share it among us mere mortals. What would the punishment for such a crime be? Being chained upon a hill, forced to polish off plates of lukewarm coach airline food every day, only to have them reappear the next morning? Or maybe just a really long layover in Newark?

Alas, I realized I had no hope of being able to so effortlessly enter and exit unconsciousness. The moment the plane’s wheels hit the ground, his eyes opened. He rubbed them gently, and within seconds looked refreshed and wide-awake.

When Armageddon comes, I suspect he will be the last survivor. Long after the cries of the wretched, burning in hellfire, have died down, after the earth has been scorched and no trace of life exists, he will wake. Looking around, he’ll wonder what exactly happened while he slept. And finding no one around to answer his question, he might just roll over and catch a few more winks, because really, why not?

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  • I ALWAYS feel like the only one on a plane who can’t sleep. I’d like to know what people think as the passengers mozy off the plane, everyone looking nice and refreshed until I — with blood shot eyes, crinkled clothing, and a rat’s nest for hair — stumble out. I can’t help it people! My fear of drooling on the person next to me (and missing my free diet coke) always keeps me awake.

    Nice to know I’m not alone!

    • Everywhereist

      I look like HELL when I step off a plane. HELL. Even if it’s only, like, a two-hour flight, I manage to look like I’ve been up for days.

  • Haha, great post! Poor hubby, not being compared to Zeus must be harsh on him haha.

    I find it near impossible to sleep with blinking lights, actually any lights in general, or even certain sounds at home (I turn my fan on, even now in the middle of winter, to drown any and all sound out).

    And sleeping on buses/trains/trams/planes/ferries – out of the question (except on this one London to Hong Kong flight when I had a big night out, didn’t sleep, plane got grounded for 4hours, and loooootttssss of free champagne! :P)

  • I would KILL for his powers! I can never sleep on planes/buses/trains, yet I always somehow end up looking like I just got out of bed after the trip! Life is, indeed, unfair. 🙂

  • Hilarious!!! It was too funny! Beautifully written! I loved it. Thanks for making my day!

  • He might be a god, but I suspect he is the God of Ambien (very different from the God of Cake).

  • Alejandro

    Sweet prose. Newspapers need more of this kind of clean, amusing and interesting writing, instead of the convoluted articles full of obscure words.

  • I too, have an insane aversion to tiny little sounds. Sounds my husband cannot hear. Sounds the dog cannot dicern. The tick of the second hand on a clock? Makes me nuuuuttttsss. I’ve moved wall clocks originally located in hotel rooms, guest rooms and even the one down the hall in my grandmothers bathroom, just so I could fall asleep. Into the linen closet they go. Or the dishwasher. Earplugs and Tylenol PM are my friends for anything more than a 2 hour flight.

  • Dude. I envy the skills of Zeus. I wish I could sleep like that on a plane or anywhere for that matter.

  • Liza

    This post made my day! So true sleep on a plane… that is a gift! 🙂

  • suraj

    Dear Geraldine,
    I know the problem you are in. I can identify with it, since I have also have a job tht requires travelling by plane and I hv a solution to tht problem you are.

    The solution is a small meditation technique, of sorts. What you do is pretty simple, just close your eyes and accept your surrounding, accept tht digital blinking crap, accept the yelling baby, accept the bright light, whatever tht you feel thts getting in the way. Accepting is not tolerating. accepting means to let it go and let it be. Accepting is to go with the flow of the current not fighting. Ofcourse this take practice but eventually you’ll get the handle of it. I notice tht the reason ppl hv a hard time of sleeping is cuz they react too fast to their surrounding n begin agitated straight away.

    The next thing you do is simple observe your breath, this helps a lot in making you calm and makes you able to accept thing. Observe it, not control it or judge it. Just breath your natural breath whether is hard or soft or coming from only 1 nostril. Observe the way you would observe a river flowing while you are sitting on its bank.

    One day you’ll definitely succeed and sleep soundly in your flite and you’ll wake up as fresh as a morning dew. No more throwing pantyliners on blinking digital nonsense or babies (they are babies, not rock stars, STOP THROWING PANTYLINERS AT THEM, THIS HAS TOO STOP, SERIOUSLY!)

    I hope this helps you, I know it did me.

    • Everywhereist

      For the record, “they are babies, not rock stars, STOP THROWING PANTYLINERS AT THEM, THIS HAS TOO STOP, SERIOUSLY!” might be the best advice I’ve ever received from a commenter on my blog. 🙂

  • orbiter

    Entertaining post! I wonder what that makes me though. I can sleep everywhere except on the bed – on buses, planes, at my desk, on my running machine – but once I lie down on the bed, I’m wide awake.

    Must be a horizontal issue.

    • Everywhereist

      For the record the phrase “horizontal issue” is delightful. 🙂

  • lisa

    I think the word you’re looking for is “drugs”.

  • Tim

    Zeus himself could not sleep on a plane! The only people I know who can sleep on planes consume massive doses of medication. I can only imagine that this practice might help when on the plane but can only hurt when you actually debark and need to communicate

  • I agree that he must have taken something – on a red eye home from Hawaii I took some sort of anti-anxiety medication that my mother in law gave me (can’t remember which one) and slept through both flights and the 2 and a half hour drive home. It was like a time warp. I’m not sure I’d do it again.

  • Joeski

    The fact that he was able to sleep through people climbing over him is a strong indicator that his somnolence was likely drug- or alcohol-enhanced.

    Now, that said, it’s not impossible to sleep on a plane, even if you’re 6’5″, as I am. You need a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a good imagination. Put on headphones. Then build, in your mind, the most peaceful scenario you have ever experienced, element by element, in as much detail as possible.

    Say it was sitting in a chair on the sand in Hawai’i – imagine the sound of the waves, the smell of the sea, the feel of the sand between your toes. (Be as detailed as possible– was it a canvas chair you were sitting in? Then imagine the feel of the canvas on your back.) If you focus exclusively on it, you should find yourself drifting off. It is a form of self-hypnotism after all.

    I use this technique alot, and I have to say that it’s very helpful– it certainly doesn’t have the same after-effects that a preflight session in the airport bar does. Hopefully it’ll work for you.

  • Louise

    I too have the gift of the gods, and have been known to fall asleep before take-off. Usually I try to stay awake just because I like that exquisite moment of weightlessness at takeoff.

    On the downside I tend to end up squashing my face and drooling so I still look like a wreck on arrival.

  • Mari

    Please note that the woman sitting next to Zeus appears to have her arms crossed, while his left arm is splayed well over her armrest. I guess if you are a god you can impose on the space of mere mortals.

    Perhaps she took some kind of secret revenge during his slumbers.

  • Global Librarian

    My father has the ability to sleep pretty much anywhere. Nothing can disturb his sleep. He can sleep through noises, movement, people climbing over him, people trying to poke him awake. All without missing even one wink of sleep. All without the use of any drugs or alcohol. And no, he does not have narcolepsy.

    His secret? He is the father of 5 children. Best training in the world for learning to sleep through anything. Even though his youngest is now 39 years old, the ability has stayed with him.

    I suspect the man in the photo above is the father of a large family.

  • motomotoyama

    I have a terrible time with motion sickness when flying, so my body has developed the coping mechanism of causing me to fall asleep pretty much immediately upon getting settled into my seat. I usually don’t stay asleep the entire flight unless it’s a short one, and I can’t say that it’s the most restful sleep ever, but it does help me not feel terrible the entire time we’re in the air, and not be a complete zombie once I land.

  • RiderWriter

    I, too, deeply envy anyone with the ability to “sit back and enjoy the flight” by way of escaping through sleep. I have struggled mightily on planes, desperately trying to grab a mere 10 winks, much less 40. No dice. I can’t simply lean back and sleep; oh, no, my head must be canted to one side (heavy w/ brains, ha ha), and when it gets too far… I snap awake. This may happen over and over until I’m too tired and cranky to sleep at all. I have tried various pillows and found them all to be useless. Earplugs, eye masks (light is another killer, I have been known to put blankets completely over my head), various contortions trying to prop body parts without having metal or plastic digging painfully into them, nothing helps. In almost a half century of at least thrice-yearly airplane travel, I probably have accumulated a grand total of five hours of sleep. And that’s when I had a 3-across to myself coming back from Europe and was able to lie down. I HATE THAT GUY, TOO!

    (P.S. I have recently discovered the joys of a certain well-advertised prescription sleep aid – look into it. Haven’t had the opportunity to test it on a long flight yet, but I think it might…actually… work. When they say eight hours, they MEAN eight hours, though, so use with caution!)

  • I have the opposite problem. Something about the air (or lack thereof) in a flight immediately makes me drowsy. Sounds great, right? Except that I love airplane food, snacks, and drinks (and yes, I don’t know why either), so I am constantly drifting off to sleep and then forcing myself to wake up because if I were to miss an airplane meal it would be The Worst Thing of All Time. Not really. It just seems that way when I’m on the plane.

    • Everywhereist

      You are obviously both insane and adorable. 🙂

  • Molly

    I’m ages late on this post, but I’ve been reading through your more recent entries and having concluded a transatlantic trip just yesterday I am thrilled to see that I am not alone. I can’t sleep while traveling, period. Flights? Forget about it. Hotels? The buzzing of the TV drives me insane. Hostels? Absolutely not.

    This past trip, I didn’t even bother. I watched movies on the flight over until there was about 2.5 hours left in the flight, and just as I started to nod off to an uneasy sleep the flight crew turned on the lights and served breakfast.

    Even worse, we attempted to be cheap on this trip and slept two nights in hostels. The first was in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on a Saturday night (which, yes, was our own damn fault), and I spent five to six dark hours plotting the death of every person who slammed the door in our hall. The second night in Edinburgh was lovely: quiet, comfortable, no crazy assholes running around the halls to wake me up, and I STILL stayed up all night just from the paranoia that someone was going to wake me up! I almost made myself sick, I was so nervous about it.

    Honestly, I need to start employing either (a) drugs or (b) someone who will club me unconscious when I travel.

    Anyway, great post. The prose is hysterical, as usual.

    • Everywhereist

      Molly – thank you so much. Your comments are delightful, and girlfriend, I sympathize. Have you tried Melatonin? I’m not 100% sure it actually works, but the placebo effect is enough to get me a few hours of sleep.

      • Molly

        I haven’t, yet, but I think it’s time I give it a shot.

        Unfortunately, I have also become more and more paranoid about flying of late, which hasn’t helped. As a kid, I felt like flying was a rollercoaster. Now, I spend half the flight with my hands gripping the divider. I’ve had a couple flights recently that have had terrible turbulence, and that has apparently done it for me for flying. Nevermind that I’m a mechanical engineer and used to work on jet engines, and thus completely understand the mechanics of flying and why we’re not going to just fall out of the sky…

        Anyway, I think will be looking into Melatonin for the next trip. Drugs are good.

  • “I’ve worn earplugs to bed, because a sound in the distance, barely above a whisper when it reached me, was too much to endure. And I’ve have trouble falling asleep in the past because the sound of my blood pumping in my own ears was too much for me.”

    I’m late to the game here, but I love this post. I also apparently have super sonic hearing and have resigned myself to not sleeping on planes, hotel rooms, or Friday nights when the people above me are re-arranging furniture. I’ve gone as far as to complain to my husband that he breathes too loud for me to fall asleep (solution – wait to breathe until I fall asleep first).

    Glad I stumbled upon your blog.

  • I’ve tried sleeping pills and shots (at the same time…it was New Years and the toll of midnight was ringing for a solid 8 hours as we flew across the ocean), certain I would be rendered unconscious. Even that did not work for me– glad I am not alone in my horrific inability to sleep, with the exception of a tempur-pedic in a cave.

    PS. Snorers. The devil reincarnated. Sorry, Dad…it’s true.

  • Katie

    shitty airplane wine + 25 mg of diphenhydramine HCI. works a treat.

  • Nadine

    I know this is a late comment and also obnoxious in nature but I sleep like a baby on planes. I hear you on the blinking lights issue and I frequently am driven mad by the sound of my heart beat but a plane, now that that’s one the best sleeps I get. I chalk it up to the fact that my parents took me on long international flights pretty much every two to three months when from infanthood to early childhood. Anyway, if I knew this made me a goddess, I may have gone through life a lot differently. Thanks for the info!

  • Kitty

    I can’t sleep on a plane,even when I had the chance to fly business class with a far more comfortable seat… I just can’t sleep. I can get into a zombie state where I forget where I am but I’m still aware of the lack of blood circulation to my legs and the pain on my butt for being seated for so long. But it seems that I never get to actually sleep, with the exception of long haul flights back home after a ‘commando’ style leisure trip.
    The gentleman on your pic might have been dead 😛 or with some sort of general palsy

  • Can’t sleep either but I have learned to “doze”. Not bad half way point. Bose noise cancelling headphones, a new and fabulous neck holder, 2 melatonin (better than gravol) and … bliss. It’s not sleep but it’s peaceful. Maybe – it’s the human way?

  • There is only one cure for this… drugs! I always keep melatonin and/or Tylenol PM when I travel. Take two while you’re in line to board the plane, and you’ll be out by the time you reach cruising altitude.

    It’s truly magic.

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