There are two main theories. The first says that it’s a property of certain materials that makes them levitate. Another, that it’s a result of the body’s buoyancy being lowered.
While there’s no clear scientific evidence that either theory is correct—no-one has found a material that causes such a thing to happen—you can tell when it happens since the body starts swaying. Sometimes, it’s as big a change as your head bobbing up and down when you’re in a chair.
Other times, you notice it when you sleep. Levitation isn’t something you expect to hear about when you’re at the office.
How it gets to levitate is actually quite simple, and comes down to physics being complicated. First off, air in your lungs is moving downward. It’s actually a pretty simple thing in its own right—it’s a little breeze blowing through your lungs, and the wind is moving away from you.
But it’s not just wind pressure pushing your body downward. As you lie down to sleep, your ribcage (the part of your body between your ribs) is also moving. It’s moving because an air sac called the diaphragm is expanding (when you breathe). If your diaphragm is expanding, then the air that comes at your throat is also expanding.
The process works in reverse, too. If you hold your head up while sleeping, your air sac is shrinking as well.
When you’re lying down and your diaphragm is shrinking, your head isn’t. And it doesn’t matter how much you stretch or strain your neck to keep your head high up—you can’t keep your head up when you’re asleep, and then relax until it releases when you wake up.
But what happens?
When your diaphragm contracts (your breathing begins to slow down), you pull the air you have out of your lungs in the form of vomit (the air is pushed toward your neck, which pushes the air back toward your lungs).
So if you try to hang on to it, you’re going to have trouble.
“If you let go and don’t give a damn if you fall, you’re pretty much screwed,” said Andrew Ripp, a postdoctoral student in Stanford’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
If you want to get better at falling asleep on airplanes, it’s better to do it before going into an economy
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