You’ve Been Doing it Wrong: 21 Tips for Sleeping on Planes


man sleeping on a plane

Planes aren’t usually considered the most desired place to get some sleep. But a flight doesn’t have to leave you exhausted, as there are plenty of tips and tricks you can try to help you get some shut-eye before you land.

We recommend tips such as:

  • Bringing a comfy pillow
  • Wearing warm clothes
  • Ditching coffee
  • Avoiding the front of the plane

Air bound travel disrupts our sleep for a multitude of reasons, which includes loud noises, overbearing lights and even lack of humidity leaving you feeling thirsty. Luckily, we can show you a total of 21 things to help you sleep on your journey with this handy guide:

1. Using a Pillow to Get Comfortable

You wouldn’t rest your neck against a hard window to sleep at home, so why would you do so on a flight? The trick to sleeping well on a plane is acting as though you aren’t actually on a flight at all.

Whether you’re in the air or not, your neck still needs comfortable support. A travel pillow of your choice will undoubtedly make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.

If you’re not lucky enough to get a window seat which you can rest your pillow against, try a standard neck pillow. This type of pillow should wrap comfortably around your neck, keeping your head in a secure place, which prevents you from painfully bending or craning your neck during sleep.

2. Listening to a Podcast or Music

Flights can be noisy, especially if you fly during busy times such as during summer vacation periods. There isn’t much you can do to quiet the entire aircraft yourself, which is why noise-canceling headphones are perfect.

Download your favorite podcasts and invest in a pair of Bluetooth noise canceling headphones if possible. These types of headphones are wireless, meaning you won’t have to worry about getting tangled up in a jumble of wires as you drift off.

Listening to something light, such as calming music or nature sounds, will drown out the noise around you and even make you forget you’re stuck on a plane, to begin with.

3. Turning Out the Lights

Most of us prefer to sleep in darkness as harsh lights can keep our senses alert. According to The Sleep Foundation, Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the eye to parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in keeping us wide-awake.

When you’re ready to go to sleep onboard the plane, try switching off the overhead lights above your seat. If you’re on a night-time flight, it’s likely that cabin crew will dim the lights all across the plane anyway. If the light from other passengers is still keeping you awake, take an adjustable eye mask on board to block out any unwanted brightness.

4. Not Eating Too Much

According to Onhealth.com, foods high in saturated fat are likely to disrupt your sleep. Eating a ton of junk food before a flight may seem tempting due to the fast food available in airports, but it’s best to restrain yourself if you want to get some rest. Sleeping on a very heavy stomach is difficult enough, and even more difficult when you’re confined to tight cabin space.

Eating foods that contain Tryptophan, a type of amino acid found in chicken, bananas, nuts, seeds, and milk are all good in helping you get to sleep. This is because Tryptophan can be made into serotonin, which can, in turn, be made into melatonin – the hormone which triggers sleepiness.

5. Staying Away From Alcohol

Studies show that drinking alcohol before bedtime is not a good sleep aid, according to Psychology Today. You may drink alcohol in the evenings because of its sedative effect, making you feel drowsy, or because it calms your nerves before a flight, but in reality, alcohol has the opposite effect on your sleep.

Alcohol consumption too close to bedtime often leads to more waking throughout the night and interrupts the time spent in REM sleep – which is known as the deepest and most restorative phase of sleep where the eyelids move rapidly and where dreaming begins to take place.

Obviously, this is the best type of sleep we all want to achieve. To ensure you get it right, avoid the alcohol – no matter how tempting!

alcohol on a plane

6. Calming Your Nerves

As mentioned previously, you may drink alcohol on board a flight to calm your nerves, but there are other ways to keep your cool.

Many passengers find flying stressful and frightening, which can leave them wide-eyed for hours. It’s a good idea to focus on what’s causing this anxiety. Accept that the fear has crept in, and then refocus on something else. Before a flight, do some shopping or read a book to keep yourself distracted from overthinking.

If you’re traveling with someone else, such as a partner, let them know your fears so they can help you through it. However, if you feel that your fear of flying is particularly severe, cognitive behavioral therapy – used to help those overcoming anxiety – may be something to look into for a long-term solution.

7. Avoiding Caffeine

Reaching for the caffeine on an early morning flight is very tempting, but as you already know, it isn’t going to help you get any more sleep once you board the plane.

As well as keeping you awake, one study found that caffeine can delay the timing of your body clock. Another study found that consuming caffeine even six hours before bedtime can reduce your total sleep time by one hour. Caffeine also has a mild diuretic effect – essentially meaning you will need to pee more often (therefore, keeping you and your bladder awake).

Taking this into account, drinks you should avoid include:

  • Coffee
  • Caffeine soda
  • Tea

8. Sleeping Aids

As well as eating foods which can help the production of melatonin, you can also take melatonin supplements to aid in sleep onboard. This natural sleep aid can be purchased over the counter (OTC) and is available in pill form. This sleep hormone may not be produced naturally while onboard a plane packed with people and noise, so this supplement will help. Although the pills can have negative side effects if used long-term (>3 months), so only use them when absolutely necessary.

9. Tell Your Flight Attendant You Don’t Want to be Disturbed

Flight attendants are there for your every need on board and commonly offer food and drink throughout the flight. However, you may not what to be disturbed with these services if you’re trying to sleep.

Kindly tell your flight attendants that you don’t wish to be woken up during the flight. The crew will likely be used to hearing these requests, so don’t be afraid to ask!

10. Keep Your Seatbelt On For the Entire Flight

Although you may ask your flight attendants to not disturb you while you sleep, they might have too if they catch you not wearing your seatbelt when you should.

It can be very tricky for most of us to get back to sleep after being woken up, so to ensure this doesn’t happen, keep your seatbelt fastened over your clothes – making it visible to any flight attendant during routine checks.

The seatbelt may not be particularly comfortable, so instead of fastening it extremely tight around your waist, keeping it loose will help.

11. Try to Get a Window Seat

Getting a window seat on a flight is like a blessing (unless you’re afraid of heights). The window seat is perfect for propping your pillow on when you need to relax. It also avoids getting your elbow knocked as flight attendants narrowly squeeze their carts down the walkway.

It also means you won’t have to wake up to let other passengers next to you out of their seats. The only thing to remember is: make sure you use the restroom yourself before sitting down, otherwise you may be the person waking someone else up.

girl sitting in window seat

12. Avoid The Front of the Plane

The extra legroom at the front of the plane can be very tempting. You can stretch out without fear of nudging or annoying the person ahead of you. But beware – the front of the plane is always the noisiest. With flight attendants chatting and machines groaning – it’s not the best spot sleep.

That’s also without mentioning that you’re likely to be near the toilet. You might find yourself stuck next to a queue of people waiting to use the restroom – such as crying babies who need a diaper change. Ultimately, it’s best to choose a seat close to the back or middle as there is less of a chance of being disturbed.

13. Recline Your Seat (Respectfully)

No one sleeps perfectly upright at home (at least, not many of us do). Sleeping in this sitting position will likely hurt your back, or at the very least keep you tossing and turning. The best way to adjust your body is by reclining your seat to a 135-degree angle, which is perfect for your spinal discs comfort, according to Bright Side.

This is also where another inflatable pillow can come in handy. Take the pillow and place it on your lower back – this helps to support the bottom of your spine, which usually aches by the time you get up to leave the plane.

Leaning on your front tray may also seem like a good option, but this can cause a lot of strain to your neck – not to mention, it also pushes against the seat of the person in front of you.

14. Dress for Comfort Not Style

If you’re flying for business in a power suit or pencil skirt, or you just want to make sure you have the perfect, Instagrammable airport outfit – neither of these will be good for sleeping.

Dressing for comfort rather than style is a better option. From uncomfortable zippers to wired bras, business clothes will prevent you from sleeping well. Pajamas may be a step too far, so instead opt for:

  • Jogging or Yoga Pants
  • Sweatshirts
  • Trainers

If you’re worried about what you’re wearing when you land – or perhaps you have to rush to a business meeting after the fact – you can always try having a different outfit with you in your carry on.

It’s also a good idea to consider the temperature on board your flight. Planes can often feel cold, so make sure to wear warm socks and perhaps even bring a blanket on board with for extra coziness.

15. Don’t Bring As Much

When packing an on flight bag, it can be quite tempting to pack far more than you actually need. You think about every possible scenario, rather than the reality. This may seem like a safety precaution, but it is likely just overthinking.

Bringing too much on board will limit your sleeping space. Having just one carry on rather than two will mean you can keep your bag in the overhead compartments – which is better than having another overfilled bag by your feet.

Make a small checklist of the essentials, such as your passport, boarding pass, medication and wallet to avoid over packing.

16. Use Essential Oils on Blankets and Pillows

Fresh, clean pillows and sheets are a dream come true for those who look forward to their bed every night – which is why replicating that on a flight is a great idea.

Let’s face it – planes can be smelly. From strange foods to questionable bare feet, these smells will probably distract you from the sleep you desire. But luckily, you can control the smells in your immediate area.

Find some essentials oils you enjoy, such as lavender or jasmine, and while packing your bags spray them on your blankets and pillows generously. Some flights won’t let you take large bottles of unsealed liquids, at least in your carry on, which is why we advise you to do it prior.

essential oil spray

17. Reading Material

Like mentioned before, glaring screens are not great for sleep, but other sleep-inducing distractions can be. A good book or magazine can prove to be a perfect night-time/nap routine. Grab something interesting in the airport, or bring a book from home – just make sure it isn’t something too gripping that will keep you awake.

When you feel your eyes getting heavy, close the book and rest up.

18. Stay Hydrated

Due to how air-conditioned planes are, the lower humidity levels on board can make you feel thirsty, disturbing your sleep. For context, During summer months, the average humidity in a home should be between 30-45 percent, according to centralhtg.com. However, the humidity on a plane is often at only a fraction of that at 10 percent – which is no wonder we can feel so dehydrated.

Of course, when you’re a flight, you have no choice but to breathe the dry air around you. To combat this we recommend drinking often, but small amounts, as well as bringing hydrating eye drops to avoid your eyes from becoming dry as you sleep.

It’s best to stick to good old water and keep yourself hydrated.

19. Avoid Using Your Phone

If you’re the type of person who brings their laptop, tablet, phone and other appliances on board – this could be holding you back from the sleep you’re craving.

These devices, while brilliant for keeping small children occupied during flights, will keep you distracted from your ultimate goal, sleep. It’s well known that smartphones are already keeping us awake at home due our addiction to screens – so taking even more of them on board a flight is a recipe for sleeping disaster. Bring only what you need, not what you need to excess.

20. Uncross your legs

Crossing your legs leads to restriction of blood flow. The clinical director for ActiveCare Physical Therapy, Karena Wu, P.T, says that sitting with your legs crossed like this can twist your lower back. Your lower body is twisted while your upper body is still facing forward, causing a small amount of additional stress to your lumbar. It’s far better to sit with your legs straight, while your knees are slightly bent. Not only is it a more comfortable position, but you don’t have to worry about putting your back in a compromised position for several hours.

21. Picking a Quiet Flight

Traveling on peak days such as the weekends are more likely to hinder your chances of getting to sleep. Overcrowded with large families and sports fans, these flights can very easily get on your nerves.

To avoid these types of flights, it’s best to travel on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. These are the least popular days for people to fly, meaning you’ll end up with fewer passengers beside or around you.

This little trick may even land you with an entire row to yourself. Or, if there are empty seats available, you can even ask the flight attendant to be moved to a seat on a plane in a more quiet section.

Whatever your travel plans are, being able to sleep on a plane is a wonderful experience as you are able to traverse thousands of miles it what seems like a blink of an eye. Sweet Dreams!

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.

Recent Posts