Best way to sleep on a plane: 7 helpful tips

Sleeping on a plane is the ultimate way to spend time during a long flight. Plus, if you’re flying at night and manage to catch some shut-eye, it’ll save you from the dreaded jet lag once you touch down. But let’s face it, the noise, sunlight, and cramped quarters can seriously mess with your sleep game. Thankfully, there are a few tricks you can try before your flight to guarantee a snooze in the sky.

Why you might have some hard time with falling asleep on a plane

Sleeping on a plane can be a real challenge for a number of reasons, as explained by Albert Boquet, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. According to Boquet, flying has become increasingly stressful, especially when it comes to commercial flights. This added stress can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep.

Another reason why sleeping on a plane is tough is because you’re in an unfamiliar environment. It’s not your usual sleeping spot, and there are plenty of distractions to contend with. The noise, the uncomfortable seats, and the limited ability to recline all contribute to the difficulty of getting some shut-eye.

Even in first class, where the seats are more spacious, some people still struggle to sleep. Furthermore, the cramped seating arrangements on planes can make it even harder to doze off. Over the years, legroom has significantly decreased, with the average seat pitch now ranging from 30 to 33 inches for most U.S. airlines. The width of seats has also shrunk from 18.5 inches to 17 inches.

However, upgrading to a roomier seat in first or business class may not necessarily solve the problem. If you already have trouble sleeping outside of a plane, a more spacious seat won’t magically fix it. Even in first class, where there is more comfort and space, individuals who require complete darkness and silence to sleep will still struggle. Where you choose to sit on the plane can also impact your ability to sleep. Some people find that sitting by the window allows them to lean against the wall and find a more comfortable position. However, taller individuals may feel cramped in the window seat.

Ultimately, it’s important to know what you need to be comfortable while flying. Everyone has different preferences and requirements for a good night’s sleep, so understanding your own needs can help improve your chances of getting some rest on a plane.

To make matters worse, planes are filled with noise. Passengers walking up and down the aisle, crying children, and announcements from the pilot or flight attendants over the intercom all contribute to the overall noise level, making it even harder to sleep.

Step by step guide

1. Plan your trip

Choose your seat wisely.

Choose your seat

If you can’t afford a fancy lie-flat seat, which is usually only found in first class, you’ll be stuck in an upright seat. It’s not easy to get a good rest, even if you recline your seat, so it’s important to consider which side of the plane you’re on and whether you’re in the aisle or window seat. Think about how you sleep at home – if you sleep on your right side, choose a seat on the right side of the plane, and vice versa for left side sleepers. This will help you sleep better on the plane by mimicking your natural sleep position.

Avoid seats in the bulkhead area or the exit rows. Some exit row seat doesn’t recline and some bulkhead seats have fixed armrests. This can seriously cramp your style and leave you feeling stiff and tired after the flight. Also, steer clear of seats in the last row near the lavatories. The smell from the bathrooms can keep you awake, and many of these seats don’t recline. If you have overnight flights, go for the window seat. Generally, a window seat is ideal because you’ll have more space to sleep and you’ll have control over the window shade.

Travel with minimal luggage.

travel with minimum luggage

Make sure to pack all your stuff in a single bag and keep some essential items at the top, such as a book, a water bottle, or a snack. Remember that most airlines only permit one carry-on per person, so minimizing your luggage will prevent you from taking up too much space under the seat in front of you.

Take with you a travel pillow, a sleep mask, earplugs, and compression socks.

travel pillow and sleeping mask

Put together a sleep kit for your flight that has everything you need. The neck pillow is a must-have to keep your neck supported, even if there’s some turbulence while you’re trying to catch some Z’s in your seat. Don’t forget the sleep mask to block out any pesky light that might keep you awake, and grab some earplugs to drown out any annoying noises around you. If you want to take it up a notch, bring along some earphones to really zone out and focus on getting some shut-eye.

Oh, and don’t forget about compression socks! They’re a game-changer for flying, especially if you’re at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). You can find them at your local pharmacy, usually called “flight socks”. Look for ones that have graduated compression and go up to your knees with class 1 compression. These socks apply a gentle pressure that helps prevent blood from pooling in your calves and reduces the risk of blood clots. Trust me, your legs will thank you!

Make sure to wear cozy clothes and footwear that you can easily slide in and out of.

Make sure you dress in comfy layers for your flight and don’t forget to bring a sweater with you. The air circulation and lack of movement can make you feel chilly. Slip-on shoes are a great choice for easy on and off during security checks and to help with circulation. If your feet get cold easily, pack an extra pair of socks or wear them with your shoes. Plus, taking off your shoes during the flight can help you catch some z’s.

Stay away from booze and coffee.

avoid coffee

Don’t give in to the urge of having a last-minute coffee before your flight. Instead, opt for water or juice when the beverage cart makes its rounds during the journey. Also, it’s best to avoid consuming caffeinated drinks right before takeoff.

If you’re considering taking sleep medicine or supplements to help you sleep, consult your doctor for guidance. Similarly, if certain foods or alcohol disrupt your sleep pattern, it’s wise to skip them before and during the flight. Lastly, remember to keep yourself hydrated throughout the journey.

Grab a quick bite before you take off.

eat good before sleep

Skip some heavy airline food that can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable. Instead, opt for a pre-flight snack that’s easy on your stomach, like yogurt, raw almonds, and oranges. For a more filling option, try a refreshing smoothie made with fresh fruits and veggies.

And if you need a warm drink, go for caffeine-free herbal tea. Just remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before and during your flight. And don’t forget, avoid heavy meals before bedtime to ensure you can sleep on a plane.

It’s important to be cautious when taking sleep medicine!

If you’re considering taking sleeping pills or supplements like melatonin to help you sleep, it’s important to be cautious. Flying at high altitudes after taking these medications can increase the risk of blood clots and DVT.

Before you take anything, talk to your doctor to determine which type of sleeping aid is best for you. Prescription options like Ambien, Silenor, and Lunesta are available, as well as over-the-counter options like Benadryl. It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor before taking any medication to ensure your safety.

Make sure to catch some Z’s during your flight, but don’t forget to stretch your legs and take a stroll to prevent blood from pooling and reduce the chance of blood clots.

2. Sleeping on the Plane

sleeping on the plane

Lean back in your chair.

Just like at home, you’ll want to get as comfortable as possible on your flight for a deep sleep. Mimic your usual sleeping position by reclining your seat, but be sure to give a heads up to the person behind you in case they have a drink on their tray. This is especially important during a night flight when everyone is trying to catch some Z’s.

Remove your shoes.

Make yourself cozy by taking off your shoes and tucking them under the seat in front of you. If needed, put on your socks and snuggle up in your sweater or jacket to keep warm while you catch some Z’s.

Make sure to grab your neck pillow, sleep mask, and earplugs.

Before you hop on your flight, grab these essential things and stash them in the front pocket of your seat. And when you’re all set to catch some Z’s, take them out to get ready for a peaceful slumber.

If you’re planning to use earphones or noise canceling headphones and listen to some soothing tunes to make you falling asleep, make sure the volume isn’t cranked up too high, so you don’t bother your fellow passengers. You can also explore various apps on your smartphone that offer tranquil sleep sounds to help you doze off effortlessly, like SleepStream.

Wear the compression socks to boost the flow of blood in your body.

To avoid tingling or those pesky leg pains, along with more serious issues like blood clots, grab yourself a pair of compression socks. It’s crucial to keep your blood flowing, so make an effort to take a stroll down the aisle for about five to ten minutes every few hours during a lengthy flight. Sure, it might disturb your beauty sleep, but it’s totally worth it for your well-being.

Don’t spend too much time staring at bright screens, like your laptop or the TV.

After a long day, the glow from your laptop or TV can stick around, making it tough to unwind and doze off. To get ready for sleep time, stash away your laptop, dim the screen in front of you, and lower the brightness on your phone. Sure, it might seem tempting to be productive during a lengthy flight by tackling emails and catching up on the newest flick, but don’t forget that sleep is never a waste. Arriving at your destination feeling refreshed will definitely be worth it.

Kindly ask the flight attendants to avoid disturbing you.

Before you take off, just have a quick chat with one of the flight attendants and kindly request them not to bother you if you happen to doze off during the flight. Usually, they’re pretty cool about letting you catch some Z’s and will respect your wish for uninterrupted sleep. However, it wouldn’t hurt to give them a gentle nudge to ensure you’re left in peace throughout the journey.

Don’t forget to set an alarm 30 minutes before your flight arrives.

If you manage to doze off during your flight, you might not want to snap out of it. Instead of being rudely awakened by the cabin lights or the pilot’s voice, set an alarm on your phone. This way, you’ll have enough time to wake up, freshen up, and get your things together before the plane touches down. Waking up half an hour before landing should give you ample time to visit the lavatory, pack up your sleep gear, slip on your shoes, and prepare to disembark, feeling rejuvenated.

Discover our Top techniques for getting quality sleeping on a plane!

  • Dress in comfortable attire
  • Use a sleep mask to block out light
  • Stick to your regular sleep routine while traveling on a plane
  • Consider investing in noise canceling headphones or earplugs
  • Limit screen time before bed to improve sleep quality
  • Choose a seat that you find most comfortable, whether it’s by the window seats or aisle
  • Consider taking melatonin for longer overseas flights
  • Minimize stress by arriving at the airport early and avoiding last-minute boarding
  • Try to have a small carry on
  • Allow yourself enough time between connecting flights to move around and stretch
  • Stay hydrated throughout the flight to promote better sleep.

Bottom line

When it comes to catching some shut-eye on a plane, everyone has their own unique approach. What might do the trick for you might not necessarily do it for someone else. Ultimately, it’s about discovering your own personalized routine through a bit of trial and error.

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