Sleeping

Sleeping on airplanes

Some people have no trouble falling asleep on airplanes.

“They sit down, close the window shade and immediately go to sleep. It doesn’t look like they need any help at all,” said Carol Landis, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle who researches sleep and the health consequences of disturbed sleep.

Others just stay awake on airplanes no matter what. “Maybe it’s because of an underlying anxiety about the reason for the trip, or about flying, or because they’re trying to sleep sitting up rather than lying down,” said Landis.

But squeezing in even a short in-flight cat nap can make a big difference in your trip. “You’ll feel like a new person when you wake up,” said Sara C. Mednick, author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life” and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. “All studies show the more you sleep, the better.”

But how can you catch those 40 winks while squeezed in a metal tube going more than 400 mph?

Landis and Mednick agree on the basics.

“Don’t drink caffeinated coffee, tea, soda or eat chocolate or anything else with caffeine for six to eight hours before a flight and during it,” said Landis. Bring along earplugs and an eyeshade to block out light and sound. And pack a pillow and a blanket. “Your body temperature drops when you sleep,” said Mednick, “so being sufficiently warm is important.”

Thinking of taking a sleeping pill? Think twice. “We usually discourage sleeping medications,” said Dr. Flavia Consens, an associate professor at the University of Washington in the departments of neurology and anesthesiology and pain medicine who is a specialist in sleep medicine. “There’s less oxygen while you’re flying, and these medications lessen your drive to breathe. There’s also a concern that when travelers take these pills they don’t move around, and on a long flight, that increases the chances of DVT or deep vein thrombosis,” the formation of blood clots known sometimes as economy class syndrome.

To help passengers snooze, some airlines offer a variety of onboard sleep aids, including mood lighting, “do not disturb” stickers and other amenities.

“Right now the industry standard in long-haul business class is seats that can be turned into horizontal beds,” said Raymond Kollau, founder of airlinetrends.com. “And for some economy class fliers, Air New Zealand offers the ‘Skycouch,’ which is three standard economy seats which can be changed into a single horizontal space.”

On late night departures, All Nippon Airways (ANA) hands out ‘Sleep Support Kits’ that include aromatherapy cards (‘Relax’ and ‘Refresh’) that emit a lavender or an ‘ANA Original Aroma’ scent when a small button is pressed. “And British Airways offers sleep advice podcasts from sleep expert Chris Idzikowski, aka Dr. Sleep, on its in-flight entertainment system and on its website,” said Kollau.
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Podcasts and other audio programs that may help you sleep might soon be a regular feature on other airline entertainment systems as well. At the recent Airline Passenger Experience Association conference in Seattle, IFE Services announced that it is now the exclusive seller of the pzizz sleep system to airlines. The software application creates audio soundtracks that promise to either induce a power nap of between 10 and 90 minutes or a deep sleep of up to 10 hours.

If the program is offered for free, it can’t hurt to give it a try, but sleep experts say you’d be better off spending your money on an upgrade instead of a pre-recorded program.

“There’s no research that shows these special programs work,” said Mednick. “There’s music you learn to listen to that might help you sleep, but there’s no music that’s a sleep inducer.”

Instead, Mednick suggests bringing some of your sleep rituals from home with you onto the airplane. “Brush your teeth, change your clothes, and get into something that resembles pajamas. We are creatures of habit, so if you can create or simulate the sleep habits you have at home, the more your body will respond.”

(This originally appeared on msnbc.com Travel’s Overhead Bin)

Coming soon – if you’re lucky – to an airport near you

My At the Airport column for USAToday.com this month, Coming soon – if you’re lucky – to an airport near you, features some of the new amenities I saw on exhibit in Philadelphia at the recent conference of Airports Council International – North America, or ACI-NA.

Airport chairs

During the conference, workshops were offered on everything from saving energy to dealing with security threats and how to get more passengers to “follow” airports on Twitter.  But the real fun was on the exhibition hall floor. There, vendors displayed everything from the latest in airport seating (cup holders and USB plugs, thankfully, seem to be the next big thing) to new, high-tech machinery for shooing wildlife off runways.  But here are the amenities I found most intriguing.

Napping nooks

Last year, Minute Suites debuted “sleep rooms” at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Concourse B, next to Gate B15).  Each room has a day bed, work desk, complimentary Wi-Fi, a 32” HDTV, and sound masking system tools. The company is opening another branch at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) in March 2011, and is in talks with at least three other airports for more.

Minute Suites

Minute Suites airport sleep room

Unique Retreat, another company making napping nooks, should be opening its first branch at San Francisco International Airport before the end of the year in the International Terminal, Boarding Area A.

Cigar lounges

Bahamas-based Graycliff cigars opened boutiques with specially-ventilated cigar lounges attached at Nassau International Airport last November and at Nashville International Airport in March.

Graycliff cigar lounge at Nashville Airport

Each lounge has an admission fee ($10 in Nassau; $4 in Nashville) and Graycliff reps say they’re exploring setting up this type of smoking lounge at other airports as well.

Eat, buy, play

The Food Network is bidding on several airport locations for themed restaurants that will be called Food Network Kitchens.  And ZoomSystems, which makes those oversized airport vending machines (officially: “automated shops”) to sell products from Best Buy, The Body Shop, Sephora and other retailers will soon be installing airport ZoomShops to dispense apparel associated with a major sport.

Skip the cellphone lot; park at the plaza

“Cell phone lots on steroids” is how the folks at Airport Plazas are marketing the service centers they’re planning to build  on airport properties but separate from the terminals. Patterned after highway plazas offering fuel and food, these 24-hour service centers might have amenities ranging from a gas station, a food court, a car wash and a convenience store to free Wi-Fi, a pet hotel, a pharmacy and a bank.

The company opened its first airport plaza recently at Newark Liberty International Airport. There, amenities include an environmentally-friendly gas station, a dual-bay car wash, a service station bay and a 7-Eleven convenience store.

Future airport plazas are planned for New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Southwest Florida International Airport (Fort Myers) and Utah’s, St. George Municipal Airport.

Sound promising?  What should they work on next?

Do shrunken heads snore? Sleepovers at museums & attractions

If you’re curious about what happens in museums, zoos, aquariums and offbeat attractions after hours you’re in luck.  For a slide show on Bing Travel – Critter Campouts – I found plenty of places where you can camp with critters, sleep with fishes and dream with dinosaurs.

(Courtesy Georgia Aquarium)

Since then, I’ve found even more. For example, it turns out you and your friends can spend the night at the Titan Missle Museum in Sahuarita, Arizona.

(Courtesy Arizona Aerospace Foundation)

For the Bing Critter Campouts show, I was able to squeeze in 11 sleepover sites.  Some of them are just for kids. A few set aside a few nights for adults-only overnights. But most are open to families, making them an unusual alternative to at least one night in a hotel during a vacation.

Here are just two of my favorites:

Do shrunken heads snore? Do two-headed taxidermy cows moo in their sleep?

Brave souls can find out during a night inside Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Extreme Sleepover at the Times Square Odditorium in New York or at the Bedtime with the Bizarre overnights at Ripley’s outlets in Williamsburg, VA, Gatlinburg, TN, Grand Prairie, TX and several other locations. Make it to morning and you’ll get to take home a “Survivor” certificate.

And on June 30th, after the San Francisco Giants play the LA Dodgers at AT&T Park, 400 fans will get to race into the outfield to pitch tents for the 8th annual San Francisco Giants Slumber Party.

Evening activities include baseball, of course, as well as movies, peanuts, popcorn and pizza, games, goody bags, photos on the field and a chance to get autographs from former baseball stars.

For more surprising sleepovers, see my Critter Campouts slide show on Bing Travel.

Flushing out the truth about travel legends

From getting stuck-by-suction on an airplane toilet seat to discovering that your credit card number is stored on your hotel key car or that the strange smell in a motel room is a dead body entombed under your box spring, there are some strange and spooky stories circulating in the world of travel.

Are they true? Some are.  But which ones?

In Travel legends: Separating fact from fiction, my column on msnbc.com this week, experts help flush out the truth.

For example:

Is it possible to get stuck to the seat of an airline toilet if you flush while seated?

This one has been swirling around for years, fueled by a widely distributed “news” story involving an SAS incident that turned out to be a hoax.

Regardless, we asked Paul DeYoung, a physics professor who runs the online “Ask a Physicist” column at Hope College in Holland, Mich., if it could happen. “While an airplane toilet really does use vacuum to suck the material out,” he doesn’t believe that anyone’s bottom would make a perfect seal and “if there is any gap at all, you don’t get stuck.”

But it’s possible. “Technically, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes spokesperson Tom Brabant. “It has happened in rare cases.”

Bottom line: DeYoung and Brabant encourage travelers to play it safe by making sure to stand up before flushing the toilet in an airplane lavatory. In fact, when Boeing’s new Dreamliner 787 jets start flying, flushing while standing will be your only option: lavatories on these planes have touchless flush mechanisms that automatically put down the lid before flushing the toilet.

TOO MANY BEDMATES

What they say:

Guests staying in foul-smelling hotel rooms have discovered dead bodies underneath the bed or hidden inside the bed frame.

The truth?

Sadly, it’s true. In March, police in Memphis, Tenn., found the body of a woman missing for two months stuffed inside a motel bed frame. The woman had stayed in the room when she was alive, but it was cleaned and rented out several times after her disappearance.

Snopes.com, the go-to site for getting the skinny on “urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors and misinformation,” has long list of documented incidents like this reaching back to the 1980s.

Want to find out the truth about personal information stored on hotel room keys and other travel legends going around?  Read the full column – Travel legends: Separating fact from fiction – on msnbc.com.

And if you’re curious about the veracity of other travel legends, send them along; we’ll ask the experts for advice and let you know.

Tidbits for travelers: YVR’s Olympic rings & Air New Zealand’s Skycouches

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics kick off in just a few weeks and Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is getting ready to welcome more than 230,000 athletes and Olympics-bound visitors. Actually, the airport has been sprucing up for quite a while. In addition to its swanky new Observation Gallery, the airport has had these giant Olympic rings on site since last spring.

The installation is almost 46 feet tall, weighs more than 9,000 pounds and has 20,385 individual LED lights. Here’s a video that shows the installation process and some of the colored-patterns that can light up the sky.

In other shiny news, the folks at Air New Zealand unveiled their “Skycouch” today. It’s a specially designed row of three seats that can transform into a flat space suitable for stretching out and sleeping.  That is of course, if you’re not too tall, you don’t mind snuggling up with your seatmate, and you have purchased the entire row.  (The airline says it will sell you third seat at a discount if you’ve purchased the other two).

(Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)

Twenty-two sets of Skycouch seats will be available on Air New Zealand’s new Boeing 777-300 ER planes, which will arrive in November.

And since this is the airline that sponsored a recent Matchmaking flight and created an adorable “nearly naked” commercial and safety video, I fully expect the airline to offer a program to find travelers the perfect snuggle-mate for these flights.

Otherwise- why bother?

Along with the Skycouch and other new amenities, the airline also introduced upgrades for the Premium Economy cabin, including the cool-looking “Spaceseats” you can see in the airline’s promo video.

So what do you think? “Groundbreaking” or just really darn cool?