How to Sleep on a Plane: 14 Tips for On-the-Go Rest
Sleeping on a plane isn’t easy. Between cramped seats, frequent interruptions, and the general stress of traveling, resting can feel like a monumental task. To help you get ahead of your jetlag, we’ve outlined a few helpful tips for getting more restorative sleep while flying
Mimicking your at-home bedtime routine at the airport can help your brain get ready for bed
It’s possible to bring your own blanket on flights for a little familiar comfort!
Since airplane air is very dry, staying hydrated can help you wake up refreshed
Did you know?
The world’s longest flight goes from New York to Singapore and lasts almost 19 hours.
If you’re wondering how to fall asleep on a plane, you’ve probably experienced just how difficult it can be to get real, restorative rest while traveling.
While there’s no way to guarantee a good night’s rest at 30,000 feet in the air, there are a few ways you can make it easier to fall asleep on a flight. A successfully restful plane ride often comes down to preparing beforehand and remembering to bring the right things to help you sleep.
1. Select Your Seat Wisely
Not every flight booking will allow you to pick your own seat, but if you can, pick it with sleep in mind! Consider how you usually sleep: do you prefer to rest on one side, or is stretching your legs out more important to you? This can help you determine whether to pick a window seat or an aisle seat.
It might be worth paying a little extra to select your seat if you’re considering how to sleep on a plane in economy class.
And though first and business class upgrades can come with high price tags, many airlines now offer premium economy options at a lower price point.
Flight Timing for Better Sleep
If you’re hoping to snooze away a long flight, try picking a flight time that’s close to your current sleep schedule.
This is especially useful if you tend to get stressed when traveling. Rather than tossing, turning, and getting up early for that 5am flight, you can opt for the flight the night before.
In an ideal situation, you’ll be done checking your bags, going through security, and waiting in the boarding line by the time you would normally fall asleep. This may make it easier to relax once you’re sitting in that cramped airplane chair.
2. Turn Down the Lights
With a hectic travel schedule, it may not be easy to pick a flight that takes place during your usual sleeping hours. In this case, the trick of how to fall asleep on a plane often has a lot to do with the environment around you — and light, in particular.
Our circadian rhythms determine when our bodies are ready for sleep, and they’re largely influenced by environmental factors like light. And while you can’t change your circadian rhythms in a day, you can modify the light around you.
Try reducing your light exposure during your flight in the lead-up to the time you’d like to fall asleep. A sleep mask can be a great way to accomplish this (and feel extra fancy while doing it!), but something as simple as putting away your phone or turning off the overhead lights can also help.
Without an overload of light telling your body that it’s time to be awake, you’ll likely have an easier time sinking into a deep sleep.
3. Bring Your Own Blanket
It might seem silly to bring a blanket on a plane — after all, airlines usually provide blankets on long flights. But whether these blankets are sanitary or not is a different story.
The truth is, many airlines don’t seem to actually clean their blankets in between flights. And even if those plastic-wrapped blankets were clean, they wouldn’t usually be described as comfortable.
Bringing your own blanket on a plane is a simple way to upgrade your airplane sleep. With a familiar blanket, it might feel easier to relax, even in that stressful traveling environment. You could even opt for a weighted blanket that helps you fall (and stay) asleep with less stress.
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4. Keep Your Feet Cozy
Whether you prefer to dress up for a flight or pick an outfit that’s closer to pajamas, you’ve probably wondered what shoes to wear on a plane.
You’ll likely pick something comfortable that will get you through the airport with ease, but even the most supportive pair of tennis shoes might not be cozy to sleep in once you’re sitting on the plane.
Bringing a pair of slippers or sleep socks can be a great strategy for how to sleep on long flights. You’ll be able to swap out your airport shoes for something less clunky. And the ritual of changing into slippers might even get you into a sleepier state of mind.
Wearing compression socks is another way to keep your feet (and legs) happy during a long flight. Compression socks are commonly recommended as a strategy for reducing swelling when flying. By keeping your circulation flowing, they can help you sleep on a plane more comfortably.
5. Mimic Your Bedtime Routine
It’s hard to make an airplane seat feel homey. But following a similar routine to what you would at home can help you feel at ease.
This might look like brushing your teeth in the airport bathroom before boarding or packing the same book that you’ve been reading at bedtime. Or maybe you’ll want to get a cup of herbal tea after passing through security.
Whatever your bedtime routine looks like at home, try to identify elements that you could recreate in the airport. And if you don’t have one, it might be time to start thinking about it!
Establishing a dependable bedtime routine can help make it easier to sleep when other aspects of your day-to-day life are disrupted.
6. Stay Hydrated
It’s never fun to wake up from a nap feeling dehydrated! For more restful sleep (and to keep your body functioning at its best), it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water throughout the flight.
Bringing your own water bottle on a long flight is one way to encourage yourself to drink more. That way, you won’t have to badger the flight attendants for more cups of water — and you’ll be using less plastic, which is always a good thing.
7. Pamper Your Skin
Airplane air is usually very dry, which can be harsh on the skin. So in addition to staying hydrated from within, there are a few skincare items that can take your plane sleep to the next level.
Start with a basic, all-purpose lotion to keep your skin hydrated from head to toe. If your eyes tend to get dry, eye drops can be a real lifesaver on a longhaul flight. To top it all off, you can make your flight a truly spa-like experience by bringing a moisturizing face mask.
8. Keep Organized
Most airlines allow you to bring a checked bag and a personal item on a flight. The general rule of thumb for personal items is that they need to fit underneath the seat in front of you. And when we pack that luggage up, we’re often thinking about how to make the most of the space available.
But the tricky thing is, your feet also need space under that seat! Cramming your legs next to a jam-packed personal item can make for a very uncomfortable sleeping position.
So when you’re considering how to sleep better on a flight, you might also want to think about your packing strategy. If you struggle with leg space on flights, it might help to choose a smaller personal item.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep essential items you’ll be using throughout the flight (such as headphones, snacks, and lip balm) easy to access in a separate, smaller pouch. That way, it’ll be easy to stash your personal item in the overhead bin if there’s any extra room.
9. Try Aromatherapy
Many people jump to the option of sleeping pills when considering how to fall asleep on a plane, but there are also natural sleep aids that can be less of a shock to your system.
Calming scents like lavender, chamomile, or peppermint can help your body relax and enter a more restful state. Lavender essential oils have even been proven to calm the nervous system and help people with insomnia sleep better.
10. Block Out the Noise
If you travel often, chances are you’ve been stuck in a flight next to a crying baby … or that person who snores from takeoff to landing.
As frustrating as it may be, there’s no way to control the amount of noise that others around you make on a flight. The best thing you can do is come equipped to block it out.
A pair of comfortable earplugs can be a great addition to any sleep travel kit. Another good option could be a pair of noise canceling headphones, which keep that external noise to a minimum.
11. Listen to a Story
Total silence isn’t everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to falling asleep. It can be helpful to listen to something calming that gets your brain ready to catch those zzz’s. Many people turn to soothing music, but podcasts and audiobooks can also come in handy here.
Rather than hunching over to watch a movie on your seatback or digital device, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy a full story with your headphones in. If you struggle with how to fall asleep on a plane, relaxing distractions like this can be a big help.
12. Create a Mindful Moment
Meditation can be tricky during the stress and strain of traveling. Still, once you’re safely in your plane seat, taking some time to clear your mind and focus on your breathing can be very helpful.
Meditating before or during a flight can even help some people cope with airplane anxiety and fear of flying.
If you’re new to meditation, you can try downloading a guided meditation before your flight or follow some simple breathing exercises.
13. Upgrade Your Travel Pillow
In the same way that it’s important for you to travel with a comfortable blanket, having a supportive pillow can make a big difference. And while we wouldn’t go so far as to recommend bringing a full body pillow on a plane, there are many options that are more comfortable than your average bead-filled neck pillow.
The high number of travel pillows on the market might make it feel overwhelming to purchase one, but don’t worry! If your main concern is how to sleep on an airplane, you’ll mostly want to think about the shape of the pillow and how firm or soft it is.
Try to choose a pillow that will support your sleep in the position you prefer, whether that’s resting to one side, lying back in your seat, or even leaning forward onto your tray table.
14. Don’t Force It
Sometimes there’s nothing that makes it harder to fall asleep than trying too hard!
If sleeping just isn’t in the cards right now, don’t worry. Rather than lying awake, it might help to engage in something slightly more active like watching a movie, playing a video game, or reading a book.
On a long flight, you can choose to try sleeping again after the next meal or the next movie.
By finding other ways to occupy your mind, you might just find that by the time you close your eyes again, you drift off without a care.
It’s not easy to sleep on a plane, but creating a reliable flight sleep routine can go a long way towards helping you drift off. Whether you’re a frequent flier or an occasional traveler, we hope these tips help you on your way to a more restful journey.