Once upon a flight: how sleep stories are changing how we fly

Frequent fliers know just how hard it can be to fall asleep on an airplane. The noise of the engines, frequent service interruptions, and getting comfy in an airline seat can all make restful sleep on long haul flights unrealistic. 

But if you’re crossing time zones or missing a whole night of sleep, catching a few hours of rest can make the difference between arriving bright-eyed or stumbling into arrivals like a zombie.

In fact, falling and staying asleep onboard could be your secret weapon. Getting some shut-eye can help business travelers to function better at meetings and feel alert and in control, and holidaymakers can start their trip right away without losing any time underneath the hotel duvet.

So how can you maximise the chances of sleeping during your flight? Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouses can help you relax ahead of a long flight (a dram of whiskey should do the trick), while using the eye-mask provided in your amenity kits should block out the worst of the light when crossing timezones. Virgin Atlantic has also partnered with Headspace, a meditation service that also has a series of exercises to help you drop off more quickly.

Failing that, along with your sleep pillow, blanket, and eye-mask make sure you pack a digital stack of sleep stories in your carry on to guarantee you drop off quickly.

What’s a sleep story?

Just like small children, adults can also benefit from a relaxing bedtime story. Meditation and relaxation apps like Headspace or Calm, have started to introduce sleep stories as a way for adults to destress before bed. The stories chosen are descriptive and interesting but are narrated, often by celebrities, in a slow pace that makes you feel instantly at ease. Stephen Fry’s performance of “Blue Gold” on the Calm app is about the lavender fields of Provence and is hypnotically smooth.

Why do they work?

Stories are chosen or created especially as sleep stories for their ability to transport the listener to a place of calm serenity. They help you to unwind and power-down naturally. Most sleep stories are travel narratives, which makes them a perfect choice when you are setting out on your own journey. Combined with calming sound effects the narrator's voice becomes slower and slower carrying you on a soothing and comforting voyage towards sleep.

Sleep stories last around 25 to 45 minutes, and are intended to make the listener fall asleep before the end.

One of the reasons sleep stories are so effective is that they become part of a predictable nightly routine. If you always do the same things before bed, in the same order, these actions prepare your mind for what comes next, a good night's sleep. Even if you are far from home the repetitive action of listening to a story before you go to bed will coach your brain into the right soothing mind space for sleep.

The narrative of a sleep journey also acts as a meditative activity. It's a visualisation practice where you are being told you are relaxed until you become so. Meditation has been shown to help you to fall asleep quicker and lead to better quality sleep.

Why are sleep stories so beneficial for travellers?

It can be particularly challenging to fall asleep when travelling for a number of reasons. Settling down for a good night's sleep represents a period of transition. The day is over, worries and responsibilities are put to the side as you focus solely on preparing for sleep. But travel, for many people, is inherently stressful which isn’t conducive to the soothing mind space you need to arrive at just before you doze off.

When you fly, you are also literally in motion, you are busy, you are in transit. It can be hard to turn the mind off from what lies ahead at our destination, whether that is excitement for your vacation to begin or apprehension for a presentation you are about to deliver.

There's also all the administrative and bureaucratic business of filling in visas and locating your travel documents, as well as navigating the airport and finding your transport. It’s no wonder that people can find it difficult to turn off and relax.

Noises on board from small children struggling with the change in air pressure to the normal sounds of service and the aircraft operating can also make it difficult to drift off.

So, on your next flight invest in headphones with noise cancelling technology, choose a sleep story, and use the journey time to catch up on your dreaming. You’ll arrive at your destination rested and ready for whatever comes your way.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.


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