How To Sleep on a Plane: Tips for the Best Sky Snooze

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In my years of plane travel, I’ve found that there are typically two groups of people. The first group would rather stay awake. They prefer to read, watch a movie or strike up a friendly conversation with their seat mate. The second group of people would rather use their time to catch up on some rest. But figuring out how to sleep on a plane can be tricky. 

I admit that I’m in the second group. Since flying involves staying confined to one spot, sometimes for hours, I’d rather pass the time in dreamland. However, it isn’t always easy. Airplane aren’t exactly the most comfortable place to get some rest. There’s the lack of space, surrounding noise and the occasional turbulence!

Thankfully there are several things that make plane sleep a little easier. But first, let’s talk about why it’s so darn hard to sleep on a plane in the first place.

Read More: 7 Things NOT to Do on a Plane if You Don’t Want to Get Sick

Why You’re Probably Having Trouble Sleeping

First things first, let’s talk about why you’re probably having trouble catching some zzz’s in the first place. When it comes to air travel, there are many factors that could affect your ability to get comfy:

  • Seat design: Airplane seats aren’t exactly built with our comfort in mind. Instead, they’re built to get as many people as possible on the plane. That said, there’s not much legroom or space for reclining your seat without ending up in another passenger’s lap.
  • Other passengers: While in most cases you can pick your seat, one thing that you can’t choose is who is going to end up on the plane with you. A snorer, talker or screaming child can certainly interrupt your ability to get some good rest!
  • It’s not natural: An airplane seat isn’t your typical place to catch a snooze and your body knows it. Therefore, it will be difficult to naturally fall asleep as quickly as you would if you were in a bed.

Now that you know why sleeping in the sky is so hard, let’s talk about what you can do. Here are our 10 tips for how sleep on a plane for maximum comfort and rest.

1. Get Prepared Before The Flight

Part of getting some quality sleep on the flight depends on what we do before the flight. Planning your flight times intentionally, exercise and getting your body hydrated can all help do the trick.

When booking your flight, try your best to opt for direct, nonstop flights where you can stay put and get the best sleep versus having to interrupt your sleep to change flights. Avoid those red-eye flights which can keep you awake and reduce your sleep quality (unless it happens to be a full overnight flight where you can get the maximum hours of sleep). You’re also going to want to spend those extra bucks to choose your seat (more on this later).

Getting a good workout also helps. Have you ever noticed how good a nap is after you’ve gotten in a good workout?  If you have time, try to do some intense exercise to tire your body out before your flight. Doing so will exhaust your muscles and help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Last but not least, start hydrating your body sooner rather than later. Airplane air is very dry. It can be quite difficult to get comfortable enough to sleep when your mouth is also dry. Drink plenty of water to hydrate your body at least 24 hours prior to your flight. Hydrating early keeps you from guzzling water on the plane and constantly needing the bathroom!

Read More: How to Survive a Long Haul Flight

2. Make Adjustments to Your Sleep Routine

Making slight adjustments to your sleep schedule and sleep routine may be necessary if you want to get a proper amount of rest on the plane. It will also help to avoid jet lag and major interruptions to your circadian rhythm during flights with major time zone differences.

Booking the earliest flights and staying up late the night prior tires me out enough to sleep on the plane. It also helps me to stay asleep for a good portion of the flight. However, for long-haul flights and those that change time zones more than once (such as the 13+ hour direct flight I once took to Dubai), it can really throw one’s sleep schedule off!

According to sleep experts, it takes our bodies approximately 24 hours to shift our biological clocks by an hour. One way you can help to offset jet lag and keep your circadian rhythm in line is to start slowly adjusting your sleep time beforehand to align with the time zone you’ll be traveling to.

3. Choose Your Seat Carefully

If getting a good sleep is one of your goals, spending the extra money to be able to choose your own airplane seat is totally worth it. And once you do, you’re going to want to choose that seat very carefully!

First and foremost, if your budget allows you to choose a first class or business class seat, you’re already ahead of the game. These seats automatically tend to be roomier and more comfy than economy class seats. Some airlines even have seats that recline completely, like a bed! But if you’re sitting in economy class, the best seat to choose for getting sleep is the window seat. Not only does it give you a place to rest your head, but it also keeps you from being interrupted when your neighbor needs to make a trip to the lavatory.

If you get stuck in the dreaded middle seat, not only are you stuck between two people and fighting for the armrest, but you’re forced to sleep upright (there’s nothing more embarrassing than falling over on another passenger’s shoulder)! Meanwhile, if you’re in the aisle seat, you’re going to have to worry about the passengers next to you getting up to use the lavatory, or the constant passing of the flight attendants and other passengers in the aisle.

Unless you don’t mind sleeping upright, you’ll want to avoid the last row of the plane as they do not have the option to recline. And as tempting as the extra leg room may be, avoid the exit row at all costs. Most exit row seats do not recline, and they have a fixed armrest.

4. Dress Appropriately

When it comes to airplanes, I’ve found that the temperature is rarely ever “just right.” It is either too hot or too cold. Wearing layers is helpful for me so I can adjust to whatever temperature the plane has. Light, loose-fitting clothes and shoes that easily slip on and off are also best for getting comfy enough to sleep (especially for those long-haul flights).

A good pair of compression socks also help to reduce the risk of blood clotting or circulation issues during your flight. SheBuysTravel recommends the CHARMKING compression socks for men and women, which are lightweight, comfortable and will leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed after a long day of flying!

Read More: The Best Comfy Travel Pants for a Long Flight

5. Watch What You Drink

Now you know that hydrating is key to being comfortable enough to sleep before your flight, but what you drink on the flight plays just as big a part!

For coffee drinkers, that cup of Joe may be tempting, but it isn’t a good idea. In fact, it is best to avoid caffeine altogether as it will have the opposite effect that you’re looking for. Additionally, you may want to think twice about that glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage. While some find that a beverage or two may help them to get better sleep, others find that it only leads to increased anxiety, worse sleep quality and increased grogginess after the flight. Not to mention, it will also dehydrate you even more!

6. Consider Sleep Aids and Supplements

For those who are super sensitive to their surroundings, figuring out how to sleep on a plane can be difficult. Sleep aids and supplements may be necessary in this case to get some rest on a plane. Ambien and Benadryl are quite popular choices. However, they also come along with some negative side effects such as sleepwalking, dehydration and that uncomfortable grogginess that can last well beyond your flight.

On the other hand, melatonin is a more desirable and safer sleep aid since it is already produced by your body. SheBuysTravel recommends Natrol Melatonin Fast Dissolve Tablets for flying, as you can take them without water. Taking melatonin does, however, take some planning in advance, as it needs to be taken roughly five hours prior to your flight. Other natural sleep aids and herbal supplements such as lavender, chamomile and passion flower are also great options to help you get to sleep.

One thing to keep in mind no matter what sleep aid you choose is the length of your flight and whether your body will get sufficient rest. For example, I wouldn’t dare take sleep pills for the 45-minute flight from Washington, DC to New York, as it would put me in too deep of a sleep to properly function when the flight lands.

7. Use an Eye Mask and Ear Plugs

Since natural light can prevent you from getting a good rest, investing in a comfortable eye mask can do wonders for helping you get some rest on a plane. Pair it with some good ear plugs to block out the noise around you and you’ll be all set to get some shut-eye on your next flight.

SheBuysTravel recommends the ROVAZO 3D Sleep Mask and Ear Plug Travel Set from Amazon, which comes equipped with a travel bag to easily store in your purse or carry on. It also has a second pair for your traveling partner! And for those with long eyelashes, have no worries. The indented space in the mask gives them free range!

8. Invest in Noise-Canceling Headphones

If ear plugs aren’t enough or are too uncomfortable (or maybe you just want to drown in your music to help you drift off to sleep), a good pair of noise-canceling headphones can also aid you in your mission for sleep.

Noise-canceling headphones will block out the white noise from the plane as well as any chatter from your neighbors. And a good set like the Soundcore Anker Life Q20 Hybrid Active Noise canceling Headphones also comes with incredible sound to make dozing off to your favorite tunes more pleasurable.

9. Get Comfy In-Flight

Although you may not have control over the airplane seat design, you can always make your flight more comfortable. A neck pillow or travel pillow and blanket can easily help you get cozy and warm in your seat. SheBuysTravel loves the Proglobe Travel Blanket Luxury Travel Set from Amazon. It comes with a memory foam neck pillow, fleece blanket, contoured eye mask and ear plugs. Once you’ve gotten your travel blanket into place, you’ll want to buckle your seatbelt over it, not under it. By buckling on top, flight attendants won’t need to disturb you to make sure you are safely buckled in.

Also, don’t forget to make use of the things that are already on the plane! Bring along some sanitizing wipes and wipe down the tray table, which can be used as a place to lay your head (just make sure to put it up before landing). Additionally, those footrests are there for a reason– to help you get comfortable! Uncross your legs (which despite its comfort can restrict blood flow and increase your chances of blood clot according to the CDC) and prop your legs up on the foot rest instead.

10. Avoid the Screens

Watching a movie or playing a game on your electronic device is a great way to pass the flight time. However, when it comes to sleeping on a plane, they’re not-so-great ideas.

Whether flying or not, using screens right before trying to catch some snooze is a bad idea. Studies have show that the blue light that screens give off can block melatonin and throw off your circadian rhythm. This makes it difficult to fall asleep and get the proper amount of rest. For proper sleep, you’ll want to shut down those electronics at least an hour before attempting to rest.

Kimberly Miles is a mother of one and an experienced solo and single mom traveler. So far, she has traveled to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Dubai, Bahamas, Aruba, Mexico, and several places in the U.S. Kimberly was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia, but in 2018 she took a leap of faith and made the beautiful beach town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico her home with her young son. In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Kimberly ghostwrites blogs on a variety of topics. She also provides marketing consulting services and business guidance to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and corporations via her independent business KNM Virtual Solutions. When she’s not traveling or writing, you can find Kimberly working out, eating tacos, dancing the night away, or spending time at the beach with her son. You can read more of her work at Travel Unapologetically.
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