11 Best Tips for Getting Sleep on a Plane

by | Last updated Mar 6, 2023 | Beauty, Fitness & Health, Transport / Travelling

Long-haul flights are back on the agenda! And the biggest discomfort, no matter what class you are travelling in can be getting sleep during your long-haul flight. If you were lucky enough to afford, or be bumped from economy to business, or even better, first class, your chances of sleeping are increased as you have more leg-room and a seat that may recline to a bed. But if you are in economy class, don’t fear, I have flown for many years and in many economy sections and survived to tell the tale! I no longer get off the plane feeling like ‘death warmed up’ as I am fully prepared for my flight. And you can be prepared to survive your flight too with my 11 tips to get sleep on a plane. 

This blog was originally written April 2018, updated March 2023. The post contains affiliate links, read full disclosure here.

 

My Best Tips for Getting Sleep on a Plane

 

My best tips for getting sleep on a plane are divided into the following:

  1. Preparation before the flight
  2. During the flight

 

1. Preparation for Getting Sleep on a Plane Begins on the Ground

 

Preparation for getting sleep on your flight begins before you get on the flight. How true! Some of these simple tricks can help you survive a long-haul flight. I follow them every time I’m going to get on a long flight and also on long bus and train trips.

 

Book an Evening Flight

 

When you book your flight you may want to book a flight that leaves late evening. That way, if the flight leaves when you are normally going to bed you may be sleepier and be able to sleep. 

 

Get the Best Seat

 

Choose your seat at the time of booking. Some seats have more space such as those with bulkheads and those near exists. You may need to pay extra for the privilege – believe me, it is worth it! There is a great website SeatGuru you can check out before you book your seat. It allows you to type in your flight and it will show you the best seats on that particular plane. And also, those seats to avoid like the ones close to the toilets. I like to have a window seat when I am travelling on a long-haul flight because I can lean against the plane. The downside of this, you can feel and hear the vibrations of the plane while leaning against it. Sometimes the hum helps me sleep! The middle seat, if I am in a row of three seats, I try to avoid so I don’t have anyone trying to step over me or me having to step over them if I need to get up out of my seat for any reason, like needing to go to the toilet!

 

Avoid Stimulants Before the Flight

 

Avoid stimulants like coffee and alcohol on the day of your flight. Stop drinking them at least 6 hours before your flight.

 

Pack Useful items to Help You Sleep

 

Pack items that will help you be comfortable enough to help you sleep. Like a neck pillow, noise cancelling ear phones and an eye mask. I would suggest, practice using these items before your flight. If you don’t sleep with an eye mask ordinarily, what is to say you will be able to on a plane. However, an eye mask can help your circadian rhythm – when it is dark, we want to sleep. Therefore, have a practice and get use to wearing them for sleep. Same with the other items. If you are considering purchasing a herbal relaxant or being prescribed a sleeping table for the flight, take them to see how they work for you. You don’t want to take a sleeping tablet and not be able to wake up in time to disembark the plane!

 

Get Physical Activity Before the Flight to Wear Yourself Out

 

Getting some physical activity before your flight will help in wearing yourself which will help you sleep. This can be hard, if you aren’t travelling on your own to ensure everyone is tired, but it is an option to try, particularly for an evening flight. Helping your body be physically and mentally tired will help you sleep.

 

2. Things to Help You Sleep During the Flight

 

Avoid Stimulants on the Plane

 

As I mentioned before, avoid stimulants on the day of your flight. Stimulants such as coffee and alcohol can keep you awake. Closer to the flight take a herbal relaxant such as Valerian. A herbal relaxant can also take away the anxiety and nervousness of getting onto your flight. If you have a fear of flying a relaxant can help take the edge off your fear. When you are relaxed, you will sleep better.

 

Choose the Best Position for Your Body

 

Have you ever pulled your meal tray down and put your head on it to sleep? Like the guy in the photo! Well, don’t do it again, it is bad for your lower back according to experts. It is recommended the best body position is to recline your chair, lean back and have support for your neck (see further). Or if you have a window seat lean against the side of the plane. Sit with your legs together and bend your knees slightly. Do not cross your legs as crossing them could lead to pain later on and can increase your chances of a blood clot as it restricts the flow of blood. It is only you and your body that can choose the best positions for your body so you can get sleep on the plane. Try a few positions until you are comfortable and fall asleep.

 

Use a Travel Pillow

 

I love my travel pillow. I have used a number of them throughout my travels and thank goodness I discovered the one in the photo, a Trtle a few years ago. And believe me it works wonders. I know that neck pillows look embarrassing but hey, I swear by mine, particularly this style. It is unlike the blow up pillows, as this pillow looks more like stiff scarf. Wearing it, helps me tune out because it helps me to relax. When it is time to tune back in, the pillow has helped support my head and neck and I wake up able to move my body without any stiffness, aches and pains. The Trtle also keeps your neck lovely and warm as sometimes it can get cold on the plane.

I’ve tried a number of neck pillows over the years, but this is my favourite.

 

Block out Plane Noise

 

Blocking out noise such as the constant hum of the plane, screaming kids and people chatting and moving around the plane is a must. The quieter you can make it the better you can sleep on a plane. I suggest you invest in a pair of ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones. Sometimes, my own music helps me sleep. That’s not saying I like boring music – but my favourite songs can help.

 

Block out Light on Your Flight

 

There can be a lot of light on the plane. From daylight coming through windows. Overhead lights from people reading to light from TV screens and other electronics. Having an eye mask will definitely block the light out and remind your body it is night time. So if you are serious about getting some sleep on your long-haul flight, definitely block out the light (and the noise).

 

Stay Warm While Flying

 

When flying at 40,000 feet the air cabin can become cold. Definitely wear layers of clothes so you can put them on when cold, and take them off if you get too hot. Put a blanket over you as well – best under your seat belt so crew don’t wake you during turbulence to tell you to buckle up your seatbelt. Note: Some airlines provide a blanket but not all, so maybe take a small one with you on the flight. You could fold it up to be a pillow if not needed to keep you warm! Take a pair of socks to keep your feet warm. I also like to wear a hoodie on the flight because I can pull the hoodie over my head to keep me warm, block out and light and provide a little privacy.

 

Wear Compression Socks

 

Compression socks won’t make you sleep better but wearing a pair can help reduce the effects of getting Deep Vein Thrombosis. This is where blood clots can form in your legs from sitting on a plane for long periods of time dormant. The lack of movement can restrict blood flow and cause Deep Vein Thrombosis. Compression socks can also help keep your legs warm.

 

Change into Comfortable Clothing

 

Gone are the days when flying required you to wear business wear, particularly if you wanted to be upgraded. Thank goodness! To be able to sleep on a flight you need to be comfortable. That means wearing comfortable clothes. So what clothes do you feel comfortable in? Loose fitting clothing is usually best. And layers. Some people change into their ‘flying clothes’ shortly before boarding or once the seat belt sign gets turned off go to the toilet and change. I prefer to wear my comfortable clothes on the plane which are long comfortable pants or stretchy jeans, a t-shirt and a jumper or jacket. I also prefer to wear shoes and socks so my feet stay warm. Though I have been known to wear sandals when coming from a tropical island – but I put my socks in my bag so I can pull them out and put them on if needed. So consider the clothes you will wear on the plane because you don’t want them restricting your movement and making you uncomfortable.

 

Advise Crew Not to Wake You

 

You can advise the crew that you don’t want to be woken during meal times (and at other times like during turbulence). I have heard that some airlines provide a do not disturb sticker you can put on your chair or yourself to let crew know you want to sleep through a meal service. How cool is that!

 

Pack Toiletries for Comfort in Economy Class

 

For your own comfort in your economy class seat take toiletries on the plane with you. Taking toiletries onboard your flight will help you keep your bed-time routine up before you sleep. And just having access to your toiletries can really help keep you relaxed. Like lip balm for your lips if they become dry. Eye drops as the recycled cabin air can be very drying on your eyes. Also some face wipes to freshen up not only your face but other parts of your body. Deodorant for under your arms. And a toothbrush and toothpaste to freshen the mouth. A hair brush and/or comb also. Believe me, these things can help you feel refreshed, relaxed and comfortable so you can get some sleep. And again after you wake up.

 

Stay Hydrated

 

Ensure you drink enough water before and during your flight. Planes and airports are enclosed areas and don’t always have the freshest air – this can dehydrate you. Therefore, drink plenty of water – but not too much close to the flight or during the flight that you need to go to the bathroom a lot.

Are You Ready to Get Sleep on a Plane?

 

I cannot guarantee you will fall asleep fast on a plane but hopefully, with my above mentioned tips you will feel relaxed enough to get some sleep on your flight. If you didn’t get much sleep on the plane then lets hope you have accommodation booked so you can get to it fast and get some sleep. Book accommodation for your arrival here. Happy Flying.

If you have any other tips for getting sleep on a plane, I would love to hear in the comments following.

 

You May Also Like:

9 Tips to Survive Long-haul and Overnight Train Trips
What to Wear on a Plane

 

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Sharyn McCullum Sailing Through The Panama Canal With Storm Chasing Boat.

Sharyn McCullum – Travel Writer / Blogger, Remote On-line Worker, sometime Digital Nomad and Travel, Live and Work Abroad Expert. Is a chocoholic, coffee connoisseur and lover of ’80s music. Been travelling all her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. Lived in London 4 years on a working holiday. Has holidayed in Hawaii over 15 times and currently calls Melbourne, Australia home. Is inspiring others to get the live work play travel lifestyle with this blog. Read more about Sharyn here.

5 Comments

  1. cass

    Loved this one too – we’re on the same page about the importance of better sleep I reckon hehe!

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Getting sleep is important to your travels. If you are tired and grumpy you don’t travel that well! Well I don’t!

      Reply
  2. Marika

    Sleeping on flights is something I struggle with. I definitely need to buy a pair of compression socks for my next flight and a sleep mask.

    Reply
    • Sharyn McCullum

      Yeah, I don’t always find it comfortable on flights – even when upgraded to business (haven’t made first class yet) I find it hard to sleep but having some of the items on my list do help.

      Reply
  3. ANUKRATI DOSI

    So true. I have been thinking to pay for the xl seats, but I always think why should I pay for a 2-hour flight? Fo a long journey, I may now.

    Reply

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