A seriously helpful guide for how to sleep on a plane
how to sleep on a plane practical tips
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Sleeping on an airplane is no one’s idea of fun. But if you are taking a long-haul, international flight across the ocean, you do need to get some shut-eye. Here are a few seriously helpful tips on how to sleep on a plane.

Let’s face it – unless you are flying first-class or business, everything about that plane is conspiring against you getting decent sleep. You’ve got to deal with:

  • The tight, uncomfortable seats;
  • The limited legroom;
  • The passenger in front of you who pushes their chair all the way back;
  • The interruptions from fellow travelers who need to go to the bathroom;
  • The airplane temperature—sometimes it’s too hot, sometimes too cold.

But there is hope!

Practical tips for sleeping on a plane

1. Pick the right seat

An aisle seat has its perks, but not if you are trying to sleep. If you are sitting in a middle or aisle seat, chances are excellent that you will be asked to move if someone needs to go to the restroom. Avoid that hassle and try to get yourself a window seat. 

2. Choose a seat far from the restrooms

Seats close to the restrooms will endure a lot of interruptions and chatter. If you’re trying to sleep, avoid this. If you book your flight early, you are usually able to pick your seat(s).

3. Book a red-eye flight

If your flight is at night, your body will already be pre-wired to go to sleep. 

4. Dress comfortably

You want to look nice, but you also want to be comfortable. For an overnight flight, dress in the most comfortable clothes you have, like yoga pants. This will help you sleep comfortably. 

Also, be sure to pack socks and extra layers.  Sometimes airplanes can get very cold.

5. Wear slip-on sneakers

Slip-on sneakers are especially great for long-haul, red-eye flights. You can take them off quickly and easily when you go through security, and you can slip them off without any fuss during the flight. But very importantly, they’re comfortable.

6. Pack a small blanket or oversized scarf

Little travel blankets are great for keeping you warm on an airplane. However, if you are a woman, those oversized scarves are amazing because you can use them as a blanket or a fashion accessory.

7. Bring noise-canceling headphones or earplugs

Most people are very respectful of others, but sometimes there are kids on the flights and they don’t have any volume settings. Drown out the noises with a pair of quality noise-canceling headphones.

If you are traveling light or you’d rather not get headphones, consider earplugs. They don’t work as well as noise-canceling headphones but they are somewhat effective.

Better yet, consider Bluetooth earbuds connected to your phone. You can turn on a sleep app, sleep music, or relaxing music to drown out any passenger noises.

8. Get a decent travel pillow

There are tons of travel pillows on the market but alas, you may not find the perfect one on your first try.

Some travel pillows are good but they’re bulky. If you’re going on Safari, for example, you won’t have room for extra things.

Some travel pillows are just not very effective and you wake up with a stiff neck. Sometimes the area that goes on the back of your neck pushes your neck too far forward, making them uncomfortable and ineffective too. 

9. Bring an eye mask

Some airlines offer a free complimentary eye mask. Those are okay but they’re not great. They tend to block out most light but some light might still seep in. Try to get a sleep mask that contours to your face, thereby blocking out all the light.

10. Upgrade your seat

If you are earned yourself some travel miles and you can afford to do so, upgrade your seat. A premium economy seat might give you some extra legroom. 

best seat positions for sleeping on a plane
Image credit: The sleep Judge

11. Get in the right sleeping position

According to The Sleep Judge, the best sleeping position in an airplane is to lean forward.

12. Avoid caffeinated drinks

Everyone knows you shouldn’t be drinking coffee or caffeinated drinks before bed. If you are really eager to sleep on your flight, try to avoid it even before you take off. 

13. Go easy on the alcohol

You’ve done all this planning. You’re exhausted. You’re finally on the flight and all you want to do is relax with a little glass of something. Go ahead, you deserve it, but don’t go overboard. Alcohol consumption leads to non-restorative sleep. 

14. Watch your diet

Have you ever had a carb-heavy meal or spicy food before bed, then wake up a few hours later with indigestion?

If this is a problem for you, try to avoid foods like that before you nod off to sleep. 

15. Pack a few snacks

It depends on which airline you are flying with, but with some airlines, it feels like they are coming out with food when your food has hardly digested. On other airlines, you may be hungry hours before they bring the food. Prepare for the latter by packing a few snacks, just in case. The last thing you want is to be hungry, and therefore unable to fall asleep. 

16. Hydrate before your flights

Dehydration can lead to nausea and headaches. Try to avoid that by hydrating yourself even before you board the aircraft.

Once you are on the airplane, you will not want to interrupt your neighboring passengers to go to the bathroom continuously. Try to stay hydrated without needing to go to the restroom every hour.

17. Pack the melatonin

For some of us, it is extra hard to fall asleep on an airplane, or any unfamiliar environment. If this is you, prepare yourself by packing some over-the-counter sleep aids in your carry-on.

18. Put away your electronics

Maybe you will need your phone if you are using a sleeping app or listening to music, but you don’t need to look at it. Stow it away. The lights from electronic devices are notorious for suppressing melatonin and throwing off our circadian rhythms.

19. Do what you usually do before bed

You won’t be able to do everything you usually do before bed, but you can do a few. By following a familiar bedtime routine, you may be able to fall asleep easier. For example, if you usually read a few pages before bed, bring your book along.

how to sleep on a plane guide
Image credit: The sleep Judge

How to sleep on a plane FAQ

What's a red eye flight?

A red-eye flight is a flight that is scheduled to leave at night and arrive the next morning.

Can you bring melatonin on a plane?

According to the TSA, you can bring melatonin on the plane. Since you will be needing it on the flight, be sure to pack them in your carry-on for immediate access.

What's the best thing to take to sleep on a plane?

Opt for over-the-counter sleeping aides like Dramamine, melatonin, or any antihistamine containing diphenhydramine (like Benadryl). You can also try medicines that are designed for insomnia, like Unisom or ZzzQuil.

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About The Author

Hi! We’re the Cheltens’. We visit South Africa 1-2 times per year. We want to share our experiences with you so that you may make educated decisions when you plan your next trip to the rainbow nation.

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