How to Sleep on a Plane - 15 Tips for an Effective In-Flight Sleep

How to Sleep on a Plane, Woman sleeping relaxed on plane

Whether you're planning a long trip to your dream destination or traveling for business purposes, you might have to take a long flight. When up in the air with almost nothing to do, catching up on your sleep can be both time-killing as well as refreshing.

But how can you do it comfortably? That can be quite tricky. Not enough legroom, noisy neighbors, crying, turbulence – there are too many uncontrollable factors that can disturb a peaceful nap.

Keep reading to learn how to sleep on a plane and wake up refreshed - not groggy.

 

How to Sleep On A Plane

According to a survey, around 48% of Americans report that they are unable to sleep on planes. About 15% of the respondents of the same survey reported that they use prescription medication, a glass of wine or alcohol in general to sleep on a plane, as opposed to 80% of the respondents who never get around getting sleep at all.

As you can see, you are not alone in this struggle. But with a little knowledge, a few changes, and some travel tips and tricks, you can indulge in a peaceful sleep the next time you fly. Here are 15 tips that will help you find the answer to how to sleep on a plane.

Tip #1: Adjust your biological clock

Whether it’s a vacation or a business trip, it's always good to plan your journey ahead. Once you have your travel plans and tickets ready, check your flight’s timing. This way you’ll know what to expect and it’ll be much easier to adjust.

If your flights’ timings don’t collide with your natural sleep schedule, it's advisable to adjust your biological clock accordingly. You can start changing your sleeping habits a few days before your trip and adjust your biological clock even before you get up on the plane. But be cautious to not make the shift abruptly, as it can do more harm than good.

For example, if your flight is at 5 PM, then start adjusting your sleep pattern beforehand. You can start going to bed at 10 PM, followed by a gradual shift to 9 PM, and so on. While on the plane, your body will automatically adjust to the deficit of 1 or 2 hours.

Tip #2: Choose your seat carefully

air plane seats with comfortable seat in exit row for better sleep

Seat selection is an important decision that determines your flight comfort level. Uncomfortable seats can be a huge mood spoiler and can dampen your flying experience. For instance, seats right by the toilets or the galley are the ‘must avoid’ ones if you want a restful flight.

If you choose exit row seats or a seat right by the toilets, you’ll have to deal with lines of passengers waiting for their turns. An aisle seat may also cause frequent disturbances owing to regular flight attendant movements.

Bulkhead seats, on the other hand, can be really beneficial if you're looking to do away with disruptions in your personal space. You can get more leg space and fall asleep peacefully without feeling cramped or claustrophobic.

Tip #3: Consider a suitable timing

Preferably, you should opt for a flight that overlaps with your regular sleep cycle, but that won’t always be the case. Choosing the right timing for your flight is often as important as choosing the right seats.

Consider booking tickets that converge with your natural sleep schedule. This will keep your biological clock on track and will be less likely to disrupt your circadian rhythm. You’ll be able to fall asleep more easily on the flight if you pick a time that's closest to your typical sleep time. Choosing overnight flights can be a great advantage.

Tip #4: Try to fly direct

If you’re traveling long distances, then it's highly probable that you’ll be required to change flights midway. This not only increases your travel time, but also severely disturbs any possibility of taking a long, peaceful nap.

For example, if you’re taking two flights of a couple of hours each, you’ll hardly get any uninterrupted sleep, which can make you feel more groggy than refreshed. In all likelihood, headaches will accompany the grumpiness. But, if you take a direct flight of 8 hours straight to your destination, then you will have time to take a long nap without interruptions.

This will make you feel more rejuvenated and energetic, and you’ll be able to ultimately enjoy your vacation without experiencing severe jet lag. So it’s always better to take a direct flight wherever possible.

Tip #5: Reduce your carry-ons

Carry-ons are a must for almost all travelers, but the increase in carry-ons might lead to reduced leg space, and compromising on your leg space in an already congested flight is not a good option. So, it’s better to reduce the number of your carry-ons if you want a peaceful sleep.

Prioritize your in-flight needs. You can keep the things you require on the flight in a small handbag, while other things can be packed into separate luggage to be kept in the overhead bins.

Tip #6: Neck pillows are your new best friend

If you’re a seasoned traveler, chances are that you already know this, but if you’re not, then you’ve at least heard of it. Invest in a good neck pillow. Not all neck pillows are made the same way, so make sure that the one you buy is actually comfortable. In fact, a poor-quality neck pillow will do more harm and give you the worst kinds of neck cramps.

Use them and you’ll get no neck cramps or jolting due to turbulence. You can also find numerous inflatable neck pillows that only take up a small amount of space in your handbag. However, if you still struggle to store them, you can always hang one around your neck at the airport.

Tip #7: Limit light exposure

bright screen in air plane and light from air plane window making sleep difficult

Screen time is not good for your sleep, and the same goes for your in-flight sleep. Several studies have shown that blue light is responsible for resetting our biological clocks. So turn off those flashy screens, stay away from your laptop or cellphone for once, and take a little break from your social media.

Avoid window seats and daytime flights if you’re looking to have a good nap on a long flight. You can even shut the window screen - provided your co-travelers don’t have an issue with that. You could also consider dimming the lights in your seating area. Keep yourself away from light exposure, and you’ll enjoy a deep slumber even on a plane.

Tip #8: Use headphones the right way

There are many ways you use your headphones on a plane. You watch movies, listen to music, and more. Here are a few effective ways to use your headphones:

  • Avoid watching movies or videos, and instead use your headphones to listen to relaxing music that helps you sleep. You can also use certain sleep apps to help with your pre-planned plane sleep.
  • Avoid carrying bulky headphones, and try switching to light earphones or earbuds. They are more comfortable, easy to carry, and are perfectly manageable.
  • However, if you don’t want any white noise while you sleep, consider carrying high-quality, noise-canceling headphones or ear plugs with you. They help you cancel out the irritating plane noise effectively.
  • Also, you can use your headphones or earphones effectively as a means to cut out that irritating snoring from your flying companions. So, get cuddled up with good music, mute out snores, and enjoy a deep slumber!

Tip #9: Dress comfortably

 

Unlike other apparel, airport fashion centers around comfort. Wearing a comfortable travel outfit can help you sleep better on your journey.

Wearing heavy and bulky clothes might make you feel uncomfortably warm in a congested airplane. On the contrary, thin layers of clothing might make you feel chilly. Also, wearing too-tight clothes can be highly uncomfortable when it comes to sitting for long hours on a long-haul flight.

So it's always a better idea to dress in layers that can help you adjust to changing temperatures and keep you comfortable throughout the flight. By the way, did you know that warm feet are a signal for your brain that it’s time to sleep?

Tip #10: Stay away from coffee

Now this is pretty obvious! If you want to sleep, then skip the caffeine. Caffeine coursing through your veins is not an ideal way to induce sleep. So avoid coffee, tea, soda, or any other caffeinated drinks before you set foot on the plane.

Whether it's a nighttime flight or a daytime one, caffeine (coupled with other distractions) will surely make it hard for you to sleep. So stick to water and juices!

Tip #11: Avoid spicy foods

Spicy foods have nothing to do with your sleep, but they have everything to do with your intestinal distress. And intestinal distress doesn’t really go hand in hand with deep slumber. You don’t want to be taking repeated trips to the bathroom and totally disrupt your sleep, right?

So it's highly advisable that you stay away from spicy foods and gluttonous portions. It will save you extra trips to the restroom and make you feel comfortable enough to fall asleep.

Tip #12: Stay hydrated, but not too much

water cup on air plane tray table, stay hydrated during flight

The mantra for staying healthy and nourished during a long journey is staying hydrated. Drinking an appropriate amount of water and other liquids helps your body adjust to the hectic journey and improves your energy levels.

But make sure that you don’t go overboard with staying hydrated. Too much water or liquid intake will only increase your trips to the bathroom, once again disrupting your slumber. In order to avoid that, drink only a reasonable amount of H2O.

Tip #13: Consider sleep aids

Taking a sleeping aid is not generally recommended. But if you’re someone with sleep issues who can barely sleep on planes, even after avoiding caffeine and following all the other rules, then it might not be a bad idea to consult a doctor.

If sleep deprivation or insomnia is a chronic medical problem for you, then you should definitely take a trip to your doctor a few days before your flight. You can ask them to recommend sleeping pills or similar medications. Please make sure that you resort to sleep medications ONLY after consulting with your doctor or any other certified expert.

Tip #14: Don’t forget a comfy face mask

Masks have become extremely essential in our daily lives, but many people often ignore the importance of wearing a comfortable mask. Some masks can be itchy, too thick to breathe, or too thin - defeating the purpose of wearing them.

Naturally, wearing an uncomfortable mask will make it very difficult to take a long nap on the plane. So, choose a mask that is neither too thick nor too thin, is made from a breathable fabric, and is comfortable to sleep in.

Tip #15: Eye masks are great too

Just like good quality travel pillows, a great eye mask can uplift your flying experience and help you get hours of sleep on an otherwise boring flight. Eye masks have indeed become a staple for many travelers. Whether on the plane or while waiting in the airport, a good comfy eye mask (or sleep mask for that matter) will help you fall asleep in no time. There are even sleep masks with ear muffs which make you doze off in no time.

business woman on air plane using Hibermate sleep mask with ear muffs

So, invest in a good eye mask, shut out unnecessary cabin lights, put in some earphones and good music, get settled with your blankets and neck pillows, and sleep like a child on a long flight.

 

Conclusion

A little change in your flying habits can do wonders for your in-flight sleep schedule. Just make sure that you have everything you need to make these tips for how to sleep on a plane work. And never forget to ask for help from the flight attendants if you’re facing any problems.

Remember though that there are other passengers on the same plane who might be facing the same problems. So, please be considerate when you fly, and be ready to make certain compromises on your part as well. Happy flying!

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