The Consummate Traveler: Airplanes and Sleeping Pills

April 10, 2014 Updated: April 10, 2014

Timing is everything, so the old saying goes. This is especially true when it comes to traveling. It’s critical to make sure you get to the airport on time, and have enough room in your schedule for long security lines and reaching faraway gates. Timing is also very critical when it comes to taking a sleeping pill or medication that makes you drowsy while en route.

A few days ago, I met up with my colleagues at the airport and boarded our 10 p.m. flight to Brazil. Everything seemed to be business-as-usual as we settled into our seats. Drinks and newspapers were passed around in business class; menus for the dinner ahead were discussed. Then, the captain came on and explained that we had an electrical issue. After an hour delay, it was determined that the problem was a “no go” and we had to get off of the airplane while the mechanics attempted to fix the problem. We would have to wait at least two hours to see if we could fly out that night.

After disembarking, I met up with my colleagues and chatted about what to do next. This is when I happened to look over at one of my co-workers and noticed that her eyes seemed to be quite heavy. She confessed that she had already taken a dose of cold medicine on the plane and was starting to fall asleep. What? We had to stay up at least for another two hours to find out what was going to happen!

Although she did manage to stay awake, and we did eventually fly out at 1:30 a.m., rule number one with any type of medication or sleeping aid—particularly if you are traveling alone—is to wait until the wheels are up before you pop anything into your mouth. If you are already sound asleep before take-off and something unexpected happens, you will be helpless and may pose a safety issue for yourself and the flight crew. After all, who will move you and where will they put you?

Another “sleeping pill gone wrong” story I heard from a colleague of mine was that on a long flight to Asia, someone started sleep walking in the business class cabin. He kept getting out of his seat and wandering around, disrupting the other passengers. This person apparently was experiencing a well-known side effect from a popular sleeping aid. Rule number two is that you must try out any sleeping pills or medicine before the day of your flight to see how your body reacts. You may need to experiment with lower doses, or to try out different brands in order to find something that works for you, and not to mention everyone else around you.

My final piece of advice is that no one should ever mix pills of any sort and alcohol together while on an airplane (or anywhere else for that matter). I have heard some individuals talk about the effectiveness of this combination to help them sleep, but it is very dangerous and can pose serious health risks.

As for me, I do not sleep on flights. I use it as my own personal quiet time to read or listen to soothing music. I also never take any sleeping pills. Although I am tired when I arrive, my strategy is to take a nap when I reach my hotel. By the next day I am typically adjusted to my new time zone and did so 100 percent au natural.

As always, I wish you all the happiest of travels!