The following article was authored by Joe Curry. Acknowledgements: Updesh Kapur and Supply Management 9th. September 2004 Penny Haw and Business Day.
BRITISH Airways (BA) recently upped its stakes in what has been dubbed the "battle of the beds" with the appointment of a former chairman of the British Sleep Society and current director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service in Edinburgh, Dr Chris Idzikowski, as the airline industry's first doctor of sleep.
Flat beds are becoming increasingly common -- and lavish -- for long-haul flights in business and first class. Last year Skytrax announced that South African Airways had the best flat-bed seat in business class.
Shortly thereafter, Virgin Atlantic fitted four pairs of double suites into two of its Boeing 747-400 aircraft.
Most recently BA responded by calling in a specialist to potentially make the dream of sleep come true for travellers in both premium and coach classes.
"We know that one of the most important things for our business customers is being able to sleep during their flight," says BA commercial director Martin George.
Idzikowski has been tasked with researching the habits of BA travellers. His report will examine what air travellers can do to aid sleep; how they can train themselves for sleep; differences between east-west and west-east flying; most effective positions for sleeping; and how to overcome jet-lag at the right pace.
While flat beds provide an extra two hours' sleep, Idzikowski says there are other methods of improving the chances of napping on board.
To begin with, do not eat too much, avoid alcohol, drink plenty of water and walk around a bit before trying to sleep.
The rule of thumb for nodding off, he believes, is to try to recreate the conditions for sleep that you enjoy at home.
If your normal bedtime routine is to brush your teeth, wash your face, and then read for a few minutes before retiring at home, do it on the plane too.
"Another trick is to use a familiar perfume or scent that you have on your pillow and rub this on your hand on the plane.
"You should also cover your eyes -- you can control your biological clock to some degree by avoiding light -- and dull noise by wearing earplugs or a pair of the very effective noise-reducing headphones that are currently available."
Idzikowski's work with insomniacs (he is the author of the book Beating Insomnia) has involved abdominal breathing exercises and visualisation.
"Breathing exercises and meditation are among the practices of yoga. While yoga is ultimately aimed at a spiritual level and I am scientifically grounded, I am interested in the techniques and their possible influence on sleep at 30000 feet (10000m)," he says.
There are, he believes, various potential benefits of looking into the processes of yoga as a solution for achieving sleep in flight: "Deep breathing and stretches could help prevent clotting, stretching would also keep the joints flexible, while controlled breathing and inward focusing could help mask external disturbances such a cabin noises and light."
Sleeplessness is an issue of concern for South African travellers, says founding chairwoman of the Sleep Society of SA and governing council member of the World Association of Sleep Medicine Dr Alison Bentley.
"Most international flights from SA are long and many go across time zones," she says.
"There is (as yet) no dedicated sleep service from which travellers can get information and BA's research may prove useful to us."
Bentley has some additional advice for travellers seeking sleep on board.
She recommends that you go to sleep a little later than normal to increase your chances of falling asleep. Having less than adequate sleep the night before can also help improve the chances of falling sleep on the plane. Get as comfortable as possible by using a blow-up travel pillow that fits around your neck.
"Many people use sleeping tablets and they can be helpful," Bentley says. "(Provided) they are only used for one night, there is no risk of becoming dependent or tolerant. Take care though to use the correct one. It should be quite strong, but short acting (less than eight hours). This medication is only available on script from a doctor. Tablets obtained over the counter are too long acting and will leave you feeling groggy the next day."
Bentley cautions if you are going to try a sleeping tablet on a flight for the first time, take one a few days before flying to see how your body reacts: "If you are going to react badly, do it at home rather than at 11000m."