Snooze Control

I had fun doing this one. The product is still going strong, I hear.

Snooze Control

Here’s some help for sleep-deprived frequent fliers. The 1st Class Sleeper claims to turn your cramped cattle-class seat into the lap of luxury with a few quick breaths. Just ignore the funny looks you get

By Jeremy Wagstaff

Issue cover-dated October 14, 2004

IF YOU’VE EVER had problems sleeping on a flight, let me introduce you to Bob Duncan, a formerly sleep-deprived Alaskan Airlines pilot and reluctant inventor.

After six years of commuting between home in Washington state and his flying base at Anchorage, he was arriving home too exhausted to play with the kids or sustain a conversation with his wife. Things were tense at home. You’d think that pilots would know how to sleep on aircraft, but Bob found otherwise: “The first 15 minutes of a flight was the only time I could ever sleep because the airliner would be climbing,” he says. “This would allow my head to lay back and stay back. When the flight levelled off, my head would flop forward and sleep would be over.” Sound familiar?

Bob tried every position and every accessory to get more sleep: Once he took 27 pillows and formed them into a mattress which he placed across three seats. Then he tried stuffing 11 pillows behind his lower back. This was the Eureka moment. With his hips pushed forward, he could straighten his legs. With the seat belt stopping him sliding, his legs relaxed. “The next thing I knew, it was two hours later. I missed the meal, the drinks, everything,” he recalls. Worried it was just a one-off, he tried it on his next commute, but he had problems finding more than a few pillows. He needed something he could bring with him.

From the local Kmart he bought a child’s orange inflatable life-vest. He stuffed it with two of his children’s purple rubber balls and wrapped the whole thing in duct tape. It seemed to work. Now all he needed to do was to make something that would deflate when he didn’t need it. He tried out different materials, settling on urethane-backed nylon–the same material used in scuba suits–welded together using the same process as life-rafts. Voila: The 1st Class Sleeper ($50 from http://www.1stclasssleeper.com). A smart, neat solution, but I wasn’t going to be convinced until I’d tried it out.

Bearing in mind all the odd looks Bob Duncan had endured during his experiments, I turned up at the airport prepared. I was flying from Jakarta to Melbourne and realized I wasn’t going to be able to do this on my first go if I was wedged between fellow-passengers scrutinizing my every move. “I’m a technology columnist and I have this inflatable device I want to try out on the flight,” I was going to tell the check-in clerk, but fortunately it wasn’t necessary. With an expression that said nothing and everything, she blocked me off a whole row.

Once the flight was settled, I removed the sleeper from its blue bag. It’s just a flat pile of rubber with an air-hole, about the size of a bolster or large cushion, and the temptation is to blow into it until it’s inflated like a Lilo or inflatable bed. Don’t. The idea is to let it fill in the gaps between you and the seat, so that you can lie straight, head to toe.

So, a few firm breaths are enough to get you going. You then put the Sleeper behind you in the seat so the top is about level with the headrest. You should sit as far forward on the seat as you can without falling off or damaging yourself. Then strap yourself in tightly over the hips. Then, keeping your behind in position, just allow your upper body to lie back.

That’s when you start to figure out you’re on to something: Instead of the usual gap between your back and the seat, a soft cushion of air welcomes you. Your head rests on a special spot at the top of the Sleeper device (usefully marked “place your head here”). You may need to adjust it a little by yanking the Sleeper up a little higher, or blowing a bit more air into it so you get good support for your back. That’s pretty much it. Now you should look like a very straight person resting atop a blue cushion of air, your legs out in front of you, appearing to all the world like a piece of timber.

I wish I could report back that I was in seventh heaven for the whole flight. However, this approach requires ditching a few old habits. One is moving around as you sleep: With the Sleeper it’s best to get comfortable and then stay there. I had some problems with this, and found myself several times during the night sleeping sideways, alternately wrestling the Sleeper and cuddling it, depending on the kind of dream I was having. None of this buttressed my credibility as a sane fellow passenger.

Getting the optimal air content into the Sleeper was also something I didn’t really want to play with. Blowing air into something in the middle of a night flight is going to get you funny looks. Then there’s letting air out: The device makes a quiet, but noticeable, whistling sound which could unnerve anyone of a nervous disposition.

Eventually, when I did get the hang of things, I hit a limitation that Bob Duncan can’t really help with: my height. I’m a little over six feet (1.8 metres) tall, and so in a correct prone position as suggested in the manual, my toes dangle over the luggage bar of the seat in front and inevitably perform what Bob tells me is officially termed “footsie” with the passenger in front of me. This caused both of us some surprise: Me because when I went to sleep there was no one sitting in front of me, and her because she had probably already seen enough inflating and deflating to want some distance between us.

All this would require some practice, but there’s no question that once you’re used to it, the Sleeper is an excellent solution to the problem of trying to sleep in economy-class travel. And if people give you weird looks, ask them how much sleep they got.



  1. Hi bobduncan
    Like your idea but hey,sold any?.I got one for you
    The Snooze Control
    Lets communicate
    Hoo Roo

  2. i find i sleep better on planes, im not saying i get there in good condition, often im dehydrated etc, but i do sleep well on planes

    Luke Slomka

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