As the world becomes more connected and as technology advances, travelling by plane is increasingly popular. Whether you find it an adventure, maybe a little intimidating, or you’re a seasoned veteran, falling asleep on your plane journey can allow vital refuelling of energy and leave you feeling ready to take on the world.
Often the biggest problem for travellers who struggle with their plane journeys is that they can’t sleep when they want to, so read on for a variety of top tips from the experts on Travel and Sleep, and learn how you can get some good quality sleep on your next flight.
Sam, Indefinite Adventure
“Sleep is so important and we often don’t give it the attention it deserves. Sleeping on a plane can be really tricky, but if you are able to get even a few hours sleep on a long-haul flight, it can make a huge difference to how your body feels when you arrive. For me, there are three main components to sleeping on a flight:
First is the timing of the flight: when searching for flights, try and find ones that fly overnight for the time zone in which you’re arriving. By making steps to adjust your sleep schedule to your new time zone before you even arrive, you have a much better chance of overcoming jet lag quickly.
Second is picking your seat: if you want to be as undisturbed as possible during the flight, opt for a window seat. This way no one will be trying to pass or climb over you to get out of their seat and with no neighbour on at least one side, but also no one passing you in the aisle, you’re much less likely to be woken up by another passenger.
Third, and finally, is having the right equipment. This will depend on what kind of sleeper you are and what things prevent you from sleeping or easily wake you up. For me, it’s having an eye mask, earplugs, and a neck pillow.
Having some relaxing music to listen to with headphones before trying to fall asleep may help too, and can also act as white noise to block out what people around you are doing.
Try these tricks to get some sleep on a flight, and even if they don’t work perfectly, you’ll hopefully arrive at your destination a little more relaxed than if you didn’t even try.”
Maryanne, The Sleep Works
“Sit in a window seat which reduces the chance of being disturbed and allows you to rest your head on the side. Some airlines provide small pillows (or bring your own) which makes it more comfortable.
Sit towards the back of the aircraft as the front is often where parents with small children will congregate and flight attendants clatter with food and duty free trolleys making it difficult to switch off.
Take your shoes off and wear loose fitting clothing so you are comfortable and your blood flow is not restricted.”
Emily, Emily Luxton
“My number one tip for sleeping on planes is to invest in some decent earplugs and a comfy eye mask. The masks they give out on planes are thin and not particularly nice. After I bought myself a soft, padded one I find I can sleep much easier – they’re just more soothing and cosy and that makes so much difference.
I also swear by Auritech ear-plugs, which cut out engine noise and help control the pressure in your ears. I pop those in, put my big headphones on with some soothing music, and stick the eye mask on and I’m in my own little cosy bubble!”
“I find that in order to relax fully and sleep on a flight I must consciously hydrate the day before I fly, and in the hours before the flight I add extract of St John’s Wort to my water.
A natural remedy used to support mild anxiety and sleep disorders, St John’s Wort helps me to de-stress and let go of the tensions that have built up in the build-up to my trip. I also carry a supportive neck pillow with me as I find it challenging to sleep sitting upright.”
Annette, Bucket List Journey
“Besides a dose of Melatonin, the number one thing that helps me to catch some z’s on a plane is noise cancelling headphones. They allow you block out the chaos going on around you (babies crying, drinks carts being pushed down the aisles and the humming of the engine) while enjoying a little soft music or simply some silence.”
Prof. Dorothy Bruck, Sleep Health Foundation
“Only expect to be able to sleep on a plane if the anticipated time of in-flight sleeping corresponds to when you would be in your own bed asleep, or you are very sleep deprived.
This is because your body clock is set on your home time and that will determine the time when you are most likely to sleep well. Major sleep deprivation can override the body clock’s normal sleeping time setting.
Try to minimise external disruptions by planning ahead with having eyeshades and earplugs. Many people find a neck pillow makes sleeping a lot more comfortable.
A small amount of alcohol is likely to have a sedative effect but overindulging will fragment your sleep after a few hours.
Avoid caffeine, which can have alerting effects for at least 14 hours.”
Tom Rogers, Adventure In You
“Wear a travel eye mask to block out light, use earplugs (or if you are like me listen to your favourite music) and then when your neck is hurting change positions and rest your head on the pull-down tray in front of you.
If you are in a funny mood place a note somewhere that can be seen saying, don’t wake me up until we land. I did that and it works like a treat!”
Matt, The Expeditioner
“Some people like to have a couple drinks to get a good night’s sleep on a plane. However, the consequences of having a potential hangover is hard to justify. My advice is to cut your previous night’s sleep short to make sure you’re nice and sleepy by the time you get on the plane, then take an antihistamine that will make you drowsy. Not only will it help your breathing while you’re flying, but will help you fall and stay asleep.”
Jacob, Local Adventurer
“Bundle up! Planes can get cold which makes it hard to sleep. I always bring a warm pair of socks and blanket if I know they won’t have one.”
Anton, Our Awesome Planet
“#1 tip is to avoid the blue fake lights emitted by the TV screen on flights and using an eye cover to totally black out the surroundings. Make sure to drink plenty of water before the flight.”
Melo, Out of Town Blog
“Indeed the best way to maximise your flying time is to get a good sleep. To achieve this, my number one tip is to avoid drinking coffee and any caffeine loaded drinks before and during the flight, instead drink chamomile or mint tea as these beverages have no caffeine.”
Kathryn, The Insomnia Clinic
“Don’t drink alcohol as although it may make you relax and even make you nod off, the quality of sleep will be affected and therefore often non-restorative. Try to drink plenty of water as then you will wake feeling more refreshed.”
Alex, Lost With Purpose
“Unless you’re flying in first or business, planes are never going to be comfortable… which can be a problem for light sleepers, myself included. But there’s one surefire way to ensure you can fall asleep virtually anywhere: make sure you’re really, really tired! If I have an early morning flight, I try and stay up the entire night beforehand. This is especially useful if you need to adjust to a new time zone on arrival.
Sometimes I’ll put off my packing until the last minute to ensure I need to be awake, or drink a late night coffee to keep up my energy. It works like a charm—just be careful if you need to drive to the airport while sleep deprived!”
Dan, Uncornered Market
“Don’t start watching that movie or show. Though it might help some people fall asleep, it’s likely to keep even part of your attention…and keep you up.”
Robson, Love and Road
“As frequent travellers, we’ve tried many tricks for getting to sleep on a flight, especially on long hauls.. What has been working well for us is actually a combination of hacks.
First tip: Avoid stressful situations such as being late for your flight. Arrive early, allow plenty of time for all those boring processes like check in, security checks, and immigration.
Second tip: fill up your tummy! A good meal helps to put you asleep.
Third tip: This might be a controversial one: wine. Yep, we enjoy a couple of glasses of wine during and after our meal and “voila”, sweet dreams. If you are not fan of alcohol a peppermint or a chamomile tea also helps.”
Rachel, Wake Up With Zest
“As soon as you board your flight, set your watch to your destination time and treat it as the current time. Eat at the times you would be eating in your new time zone – it may be wise to stock up with food in the departure lounge instead of being at the mercy of airline food timings. If you’re flying in daylight and it’s dark at your destination, wear sunglasses to reduce the amount of light that your eyes are exposed to.”
Chris, A Brit and a Southerner
“Our number one tip for sleeping on a plane is primarily related to the preparation before boarding the plane. Be prepared to have an action-packed day before flying in the evening so that you are ready to sleep once you are on the plane. If it’s a late-night Trans-Atlantic flight for example, we generally like to enjoy our meal and then try to relax with our favourite music (or in Heather’s case movie!) before “hopefully” drifting off to sleep for a few hours.
Another tip if you are really wanting to sleep on a plane is consider upgrading to premium economy or even higher but of course, you need to weigh the pros and cons of the ticket prices.”
Nick, Goats on the Road
“The key to a good night sleep on the plane is plenty of legroom and extra space. When you check in at the airport check in counter, ask the agent if there are any emergency exit seats. Usually if you reserve these online before arriving at the airport, you’ll have to pay extra, but the agents at the counter can give them to you for free.
These exit seats have more leg room and thus, will allow you to sprawl out and sleep more soundly. As a bonus hack, if you’re traveling with a partner, ask to reserve the aisle and window with an empty seat in between you. More often than not, if the plane isn’t full, nobody will take a seat in between two other people so you may have the whole row to yourself! More space equals a better night sleep.”
Beth, Enjoy The Journey
“Our number one tip for getting to sleep on a plane is to tire yourself out before a long journey. Arrange to meet friends for dinner and a night out, or go to the gym/play sport. If you’re mentally and physically tired before you sit down on the plane, it will make going to sleep much easier.
Get your headphones in and play some nice chilled music to drown out the engine sounds, and try meditating for five or ten minutes. Voila, you’ll be snoozing all the way to Kathmandu!”
Becky Moore, Global Grasshopper
“The best tip I can give for sleeping on a plane is to do a little research before you go and pick one of the less busy flight routes, then when the flight is underway seek out some empty rows. Decamp to the more spacious row, lift the armrests up, stretch out over all the seats, close your eyes and imagine you’re in first class – just try not to snore too much!”
Marta, Gentle Sleep Consultant
“Before travelling, read a book about flying with your toddler. That way he/she will feel calmer and more willing to sleep so you can too!
Don’t forget to pack their favourite teddy. It is also useful to take the sheet they had in their cot so the seat smells like home
Book the window seat so you can create a little tent between your seat and the seat in front of you with a sheet. This will create a darker ‘sleeping area’ for your baby.”
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Johnny, Johnny Jet
“My #1 tip is to bring an eye mask since an eye mask helps you create an ideal sleeping environment by blocking out all the light. That way if someone has the window shade up, overhead light on, or your hotel room doesn’t have blackout curtains you can still get some sleep.”
Jessie, Jessie on a Journey
“I’m a big fan of SleepPhones for sleeping on planes. They’re like pillows for your ears; a soft headband with headphones inside. I pair with ASMR audio recordings, nature sounds, gentle meditations — anything relaxing that can help me drift off to sleep. Just make sure to drink lots of water before zoning out. Flying dehydrates you, which can interrupt sleep patterns.”
Joseph, Sleep Disorders Clinic
“Comfortable, loose clothing with an eye mask and headphones to listen to relaxing music.”
Susan, Susan Shain
“Sleeping on a plane is TOUGH. So pop a sleeping pill, don an eye mask, listen to some soothing music and hope for the best!”
Mervin, Pinoy Adventurista
“When I travel, I usually bring a travel pillow. It helps me get a good position on the plane and get some much-needed sleep.”
Alison Gardiner, Sleepstation
“Light is one of the biggest disruptors to sleep. Wearing sunglasses can be an easy way to trick your brain into believing it’s still night-time, so you can hopefully beat the jet lag.
Sunglasses can also be used on the plane to block out the light if you don’t have a sleep mask handy.”
Ari, Beyond Blighty
“This is a question I’m not sure anyone knows the answer to! Aside from splashing out on first class tickets, which will probably cost more than the holiday itself, there are a few small measures you can take to make your journey less painful.
I find that a good neck support pillow goes a long way, as does a large glass of wine and a big emergency bottle of water for when your throat gets really dry in the night. A less obvious tip is to book seats by yourself even if you’re travelling with someone you know. It seems the natural thing to do to select seats next to your friends, family or partner, but if you think about it you’ve just guaranteed yourself a tight spot on the plane.
Having travelled solo for the past five years, I’ve begun to realise that it often affords me more space on a plane, and sometimes I’ve even had an entire row to myself. When you think about it, how much time do you really spend chatting to the people you know on a flight anyway? Spread yourselves out and increase the odds of a ‘double’ seat so you can spread out.”
Robert Schrader, Leave Your Daily Hell
“Although I tried to find ways around it for a long time, I’ve finally accepted that the only way to get sleep on a plane is to travel in first or business class. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean you have to spend so much cash you lose sleep on the ground.
Whether you take advantage of incredible fare sales, as I recently did with Qatar Airways, upgrade your American Airlines ticket, or use credit card miles for premium travel on All Nippon Airways, a flatbed guarantees sleep in the sky.”
Sharon, Where’s Sharon?
“My number one tip for sleeping on a plane is to have a good travel pillow. I find if my head is supported well then it’s much easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.”
We think these tips are great, and the variety should allow you to find something that caters to you! If you’re looking to fly to Europe, why not check out some of Europe’s best alternative attractions while you’re there? Happy travels!