Sleeping on an airplane

8 ways airlines are helping you get a good night’s sleep

26. Feb 2020
by Dag Christian Holm

On a plane, sleep is the ultimate luxury. Don’t you envy those people who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat?

Five minutes after take-off, their head leans back, eyelids drop, and they enter the land of slumber, not to return to life until the landing gear descends and arrival is imminent. All the while, you sit there with glazed eyes, a strain in your neck, barely getting a single wink, let alone forty.

In fact, drifting off in the skies is oft-cited as the number one challenge when flying. In order to address this irritating conundrum, airlines are always looking for ways to improve their passengers’ sack time, with a number of sleep-friendly innovations now implemented in modern aircraft cabins.

Here, we take a look at the lengths airlines go to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.

1. Suites
If you really want a good night’s sleep at 30,000 feet, then Etihad’s The Residence is without a doubt your best chance. The three-room luxury suite features a combined living and dining room, a bathroom with shower, and a bedroom with a 208cm (6ft 10) double bed. For a price tag starting at around £12,00 for a one-way trip, The Residence may well be one of the priciest sleeps you ever have, but you are sure to have some ‘suite’ dreams.

Airlines Toplists - 8 ways airlines are helping you get a good night’s sleep
6ft 10′ double bed in Etihad’s The Residence


2. Fully-flat beds and angled lie-flat seats
Probably the most impactful innovation in cabin comfort is the fully-flat bed. First introduced by British Airways in 1995, these coveted seats offer a complete 180 degree recline, allowing passengers to stretch out and drift off in comfort. Reserved for First Class and Business Class cabins, fully-flat beds have become the norm and is offered by most airlines today.

Airlines Toplists - 8 ways airlines are helping you get a good night’s sleep
Fully-flat bed in British Airways First Class


Some airlines, however, offer the slightly less comfortable angled lie-flat seats. These seats, while they also recline to a horizontal position, do so at an angle to the ground. They’re positioned somewhere between 150 and 170 degrees, meaning there’s a slight slope which many passengers find themselves slowly sliding down. While not as comfortable as completely fully-flat beds, they still offer a good opportunity to snooze.

A more recent innovation, Air New Zealand’s ‘Sky Couch’ converts one row of economy seats (three seats) into one cosy bed. The are found on the airline’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner and 777 and have been quite the success since launching in 2011. Given their popularity, they’re a trend that may well catch on. The challenge is however that three Economy Class seats are simply too short for most adults to stretch out, and even four seats are not enough for taller passengers.

3. Mood Lighting
These days, most major airlines now feature LED mood lighting on long-haul flights. Along with setting the ambiance and inducing rest, these lights also offer a number of biological benefits to passengers crossing time-zones. The sophisticated lighting, available on most new aircraft, helps to synchronize passengers’ body clock with the time-zone they are entering, thus reducing jet lag and general weariness upon arrival.

Airlines Toplists - 8 ways airlines are helping you get a good night’s sleep
Airspace by Airbus


The lights have up to 16.7 million settings, from cool tones of dawn or dusk to a warmer daylight. There is also a ‘silver moonlight’ function to imitate a moon-lit sky. The setting used depends on what time your flight takes off and the direction in which you’re flying. An advanced version of the lighting – part of the Airspace by Airbus concept – will appear on the Airbus A330neo late this year.

4. Bedding and sleepwear
While a bed in the skies gives you a great opportunity to get some shuteye, for a truly great night’s rest, quality bedding and nightwear makes all the difference. One airline that goes above and beyond when it comes to making on-board sleeping as comfortable as possible is Emirates, which has recently introduced self-moisturising pyjamas in in First Class.

Airlines Toplists - 8 ways airlines are helping you get a good night’s sleep
Emirates’ Self-moisturising pyjamas


Other innovations in way of bedding include Japan Airlines’ double sided mattress, with one side firm and the other soft, meaning passengers can choose their preference; Virgin Australia’s memory foam mattress; and United Airline’s custom-designed bedding on board its new Polaris Business Class, for which it has worked with leading luxury specialty store Saks Fifth Avenue to offer plush duvets, lightweight day-blankets, a large and small pillow, slippers, pyjamas, as well as eyeshades and earplugs from Soho House & Co.’s Cowshed Spa.

5. Temperature and humidity
Our circadian rhythms are also influenced by temperature. In light of this, Lufthansa has installed humidifiers in the first-class cabin of its newer Airbus A380s. This increase the relative humidity of the cabin to around 25%. CTT Systems, the Swedish manufacturer of the technology, says it promises to “improve sleep, reduce jet lag and tiredness, and alleviate dehydration of the eyes, skin, and linings of the mouth and nose.”

6. Noise-Cancelling Headphones
One of the biggest challenges when trying to doze on a plane is usually the noise. Whether it’s the baby screaming behind you or the boisterous bachelor party up ahead, the vibrant atmosphere of a commercial flight is far from conducive to sleep. A number of airlines, however, have taken note and are now providing passengers with noise-cancelling headphones in order to shut out the world around them. Among them are Virgin Australia (in First, Business and Premium Economy), Etihad (across all classes), and Singapore Airlines (in First, Business and Premium Economy).

Airlines Toplists - 8 ways airlines are helping you get a good night’s sleep
Singapore Airlines offer noise-cancelling headphones


7. In-flight Meditation
Inflight entertainment systems are no longer just for watching movies back to back. Presently, with the growing trend in wellness, and particularly mindfulness, several airlines have introduced relaxation promoting content. Virgin Atlantic, Delta and British Airways all offer on-board mediation videos that provide instruction on how to calm the mind and body when flying.

8. Dining on Demand
Another recent feature being introduced in some airlines’ premium cabins is the option to decide when your meal is served. By dictating when they eat, passengers are able to time their meals in accordance to when they want to sleep. The result; no more trying to sleep through meal service or forcing yourself to stay awake in order to not miss a meal. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar are early adopters of the service, with British Airways rumored to be considering it for its Club World business class,

If these innovative attempts to induce drowsiness still fail, here’s a few extra tips that might help:

1. Try to go to sleep and get up at the same time everyday
2. Get as much natural sunlight as possible
3. Exercise intensely during the day
4. If in an erect seat, head support is paramount i.e. use a neck pillow
5. Take off your shoes (but make sure to be wearing clean socks)
6. Select your seat wisely (away from the galley or restrooms)
7. Stay relaxed, hydrated, and avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and heavy meals

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