Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Don't expect real sleep on planes and trains, drowsy travelers

September 28, 2011 - 03:28 PM
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Sweet dreams. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Devastating news now confirms what we've all likely felt in our heart of hearts — no traveler is able to get truly restful sleep on planes and trains.

The New York Times'  Frugal Traveler blog dissects the notion that we can ever sleep easy when sitting upright in transit:

As we get deeper and deeper into sleep, he said, our muscles become more and more relaxed. That means it’s impossible to sleep well while sitting up because our neck muscles have to keep working. What about a neck pillow? “It’s the right idea, but most are poorly constructed,” he said.

Traveling next to someone willing to let you rest your head on his or her shoulder is a big help, as is a window seat that allows you to lean on the side of the plane. I usually travel alone, so the first bit doesn’t help, and I’m reluctant to take a window seat because if I can’t sleep (the usual state of things) I’ll have to choose between waking the person next to me to get out and wander, or going stir-crazy in my little corner.

Sleeping pills, Dr. Ellenbogen said, aren’t a magic solution either.

Sorry to shatter your dreams, D.C. commuters. I've seen you out there. You're legion — the Metro riders who think they can curl up on those plastic seats and enjoy some shut-eye.

The same principles of this post likely apply to any form of transit — sleeping in cars, sleeping in trains, sleeping in planes.

I've never been much of a transit sleeper myself. While I've closed my eyes for a few seconds when feeling phenomenally tired on the Metro, I've never fallen into blissful sleep ever, I don't believe. Cars, yes. Planes, yes. And as the Times suggests, it's always the sleep of the fitful. Half-awake, half-asleep, all zombie. The doctor in the post above speaks of what a "sensory overload" being on a plane is and the obstacle to sleeping that poses. He's right, of course, but I can't imagine a plane's sensory overload is less than a Metro train's. People are quiet enough on the D.C. Metro but there's always countless jostling, train operator announcements, stops and starts, and all that.

And besides, sleeping on a train requires you to trust your fellow riders around you not to mess with you. That's a high level of trust, in my estimation.

The real solution? Probably some seat sprawling ... but that's just bold and sloppy. What people have you observed sleeping on the Metro? Do you let yourself slumber on the way home after a long day?

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