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The Worst Way You're Sleeping on an Airplane, Experts Warn

Avoid doing this the next time you're getting some shuteye on your flight.

It doesn't matter if it's a quick skip or a long haul: many people use flights as a way to get in a bit of shuteye. After all, if you haven't packed the right reading material, it could be a better use of your time than watching a movie you're only half interested in—or even worse, overindulging in cocktails. But if you're planning on sleeping on an airplane, experts warn there's one thing you should never do while getting your forty winks. Read on to see what you should avoid during any mid-flight nap.

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Experts warn never to lean on the window or hull when sleeping on an airplane.

Man sleeping on plane

Travelers in the know will often book themselves a window seat on any flight they know they'll be sleeping on, if only because it helps avoiding to have to get up anytime a passenger needs to get to the aisle. Others also prefer it for how comfortable it can be to snooze while resting against the body of the aircraft. But according to Linda Ferguson, a flight attendant with 24 years of experience, you should resist the urge to rest your head against the window or hull while sleeping on an airplane because it very rarely gets cleaned, she told Reader's Digest.

Passengers often cough and sneeze on the window, making it particularly germy.

People sleeping on an airplane.

According to Ferguson, while windows provide plenty of views as well as a potential pillow, they also happen to catch the coughs and sneezes of passengers who sit by them. "I see plenty of people carry Lysol wipes with them that will wipe the area around their seat. If there was a backlight and they could light up a plane with all the germs, I think it would petrify everybody," Ferguson told Reader's Digest. "My rule of thumb, and I never get sick, is I never put my hands in my mouth or near my face."

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Experts also warn sleeping on your tray table is equally gross.

tray table airplane

Unfortunately, it's not just the windows that provide a nasty surface for sleeping. Ferguson also warns that using your tray table as a pillow is equally disgusting. In fact, one study found them to be the single dirtiest place on a plane with 2,155 bacteria colony-forming units (CFU) per square inch—which is eight times higher than the toilet flush button in the lavatory, Forbes reported.

"Those tray tables are used for all kinds of things," says Ferguson. "During flights, I've seen parents changing babies on top of tray tables. I've seen people put their bare feet on top of tray tables."

Shorter flights are likelier to be dirtier than longer ones, flight attendants warn.

cleaning staff in the background cleaning the inside of an airplane

While Ferguson says it can never hurt to bring along your own cleaning supplies, the type of flight you're taking might provide a clue as to how dirty the cabin could be. "If you're flying short-haul, definitely bring antibac wipes or sanitizer," one flight attendant said on Reddit, according to The Sun. "A lot of airlines will have the crew 'turnaround' the plane, meaning they pick up your rubbish, fold your seatbelt over, file your magazines in the seat pocket, and then welcome new passengers."

But even sanitizing the area around your seat still leaves plenty of other areas on the plane teeming with germs, including air vents, seatback pockets, lavatories, and headrests. In this case, personal hygiene can be the best way to tackle the situation. "It's another reminder to wash our hands," William Schaffner, MD, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, told Today.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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