Please note, we are proudly supported by our readers. The product links are referral based and if you purchase an item we may make a small commission. Please see our disclosure page for full details.

July 12, 2018

Tips for Sleeping on a Plane

Many times we think of the our flight time as an opportunity to get some rest. Catch up on some zzz’s before our big trip or just help pass the time. However, the expectation vs the reality can sometimes be less than ideal. Which is why we want to help you get some rest during that unavoidable down time with our tips for sleeping on a plane.

tips for sleeping on a plane

With somewhere around 37 million flights per year, that’s a lot of time you can take advantage of. Especially if you want to get some rest. However, this can sometimes be easier said than done. If you’re one of those rare people that can fall asleep at takeoff, you can stop reading. But if you’re an average person trying to sleep on a plane, than this is for you.

Sleeping on a Plane: Why it matters

We know you’ve got things to do, people to see. Whether you’re flying for business or leisure, when you land it’s no doubt a race against the clock to make the most of your time. Don’t let sleep ruin your way to hustle. Being an expert plane-sleeper makes a big difference. You can either land that pitch, or humiliate your company. Explore the Statue of Liberty, or watch it behind closed eyelids. If you’re not booking a first class seat with complete reclining seat, you may want to follow the basics. From the right gear to best meal, here are 12  helpful tips for sleeping on a plane:

#1- All about the seat

tips for sleeping on a planeFighting over the window seat is no joke. It really is the best seat in the house- or plane. The window seat is luxury and the key to your best plane sleep. It allows you privacy and something to lean on. You don’t have to worry about other passengers scrambling over you. And you don’t have to make room for the beverage cart to go by. All you have to do is sit back and relax.

For the best options for sleeping on a plane try to avoid the back of the plane, or the last rows. These rows often do not recline. They are also closest to the lavatories and- need I explain more? Even the heaviest of sleepers can’t win against the odor and noise.

Tricks: Really want to have a good seat? Build status with your airline. Travel the majority with one airline and it may come with priority boarding. Otherwise try seatguru.com. This website provides you with color-coded seating charts for almost every airline.

#2- Careful of carry-ons

tips for sleeping on a planeThe more bags you take, may cost you some ZZZ’s. If you have two carry-ons and one is stuck at your feet, say goodbye to sleep. You need that legroom. Travel light enough to store everything in one. Keep important items toward the top of your bag. Before placing it in the overhead compartment, remove those small items. Small items can be stored in the seat pocket in front of you as long as it does not exceed the weight limit of the seat pocket. You just scored yourself more legroom!

#3- Skip caffeine and alcohol

The effects of caffeine are still the same 30,000 feet in the air. It may be hard to score a window seat. But it will be even harder to sleep during the day, on a plane, with caffeine pulsing through your veins. Avoid soda when the drink cart comes around as well.

Alcohol is another monster. Although common belief is that alcohol promotes sleep, it only lasts for three hours. After that, you’re awake. Then what? If you’re dream vacation is more than a three hour flight, now you’re awake and miserable. Alcohol can also make you thirsty. This means drinking more water, which means more trips to the bathroom. No matter which way you put it, these beverages NOT sleep friendly.

#4- Gear-up

tips for sleeping on a planeThe essentials: ear plugs/ headphones, an eye mask, and a pillow. These items are no joke. They cancel noise, eliminate light, and create comfort. But here’s something you may not have thought of- your favorite, comfy sweater? One way to rest easy 30,000 feet in the air is to make it feel as at-home as possible. Bring your favorite comfort item on board with you and it’s like home. For some people it might be a soft, faded t-shirt or comfy socks. Whatever is your go-to at home, cozy up with it on the plane and sleep easy.

Tip: Beware of the headphone pitfall. Don’t be tempted to plug-in and watch the on board movie. We can assure you that Adam Sandler hit is not worth the drowsiness later. Some relaxing music in your headphones however, can help you cancel noise and relax.

#5- Try Melatonin

Not all sleeping aids/ pills are recommended. They usually leave you feeling groggy for much longer. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in our bodies that triggers sleep. It decreases as you age, which explains why you’re not falling asleep any faster on that plane. Try Melatonin and get all the benefits of a leering pill without the risk.

#6- Know the perfect positions

tips for sleeping on a planeUncross your legs- we know you’re doing it. Crossing your legs can have several negative effects including risk of blood clot, lumbar stress, and torquing your lower back. The problem is crossed legs add stress to whatever side is crossed, since the rest of your body is still facing forward. Chances are you’ll wake up to uncross them anyway, and the goal here is not to wake up.

Tip: Sit with a slight bend at your knees, legs straight. This will limit any blood pooling to the lower part of the body. If you’re petite, try turning completely to one side. Sit with your shoulder into the seat.

#7- Dress NOT to impress

Comfort: Theres nothing like sitting in a tight pair of jeans for 10 hours and trying to sleep. The same goes for bulky jewelry and itchy scarves. Dress for comfort on that 15-hour flight and sleep will come much more easily. Be mindful of plane temperatures. We all know how cold those little vents can get. Dress in layers and remember that cozy sweater.

Feet: Do you automatically take off your shoes? If not, you should. Avoid bare feet, but wear clean socks. Bare feet allows them to swell, but cozy socks promote circulation.

#8- Lean back

tips for sleeping on a planeThose seats recline for a reason. Of course, the first rule is be kind to your neighbors. If you’re on a night flight odds are everyone will be leaning back at some point. If you’re flying during the day, be sure to check behind you before reclining. Common courtesy.

Reclining is the key to sleep. It’s all about putting as little pressure on your back as possible. Reclining does this; it eases a little bit of pressure off the lumbar spine. Armrests have also been found to alleviate pressure. Use them, and give the back a break. If you cannot sit up straight which is optimal for sleep, invest in a lumbar pillow, like these.

#9- Lights out

Movie screens, reading lights, overhead lights, and sunlight are the nemeses of sleep. Your best bet is to use an eye mask. This will eliminate light and allow you to fall asleep. It’s best to purchase your own if you’re a frequent flyer. Otherwise, most airlines sell them.

#10- Do not disturb

tips for sleeping on a planeIn the words of a former flight attendant, notify the staff not to disturb you. It is their job to provide you service and comfort. If you want sleep, tell them so that they do not wake you with food or beverages. If you’re using a blanket, make sure your seat belt is over it and visible at all times.

#11- Plan ahead

Think about where you’re traveling. Eastbound? Sleep 30 to 60 minutes earlier than normal, and wake up 30minutes earlier, a few days leading up to the flight. This may seem like a lot of commitment for one flight, but it makes a huge difference. Arrive at that 8 am meeting feeling refreshed, not sluggish and half asleep.

tips for sleeping on a plane#12- Set your watch

Start your vacation as soon as possible. Set your watch to the time zone you will be arriving in, as soon as you’ve boarded. This will allow your body to acclimate. Avoid meals at the wrong time of day in your new time zone, especially caffeine.

Sleeping On A Plane Summary: 

Use our useful tips for sleeping on a plane and gain as much sleep as you have frequent flyer miles. If you’re gonna fly, might as well do it in comfort. This will make your vacation better or end your business meeting with a bang! Whatever the purpose, sleep tight!

And make sure to check out all our sleep tips as well as product reviews. Our Sleep Guide is here to help you find the best sleep possible. Whether you are sleeping on a plane or trying to get the best mattress, we have you covered. And if you ever have any questions, just contact us and we’d be happy to help.