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With around a third of Australians experiencing insomnia at some point in their lives[1] and the economic cost associated with sleep disorders in the country estimated at $36.4 billion,[2] a new survey of 300 Aussies who take sleeping pills on long-haul international flights, has revealed the reasons why they need the help resting, with two-thirds admitting that the seats are to blame.


The survey was commissioned by leading travel insurance comparison service comparethemarket.com.au,[3] which is urging consumers to be aware of the potential health and safety risks of sleeping pills, particularly when regularly taken during long flights.


Nearly two in three (65 per cent) respondents take sleeping pills on long-haul flights (six-plus hours) as they are unable to sleep upright or find the seats uncomfortable. However, sleeping deeply in a cramped, upright position can significantly increase a person’s risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)[4] – a condition in which blood clots form in the legs as a result of being slumped in the same position for a long period of time. If you do tend to sleep for long periods during flights, compression stockings are widely available and can help to reduce the risk of developing DVT.[5]


The second most common reason for travellers to take sleeping pills on flights, chosen by 41 per cent of those surveyed, is to ensure they arrive at their destination feeling well rested. A further 35 per cent say they have trouble sleeping in general, while 30 per cent take sleeping pills as they are nervous flyers.


When asked how often travellers have taken a sleeping pill on flights of six or more hours, 18 per cent say they often or always do this.


Concerningly, comparethemarket.com.au also found that a third of flyers (34 per cent) normally purchase a sleeping pill across the counter, instead of with a doctor’s prescription. While a prescription is not necessary for some sleep aids in Australia, regular or ongoing use may have unintended consequences.


Rod Attrill, spokesperson at comparethemarket.com.au, says: “Travellers often resort to sleeping pills to overcome anxiety or avoid exhaustion when arriving at their destination, but sleeping for long periods with little or minimal mobility when flying can cause harm. Additionally, many travellers may not realise that if they develop a serious illness relating to drug-use – including using sleeping pills – their travel insurance claim could be invalidated if the drug hasn’t been prescribed by a doctor.[6] Sleeping pills are also illegal in some countries without a doctor’s note, including Hong Kong[7] and the United States.[8]


“To avoid this risk, try getting a good night’s sleep by considering alternatives, such as natural supplements, or using an eye mask and ear plugs to block out light and noise. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol or sugary drinks prior to, and during your flight, can also help you sleep. If you decide to try natural or over the counter medication, you should still consult your GP or pharmacist to discuss whether this is appropriate for you.


“It’s important to also be aware that drugs can have longer term effects, even hours later. If you were to drive a rental car after taking a sleeping pill and an accident occurred, being under the influence of drugs could impact your claim being accepted. We strongly advise travellers to thoroughly read the Product Disclosure Statement of their travel policy, to find out what they may or may not be covered for when it comes to drug-use in particular. Free comparison sites, such as comparethemarket.com.au enable you to compare travel policies all in the one place. Additionally, travellers should consider ways to combat jet lag once they arrive, such as exercising to reset their body clock and having short naps to have them feeling back to normal again.[9]”


Common reasons travellers take sleeping pills on long-haul flights


Q: Which of the following would be reasons for you to take a sleeping pill on long-haul flights?

Total (%)

I am unable to sleep upright/the seats are uncomfortable


I want to ensure I arrive at my destination feeling well rested


I have trouble sleeping in general


I am a nervous flyer


I get claustrophobic


I can’t sleep next to a stranger


I need a sleeping pill for noise cancellation


I suffer from motion sickness



About comparethemarket.com.au

Comparethemarket.com.au is an online comparison service that takes the hard work out of shopping around. We help Australians to quickly and easily compare and buy products from a wide range of providers. Our easy-to-use comparison tool enables consumers to find a product that suits their particular circumstances. We’re also in the business of comparing personal finance products, utilities and can help find the lowest fuel prices in your area. Whether it’s car, health or home & contents insurance, we provide a completely free service, that empowers Australians to make informed buying decisions. We’ve got your back, simples.

[1] Health Direct: Insomnia, https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/insomnia

[2] Deloitte: Re-awakening Australia, https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/economics/articles/sleep-health.html

[3] Survey conducted by PureProfile in November 2019

[4] Australian Government Department of Health, ‘Deep vein thrombosis and air travel’: https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-communic-factsheets-thrombosis.htm

[5] https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/deep-vein-thrombosis-DVT-blood-clot-risks-how-to-avoid

[6] Based on a comparison of four travel insurance companies:

Tick Insurance, p16, https://www.tickinsurance.com.au/images/TK_MS_PW_OT_1019_tcm1847-574866.pdf

1Cover, p18, https://www.1cover.com.au/assets/1Cover-AU-Standard-PDS_20190710.pdf/

WorldCare, p45, https://travel.worldcare.com.au/File/Download?docType=PDS

FastCover, p72, https://fastcover.com.au/Content/Documents/Fast%20Cover%20PDS%201-May-2019.pdf

[7] Smartraveller: Hong Kong, https://smartraveller.gov.au/Countries/asia/north/Pages/hong_kong.aspx#laws

[8] US Customs and Border Protection, https://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/know-before-you-go/prohibited-and-restricted-items

[9] Sleep Health Foundation: Tips to help combat jet lag, https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/tips-to-help-combat-jet-lag.html


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