Getting to sleep on a long international flight can be a bit of a challenge. You would think a long overnight sector would be ripe for the sleeping. Departing at night with an early morning arrival means flying through the darkness, perfect for sleeping. The holy grail of these flights is to get into the air and sleep the entire flight away.

I find that sleep is pretty difficult to come by on some flights. The only time I remember sleeping well in economy class was on a midnight departure from Honolulu to Auckland operated by a United Airlines Boeing 747-122, where I had both seats beside me free. On that flight I laid down and slept during the climb and woke during descent. Perfect!

Sleep Stoppers On Board

There are a number of sleep stoppers when you’re flying and I imagine you have experienced one or more of these. All of them are a little bit annoying and are things that could actually be avoided.

Hot Cabins

The worst one for me is a hot cabin. Nothing is worse than trying to sleep when it feels like you are baking in the Sahara desert. A high temperature coupled with dry air makes for a terrible sleep. Cabins should be cool as it is cooler at night time when you usually sleep and blankets are provided for people who need them.

Noisy Galleys

Galley noise is a big one. The person who designs a galley that is free from clatters, clacks and crashes at all hours of the night will have my eternal gratitude. These sounds are quite disturbing even with ear plugs in. There is not much the crew can do about it but galley manufacturers should take heed.


Any kind of light is also quite disruptive. Movement of the light from the television screens is often noticeable. When seated near the galley, light leaking into the cabin through the usually inadequate curtains is irritating. Double curtains as found on some services make a big difference here.


Other passengers are the final great disturbance. Have you ever had a snorer on an Airbus A380? Due to the fact the aircraft is so quiet on the inside, a good snorer will have their sound reverberating throughout the cabin all night. There is also the heavy footed person who walks past and causes all the seats to move about like being on a fairground ride. Step quietly, Sir Portly!

Overall Thoughts

There appears to be nothing left for me but to take sleeping pills. People I know swear by them but I never feel the need to go down that route. It just seems to be a bit too extreme!

Of course, flying in business class generally means it’s far easier to sleep, but some people can’t afford that all the time. Sitting bolt upright doesn’t do it for me, but I envy those who seem to saw away at the Zs for hours during flight while I shift around trying to get more comfortable.

Do you have any tips that might help me sleep on long flights in economy class? Do you have any other bug bears to add to the list of things that stop you sleeping? Thanks for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Air New Zealand.