How to Actually Sleep in Coach – A Budget Traveler’s Guide


Sleeping in coach

Don’t you envy those folks who can sleep anywhere, especially on a plane AND in those cramped “cheap” seats? If you’re like me and the sun, moon, and stars have to practically be all aligned before you can drift off to la-la land (at the best of times), then sleeping on an airplane may seem like an unlikely scenario.

Or is it?

You can sleep on a plane in coach with a few simple tricks involving light, location, noise, temperature, wardrobe, and posture.

It may sound like a theatre production, but these tricks work!

Power Down to “Zone Out”

What better time to catch up on our social media feeds or to post our latest endeavors than on a long flight, right? Wrong. According to recent studies, staring at our mobile devices can actually keep our brains “awake.”

Why?

Because the light from our computerized friends is “short-wavelength-enriched,” or for us non-scientific folk, this means these devices emit more blue light than natural light – blue light affects the melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone) more than any other light source.

To let your mind wind down and to better your odds of falling asleep on that red-eye, power down your blue-light producing products at least two hours before you plan on catching those zzz’s.

We can’t promise that you won’t miss the latest trending post or tweet from your favorite celeb, but you also won’t feel quite so groggy come morning, either.

Sleep-Time Tip: Read an “old-fashioned” paper novel, a magazine, or write in your journal to help power-down your brain for sleep-time.

For Sleep Time, Location is Prime

If you know you are going to be needing to sleep on your flight in coach, pick your seat wisely. Of course, having the window seat is a no-brainer for those that want to catch some shut-eye. It provides the perfect place to lean your head, without requiring the hospitality of your fellow passenger’s shoulder.

But you will also want to be aware of where on the plane this window seat is located. For the best sleeping scenario in economy choose the middle of the aircraft. Too close to the back where the washrooms are found (and possibly the kitchen) you’re going to hear the flushing (and other goings-on) in that area. Too close to the front and you’ll be hearing the bustling and chatter of the flight attendants.

Sleep-Time Tip: New to flying? Use SeatGuru to help you pick your perfect seat.

Block Out Noise or Create Your Own

On a large flight, packed full of people and, yes, maybe a baby, it’s inevitable that there will be noise. Even if that newborn or toddler is the “perfect quiet child” you are still going to hear bits and snippets of conversations, people moving around, snoring, coughing, etc.

The good news is there are simple ways to block out the noise or to create your own. Earplugs are the go-to for most folks, but not everyone can tolerate those rubberized bits stuffed into their ears, so what’s the alternative?

Noise-canceling headphones are designed to block all manner of sound. Although these can get a bit pricey, they are well worth it if you do a lot of overnight hauls. I personally use the Sony WH-CH700N Noise Canceling Headphones from Amazon. They aren’t too expensive compared to other headphones; with the built-in artificial intelligence noise-canceling feature I’m never disturbed while sleeping. I’ve since bought a pair for my husband (for his birthday), he takes them on every flight now!

Depending on your preference (and how well you sleep with “noise” in your ear) you can download your favorite playlist of music, an audiobook, or even meditation apps to help block out your fellow travelers.

If you’re like me and cannot sleep with music or someone chatting or singing at you, then try white noise – no sounds, just a steady static “hum.” White Noise Lite is available for download from the App Store which provides “free relaxing sleep sounds.” It received 4.8 stars out of five!

Sleep-Time Tip: Use an eye mask to send a “do not disturb” message to those around you – it may just stop your chatty neighbor from telling you all about how difficult it is to sleep on a plane.

Temperature is Too Hot. Too Cold. But Rarely Just Right.

Airplanes are notorious for being either too hot or too cold. There is a good reason for the temp fluctuations (and you can read the “science” behind it here); however, the bottom line is when you’re trying to sleep you want to be just right.

There’s little you can do about the general temperature in the aircraft, but you can control how you dress and what you bring with you.

Use light layers so you can easily take off what you don’t need if the plane is too hot. Pack a shawl, hoodie or bring a snuggly blanket with you for those cooler flights – these items can also be used as a pillow in a pinch.

Have a hat? Now’s the time to use it. Although according to the University of Rochester Medical Center, it’s a myth that we lose more heat through our heads, I still always feel warmer when my head is covered. Plus, you won’t have to worry about having “bed head” when you’re wearing a hat. Just keep in mind any hat with a brim or peak may get in the way of your sleeping-head-positions, so soft pullover caps work best.

Sleep-Time Tip: Be sure to secure your seatbelt over your blanket. If turbulence occurs, you don’t want the flight attendant waking you up to buckle up.

Don’t Be Caught With a Wardrobe “Malfunction”

In a perfect, non-judgemental world we would all gather on these long flights in our pajamas. However, most of us would rather die than be caught wearing mismatched flannel. So what’s the next best thing?

Wear loose clothing made from breathable fabrics.

These items include;

  • Hoodies – warm, roomy and can also be pulled over your head to send a clear “do not disturb” message.
  • Wide-leg pants – stylish, yet not binding
  • Linen pants – they are comfy and always look wrinkled, anyway, so no one will know you actually slept in them.
  • Pashmina – fashionable, and can also be used as a blanket or neck roll.
  • Activewear – not just for activities!
  • Comfy footwear – leave the stilettos or dress shoes in your overhead bag, opt for sneakers instead.

Another item you will want to have on, especially if you suffer from circulation problems in your feet and legs, or from DVT (deep vein thrombosis) is compression socks. These stockings are designed to provide gentle pressure that keeps your circulation flowing during long periods of inactivity. And don’t worry, they come in funky, cool, and neutral colors to suit all styles and tastes. I use Physix Gear Compression Socks (from Amazon), which work great for long flights.

Sleep-Time Tip: Use lavender scented products to help relax and induce sleep. Try rubbing body lotion on your hands, use lavender spray on your clothes, and travel pillow, or pack your bags with lavender sachets, so they are infused with this scent.

Sleep “Perfect” Posture

When traveling in economy, you won’t have a whole lot of choice for sleeping – you will either be upright or leaning on the wall of the aircraft or your seatmate. I know what you’re thinking; there is a third option – drop the meal tray and sleep leaning forward.

This is doable, but not the best on the lower back. In fact, according to Dr. Alan Hedge (he’s a professor of ergonomics), the meal-tray-makeshift-bed is the worst position possible because it “increases the compressive forces on your lower back.”

The best way to sleep in coach is to lean back and spin that u-shaped travel pillow forward. This allows for your head to drop, but not so much so that you’re overextending the back of your neck.

You will also want to uncross your legs (as this is bad for circulation) and extend then with a slight bend at the knee.

Sleep-Time Tip: Inflatable footrests help prop your feet up which improves circulation; however, check with your airline as some have restrictions with what can be brought on board.

Additional Hint – Watch Your Caffeine Intake

We all know that caffeine is a killer to sleep. But did you know it can take up to six hours to filter through your system? Unfortunately, that cup of coffee at the airport can still be “with you” when you’re trying to doze off in the most unfavorable of conditions.

Caffeine can also be sneaky. It’s not just in coffee. It can also be found in;

  • Decaffeinated coffee (from 2 to 12 mg per cup)
  • Chocolate bars (dark chocolate has up to 31 mg)
  • Chocolate ice cream/frozen yogurt (30 to 44 mg)
  • Breakfast cereals containing cocoa (up to 11 mg)
  • Pudding (10 mg)
  • Hot Cocoa (up to 15 mg)
  • PMS meds (up to 60 mg)
  • Headache meds (check the bottle)
  • Black teas (up to 50 mg)
  • Green tea (30 to 50 mg)
  • Colas/Soda (up to 63 mg)
  • Energy drinks (up to 80 mg)

Sleep-Time Tip: If you’re planning on sleeping, then laying off these foods and drinks is an obvious no-brainer. Try herbal tea, sparkling water, or juice instead.

Author:

  • Tiara is an avid sleeper and fully dedicated to her work and research. Most often this includes, but is not limited to, napping, testing how many hours in one night that she can sleep, trying new sleep methods and constantly changing sleep positions. Tiara's main focuses are on dreams and how we can achieve the best natural sleep possible. As a sufferer of insomnia and other sleep-related disturbances, Tiara loves to dig deep into the subconscious to ask all the questions that can help us better understand what happens when we sleep.

Tiara Croft

Tiara is an avid sleeper and fully dedicated to her work and research. Most often this includes, but is not limited to, napping, testing how many hours in one night that she can sleep, trying new sleep methods and constantly changing sleep positions. Tiara's main focuses are on dreams and how we can achieve the best natural sleep possible. As a sufferer of insomnia and other sleep-related disturbances, Tiara loves to dig deep into the subconscious to ask all the questions that can help us better understand what happens when we sleep.

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