Metatalktail Hour: the clouds and the stars to read March 18, 2023 3:23 AM   Subscribe

Happy weekend, friends. This week I'm dreaming and remembering about ... sleeping. Dreaming of this berth and this pull down blind, rocking away in a sleeping car, or in a cabin on the sea, rolled by the swell of waves and the water's lullaby. So for today's metatalktails, we have this bottle of German wine to drink and I have to ask you: Better sleeping on a train, or sleeping on a ship / boat?

Or other method of transport? Sleeping while being gently propelled to your destination — what is sweetest?

OR just tell us what's up with you, what you've been doing or plan to do, what's good. Just no politics, please!
posted by taz (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 3:23 AM (29 comments total)

I am unable to sleep in transit, which is aggravating when on a night flight.

This week, I had an eponysterical moment at the Bronte Parsonage Museum when, while reading correspondence, I came across the real Thomas J. Wise. (As TJW was, besides being a well-known bibliographer and collector, also a crook, having him put in an appearance is always a RED ALERT RED ALERT moment.)
posted by thomas j wise at 5:21 AM on March 18, 2023 [4 favorites]

although I can sleep on a train, I don't find it comfortable. I've never taken an overnight with beds and stuff, so only in the train seats. However, some of the BEST naps have happened while nestled down in a sail (usually the jib og genoa) on the prow of a sailboat. Just the combination of the wind, sun, sounds, and tiredness knocks me out immediately and relaxes me like nothing else.
posted by alchemist at 5:29 AM on March 18, 2023

I am unable to sleep in transit, which is aggravating when on a night flight.

It’s hit and miss with me on planes: seventeen years ago today I flew across an ocean to Frankfurt, then dizzy with fatigue, spent the ensuing several hours on a series of four trains to reach Luxembourg. Why our company’s travel agent could not locate a closer airport to my destination was a mystery.

I have travelled coast to coast in Canada by train and I sleep just fine on those. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of my young adulthood was taking the overnight train from Toronto to Montreal, long discontinued now.

Boats are the least common of the three for me to sleep on, but I do recall snoozing across the Irish Sea once or twice at least, and a sporadic sweet babboo of mine lived on a moored sailboat for a while.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:48 AM on March 18, 2023

The only time I've slept on either a train or a boat is that one time in Grade 8 when I got so seasick on a whale watching cruise that I made myself try to nap in the cabin. It didn't go very well.

However, those summer nights at Grandma's cabin on the lake, with the gentle sound of the waves lapping on the beach, gave me some of the best sleep of my life.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:37 AM on March 18, 2023 [1 favorite]

This is a sleep story, but not a transport story:

My apartment is on the ground floor, facing out into the back yard of my building. That back yard butts up against other building's back yards. And someone on the ground floor of those other back yards has a small deck which they've strewn with Christmas Tree lights; when the lights are on, sometimes they shine into my window, although not in an obstructive way; I have light-filtering blinds, and that's enough.

On occasion I hear them having parties out back; I just sort of deal with it, it's kind of the price of doing business if you want to live in a major city. Also, they usually stick to the weekends and wrap things up in enough time for me to get to sleep (or they keep things at a dull enough roar that I drop off anyway). They were having one such party this Thursday night; the lights were on, and I could hear people talking and laughing. I managed to drop off anyway at about 11pm.

Then at 1:30 in the morning I woke up again. And they were still at it.

I tossed and turned a couple times, looked out the window to see if I could see it really was them, got back into bed and tried to sleep, failed to, etc. for a solid half hour. I tried to figure out if I could tell where the building was; I wasn't sure. I debated getting dressed and going and knocking on the door., but because I wasn't sure of the address that wouldn't help. I debated calling 311, but I'd still have to know the address so that also wouldn't help. Meanwhile, the conversation was loud enough that I could hear actual topics being discussed.

Finally, at about 2 am, I opened the window, and called out into the night:
"Hello out there! I'm one of your neighbors, and it's 2 am and I have to get up for work in four hours - will you be wrapping things up soon?"
INSTANT SILENCE, followed by the lights switching off ten seconds later.

I'm gonna have to remember how well that worked.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:38 AM on March 18, 2023 [9 favorites]

I usually have a tough time sleeping on planes just because I am a tall person and generally seem to get caught between a seat-kicker behind me and a slammer-back in front of me. Every time I start to doze off a blow to the spine or knees wakes me up.

I'll always treasure the memory of an overnight flight from NYC to London on British Airways. We were in the cheapest seats, but the plane was only half-full. We were all able to raise the armrests and sprawl across several seats to sleep. It felt like an airborne slumber party. The crew brought around some kind of snack or drink every few hours, but they didn't disturb anyone who was sleeping. It was absolutely lovely.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:43 AM on March 18, 2023 [2 favorites]

I went to Purdue, so my day is just fine.

Really - I'm a recovering sports fan that has been working hard on being a casual fan that doesn't get emotionally invested. I did really well for baseball and college football last year, and did well for college basketball until about a month ago, when I got sucked backed in.
posted by COD at 6:45 AM on March 18, 2023 [1 favorite]

On occasion I hear them having parties out back; I just sort of deal with it, it's kind of the price of doing business if you want to live in a major city.

I have all the inconvenience of living in the middle of nowhere, plus all the same loud parties right outside my bedroom window I'd have if I lived in a major city. Town assholes are the same as country assholes.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:46 AM on March 18, 2023

I took the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Burbank to Portland a few years ago and I did NOT sleep a wink in my little sleeping compartment. Part of it was I was too jazzed to see the sun rising on Mt. Shashta when I got up but mostly it was the noise, the bumps, the constant squealing and starting and stopping. The upper bunk was also about 1 1/2 feet from the ceiling and felt like what I imagine a prison cot feels like.

I've never been able to fall sleep on a plane, even on an overnight trans-Atlantic flight.

Never had the opportunity to sleep on a boat and have no interest in doing so.

I once spent the night lying awake in a snow cave, my claustrophobia getting the best of me while I expected the whole thing to collapse on me the second I closed my eyes.

When my kid was a baby she fell asleep in a bike seat while we were riding across Martha's Vineyard. I would like to be able to sleep like that.
posted by bondcliff at 7:27 AM on March 18, 2023 [3 favorites]

Boats are the best. Particularly after swimming and messing about in smaller boats, paddling ashore to look at tidepools and collect snail shells, rinsing off, then being able to lay on a towel on the deck and just drift off into a sun warmed haze. Some of it was not sleep, possibly more like being in the womb again, the light coming through eyelids a reddish glow and little breezes feathering across the skin. At night, snuggled into a sleeping bag even though a twinge of sunburn here and there, rocking a little bit. Harbor sounds that die down and fade away, dreams that dissolve when the sun rises.
This week has been a study in sleep contrasts, with some really bad-not-sleep from Covid for the first three nights, and then a deep exhausted collapse. Thankful it's not worse and it's now feeling like restorative sleep, waking up a bit hungry. Waiting for the days, the best days, when we turn the heater off and open the windows and get those little breezes, and if I wake at 3am it's because the birds are having a party in the tree next door.
posted by winesong at 10:18 AM on March 18, 2023 [1 favorite]

As a tall person with difficulty sleeping in the best of circumstances, I don't do well on planes at all. Trains are better, but I distinctly recall one trip during my year abroad in college. There must have been an hour of clanging safety bells as the train waited to be loaded, and then was loaded, onto a ferry, to cross from Denmark to Sweden. And then once I'd fallen soundly asleep the Swedish passport control officer was VERY MEAN and I am very slow to awake from deep sleep, and I think I very nearly got kicked out of Sweden simply through lack of comprehension that I was being asked for my passport in a sequence of languages as she tried to figure out which one I'd understand.

A few days later I'd gotten better at sleeping semi-upright on overnight trains (didn't have to pay for hotels or sleeping berths that way) and I remember the weird liminal space of the train from Oslo to Bergen when I woke the next morning. At first the train was in a tunnel, then we passed into a blindingly white valley where there was so much snow everywhere I couldn't get a sense of depth, and then suddenly we were in another tunnel, and that repeated for the next ten or fifteen minutes. In some of the valleys I could make out trees and mountain peaks in the distance, but the blackout-whiteout-blackout thing really messed with my brain.
posted by fedward at 12:22 PM on March 18, 2023 [2 favorites]

Due to touchy inner ears I generally feel the opposite of "restful" on boats, I've never slept on one but I doubt it would be a happy experience. Sadly I've never had the chance to sleep on a train either but I like to think it would be nice.

Years ago when I relocated across the country, the day before my flight I had to pull an all-nighter to finish packing the moving pod with (all but a bulging suitcase-full of) my belongings and cleaning up the house I'd been renting, then immediately driving to my friend's house to take a shower after which they drove me to the airport. This flight included a jaunt of an hour or so from the local airport to a regional hub; I fell asleep almost immediately and had to be woken - seemingly just a minute later - by a flight attendant once we'd pulled up to the gate. That was an unusual enough circumstance that I can't draw any conclusions from it about plane-sleeping in general.

In more static circumstances...

I've had some lovely naps at home on beautiful spring days with gentle zephyrs blowing through the wide-open windows, or while lying on a lawn blanket under a shady tree. The bedroom windows of one house I lived in faced directly onto a porch with a tin roof and I always loved the sound and feel of rainy breezy nights there.

As I've gotten older, while I still enjoy being all snug and comfy in bed, sleep itself has gotten more problematic. Regular exercise helps a lot, but on the occasional nights where I still pop awake at 2 or 3 in the morning and can't get back to sleep a little melatonin does wonders. But a whole pill of even the least potent version on the grocery store's shelf was much too much - I woke up feeling I'd been heavily drugged. I found that just a quarter of a pill (carefully split with a pocket knife) was enough to help me sleep without appreciable side/after effects. It still gives me some weird dreams, but I can live with that.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:41 PM on March 18, 2023

Can't sleep on planes. Never tried on a train. I have slept on overnight buses with the seats that fold into beds. The first time was... an experience. I was about 14 or 15. My dad and I were taking a trip to Colorado to ski. When we stopped at a truck stop to get food my dad decided it was a good time to take an Ambien since it'd be time for bed soon. He took it too early though. As we were eating our McDonald's my dad just started starring at a french fry for a long time. I asked if everything was ok and he said he was trying to figure out what song was playing. There was no music playing. Then he was out. I had to get some of the other people on the bus to help as we propped him up against the wall and folded the seats up. And then they helped haul his body into the bed. As a teenager I was beyond embarrassed. He doesn't remember any of this but it's a story we tell from time to time. Never take an Ambien before you're absolutely ready for bed.
posted by downtohisturtles at 1:15 PM on March 18, 2023

I seem to have got to the point that i can't sleep on planes at all as I have aged. I occasionally take ferries from SW England to NW France and they are just fine, though I've never had to contend with rough seas on an overnight thankfully. I've done London to Cornwall by train a few times overnight coming back from project meetings over the last 5 years or so, as it saves staying in London and losing a day to train travel. Generally I find it pretty comfortable, I get a room to myself, which is nice, the train company had the sleepers done up a few years ago and the room quality is way better now. I often have to fight the urge to go to the bar on the sleeper, its really NOT like something out of Agatha Christie. Better to turn in asap. They wake you about an hour before your stop with coffee, OJ, and a bacon roll (I assume this is also intended to stop you falling back to sleep and then shouting at the guard, etc).

A while back me & SO did Cologne to Austria, with a carriage just for two. Quite fancy (because German rail), they event gave us a small bottle of red wine each, which we quaffed as the train ran down the side of the Rhine. A nice German guy who was travelling in the next carriage with his son explained some of the mythology around some of the castles and other spots as we went past. Highly recommended. Sleep by Mainz, as it gets less visually appealing after that.

My SO and me interrailed last summer and ended up doing only one overnight journey, Munich-Amsterdam, and we were too late to get a carriage for 2 so were in a 6 bunk couchette space, which was less than ideal. There was a young Canadian bloke talking to us before sleep time and I think he was trying to bond as he was pretty convinced he was going to have his throat cut by a serial killer while he slept*. Sleep was ok then, but its much less nice than having a dedicated space of your own.

*Reader, I spared him.
posted by biffa at 1:30 PM on March 18, 2023 [2 favorites]

I've had a few similar experiences to The Underpants Monster flying from the States to the UK, particularly around 2008/9 when the economy tanked and nobody was going anywhere so flights were much emptier. Provided there's no-one sitting next to me, I can usually sleep okay on a plane. I've never been on a long enough train ride to need to sleep, but I did sail from Australia to the UK a few decades ago. I don't recall any trouble sleeping, but I'm not sure I'd feel the same about it now. I have a fear of water that I can't see to the bottom of, so I don't think a long ocean voyage is in my future.

I use a sleep mask and a fan for white noise, and I live in a very quiet area, so I usually don't have much difficulty sleeping. And I'm one of those annoying people who, as soon as I wake up and my feet hit the floor, I'm wide awake and remain so until bedtime.
posted by essexjan at 1:47 PM on March 18, 2023 [1 favorite]

In my counterproductively frantic race after sleep I have given up alcohol, coffee after noon and started to exercise at least every other day. It has mostly worked but the cost is high and I regularly debate its value.

The very best sleep (after a late afternoon nap in a hammock or on the couch) is on a sailboat. Especially underway - though I did have a less than great experience once years and years ago on a boat that had a funny motion, a little 'hitch' to its rise and fall, a moment of hesitation before it sank into the waves again it made it hard to get into the rhythm. Pre-covid I went on a couple sailing trips around the western end of the Baltic and the boat we chartered was a lovely, yet unremarkable thing that zipped around surprisingly quickly. And was a very very comfortable vessel for napping and sleeping.

As a time killer I look at classified ads for sailboats. Of late I've been lusting after two made by Franz Maas, a bit of a whiz of a Dutchman (who employed damn-near every important boat designer of the last fifty years at one point or another). He made some really lovely steel boats. Their shapes are as evocative (of speed, of moving through the water) as any of those made by the Herreshoff clan. The one is a canoe-sterned sloop that, just, looks so damn elegant and quick. Sculpturally it sits in space in such a satisfying way.

Friends recently bought a plot of land and I spent a little while trying to convince them to get a boat just to park on land, to use that at least as an office. The shape of the prow is so damn evocative, especially of some big old wooden motorboat/cruisers. Swoopy as hell. I told them to get three, dig pits and fill the pits with water so the boats would actually swim. Rent them out as Air BnB's - they could really have something there. They didn't think I was serious but there's something about the inside of a boat, especially an older one, with lots of wooden bulkheads, that is the epitome of cozy. For me. (Like the boat in Riddle of the Sands.)
posted by From Bklyn at 4:02 PM on March 18, 2023 [4 favorites]

I've slept on boats from a rowboat filled with cushions on Rostherne Mere, to a dinghy on Windermere, to a small yacht in a cove on Majorca, to a ferry across the North Sea, to a drillship in the Gulf of Mexico. All sucked for sleeping.
Trains are better. Long ago I used to regularly get the sleeper from Aberdeen to Manchester. I remember sitting in the bar car sipping a last whisky, reading something deeply pretentious, (the sea to the left, the sun setting over the hills to the right) before unsteadily returning to my cosy cabin and falling asleep instantly to the syncopated rhythms of the train.
Then being woken up to get off at Piccadilly Station, which completely removed the romance.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:30 PM on March 18, 2023

Town assholes are the same as country assholes.

These WEREN'T assholes, they were just very nearby. If they were assholes they would have shouted back "FUCK YOU" and gotten even louder.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:30 PM on March 18, 2023 [4 favorites]

I can usually fall asleep exactly once on a plane. If i'm tired enough and the book i'm reading makes me drowsy I can doze off, but once i wake up i can never get comfortable enough for it to happen a second time. On long flights I have been known to ask my pcp for ambien, which does the trick. Last year I splurged for a lie flat seat/bed on a long haul flight across the pacific and it was sublime, but i'm afraid I may never even sleep as I have on a plane now, knowing what could be.
The noise on a train is perfect for sleep, no problem there.
I get seasick too easily to sleep well on boats, even sailboats which I love.
posted by OHenryPacey at 7:43 PM on March 18, 2023

I've never had an opportunity to sleep on a boat or train, but I slept very well on an old-style waterbed in the 70s. It was so cool in my unair-conditioned apartment in Austin and my restless sleep partner provided much gentle wave action. Another time I lived 6 blocks away from a railroad track that had over 40 freight trains passing every day and night. When going to sleep, I loved hearing the whistle blow and the rumble and clack as the trains passed.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:21 PM on March 18, 2023 [1 favorite]

Oooh this is my thread, sleeping on transportation!

Definitely a dream to take the kind of railway journey that has sleeper cars.

Plane: after a childhood of living overseas I am conditioned to just about fall asleep on takeoff. That said, lie flat beds are very nice! However the worst nights of sleep I have had have been plane related. We decided to save a night's accommodation by flying to NZ (from Australia) for our honeymoon. Not only was there the remnants of a cyclone to contend with, but we arrived early morning local time, 3am body time. This was not a fun experience. We had our first married fight about navigation, eventually found our hotel, asked them if we could check in early and fell into bed fully clothed- I think I hardly managed to take my shoes off!

Bus: Biffa, the Canadian comment (CW, gruesome)- my family were travelling from Toronto to New York via bus, I think 2008, and around the same time someone decapitated a sleeping passenger with a machete. I remember someone saying to sleep with one eye open! (The most amusing memory was the Bus driver got to NY and took a wrong turn and asked if anyone knew which way to go!)

I've also done Calgary to Vancouver by bus, which lets me tell people I've spent five minutes in Banff, and Melbourne to Sydney and back. I definitely wasn't looking forward to the return journey, there's a naive optimism on the outward leg that helps. As a child I remember curling up in a ball on a "bus cama" in Chile - translates roughly to bed bus.

Boat: ferry from the UK to the Netherlands - could not believe how smooth the sea was, we slept like rocks. Also have vivid memories of spraining my arm on a playground on the ferry to Tasmania and then having difficulty sleeping. I would have been about 6.

Hammocks: yes.
posted by freethefeet at 5:25 AM on March 19, 2023

The weirdest sleeping on transit stories I have are from sleeping on an icebreaker while going to a remote station in the Antarctic. The ship I was on, the Laurence M. Gould, is a research vessel owned by the US Antarctic Program and it’s also known as the Vomit Comet. It crosses Drake Passage, where the oceans converge, and the sea can be either “Drake Lake” - i.e., almost eerily still- or “Drake Shake,” with waves that can be almost 40 feet high - I’ve seen people say 60 feet high, even, I don’t know. The ocean is very deep there, about 11,000 feet, and of course it’s the Antarctic so you’re crossing through ice and around icebergs during some of the drama. The Gould is a steel hulled ice breaker and I’m very fond of it but it also has an…interesting motion, both the usual rolling from side to side but also up and down plunges, randomly. You learn to wedge yourself into your cot with your mattress rucked up on one side with anything you can find so you only thud against the ship wall and don’t fly out on to the floor. On really terrible passages, you just lie on the floor and try to keep your food down. I figure eventually you learn to sleep through anything.
posted by terridrawsstuff at 7:47 AM on March 19, 2023 [4 favorites]

My boat sleeping experience was when I was pregnant with our daughter and our friend invited us to visit him on his boat on Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. We got to sleep in the forward compartment but I couldn’t get over the claustrophobic feeling of the ceiling pressing in on our heads and my large pregnant body and so, it was the most luxurious sleepless night I ever experienced.

Train sleeping experience: a few years later, our daughter and I took the Coast Starlight from Martinez, California to Portland, Oregon for a wedding. We didn’t spring for the sleeper car but decided to just sleep in our seats. Joni Mitchell’s song, “Just Like This Train” came to mind as we indeed, “settl(ed) down into this clickety-clack” as we heard the train rolling over the railroad ties and crossings. Another sleepless night but oh, the scenery, especially when we crossed the Cascades and saw that there was still snow on the peaks here and there. It was a great trip, despite the 5-hour delay in Redding and the (not luxurious) sleepless night.

I have never been able to sleep on planes. I get too excited, being up in the clouds with so much to see on the land below.
posted by Lynsey at 8:36 AM on March 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

Oh, if buses count, I've fallen asleep on more buses than I can enumerate.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:44 AM on March 19, 2023

It's not the best sleep but this thread is not complete without mention of slack-jawed passenger-in-the-car sleep.
posted by HotToddy at 9:00 AM on March 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

When I was little, our family car was a big old 1970s Plymouth Fury. The back seat was big enough that both my sister and I could lie down to sleep on it. It was really convenient at the drive-in.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:32 AM on March 19, 2023

I remember the weird liminal space of the train from Oslo to Bergen when I woke the next morning. At first the train was in a tunnel, then we passed into a blindingly white valley where there was so much snow everywhere I couldn't get a sense of depth, and then suddenly we were in another tunnel, and that repeated for the next ten or fifteen minutes.

Still my favourite train trip anywhere, no matter the season. Epic.
posted by Wordshore at 2:35 PM on March 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

Everything is better on a boat, asleep or awake. That's just how it is.
posted by dg at 4:05 PM on March 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

I’ve never slept better than in a bed on a train. When I lived in China, I took every chance I could to travel by sleeper car, and it was heaven. Just the gentle rocking back and forth of the train car passing over the tracks, being able to actually lay flat, it was heaven.

All other forms of transportation just leave me drained. Even if I somehow fall asleep on a plane, I just wake up feeling worse than when I finally fell asleep, exhausted, sweaty, and miserable. The one night bus trip (with beds) that I took was equally miserable, and not something I want to repeat.

There aren’t many night trains left in Japan, but I’d love to take one. Night buses here supposedly have very nice, if not lie flat seats, but I’m skeptical.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:27 AM on March 20, 2023

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