How to sleep on a plane: 7 helpful tips to catch some Zzzs

How to sleep on a plane: 7 helpful tips to catch some Zzzs

Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Amanda Stancati

Each time I board a plane, I have the best intentions to get some shut eye. I’ve always been envious of those who can sleep anytime, anywhere. With my water, book, and sweater within reach, I close my eyes and hope for the best. Getting your beauty sleep on a plane is important to help fight jet lag, especially if you have an event to attend when you arrive and you’ll need to be well rested. The first step is to find the optimal flight time so you board the plane tired, whether that’s at night or early morning. Lack of sleep can lead to exhaustion in your new destination – and who wants to waste precious time feeling sleepy on vacation? Here are our tips on how to sleep on a plane.

Advance seat selection is worth the splurge

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Choose your seats in advance to save your ideal spot. This is one guarantee that is worth the small fee. And we all know the window seat is the most coveted, giving you something to lean against and less to be interrupted by. If you want to go even further, take note of which side you sleep on and choose the appropriate side of the plane. If you’ve ever been placed in the middle of two strangers, you’re aware of the struggles. On the other hand, the aisle seat gives you more leg room, but it also means you’ll have to move every time someone has to use the washroom and will be interrupted from your sleep every time the flight attendant passes by with their cart. Avoid seats near the lavatories where people often linger. You can even go online the day of your flight and scope out if any rows are empty and change your seat.

Find your position

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Wait until after take-off to get into position and comfortable, after people have stopped talking loudly and flight attendants have come around to check seatbelts and serve drinks. If you want leg room, store as much as possible in the overhead bins. If you prefer a leg rest, prop your feet on your carry-on bag stored under the seat in front of you. Sitting for hours upon hours can be tough on your body. When you twist your body one way or another, you add stress to your lumbar. Try to sit up straight with a pillow on your lower back. It’s better for comfort and circulation if you can stretch out your feet – so keep your legs straight so you don’t increase your chances of blood clot.

Tilt your seat – everyone is entitled to – so you can lay back and extend your legs (just check to see if the person behind you is leaning against it or has hot coffee to be respectful). Some people find it comfortable to rest their head on a pillow on the food tray in front of you, though it can strain your back if done for long periods of time. Remember to buckle your seat belt above your blanket so the flight attendant won’t have to wake you up to check if there’s turbulence.

Comfort is key

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While travelling light is ideal, you don’t want to regret leaving your pillow at home during a long flight for the sake of more carry-on space. Neck pillows are cheap saviours; some people even prefer to turn them the other way for support under the chin. Go the extra step and lightly spritz them with a soothing scent like lavender in advance – nothing too disruptive for the scent-sensitive. Wear comfortable clothes: track pants, a tee and sweater, and socks are the go-to. Planes are often too cold or too warm, so be sure to layer and even bring a sweatshirt or a blanket. Wear socks so you can take off your shoes and be comfortable and keep your circulation going with easy shoes to slip on and off so you’re not fighting and knocking elbows mid-flight. Some people bring a hat or hoodie to cover their face for a sense of privacy and darkness, but even sunglasses will do. An eye mask may be something else to consider to avoid the light, if someone opens the window, or if the movie screens and reading lights distract you.

Fuel for the flight

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Before you board, eat a normal size meal and use the restroom so you are ready to relax on the plane. Try not to eat too much, especially within two hours of trying to sleep. Avoid fatty foods and the sugar and caffeine found in items like chocolate and soda. Make sure to stay hydrated during the day before you board and sip on water so you won’t be running to the bathroom every hour. Resist the urge to snuggle up with a warm cup of coffee and opt for herbal tea instead, if you really want a beverage. Skip the alcohol too: it will dehydrate you and interrupt your sleeping patterns, leaving you groggy when you wake up. It may even leave you with a headache – and no one wants those on vacation!

Pack what you need

how to sleep on a plane with magazines

Come equipped with what you’ll need to be comfortable during your flight (as comfortable as you can be at 30,000 feet in the air with 300 other passengers). Water, a magazine or book, snacks, and maybe even a toothbrush and toothpaste if that’s what makes you comfortable, are all easy to pack. Ask for blankets and pillows early on before they’re gone. You may even want to consider taking melatonin, the natural sleep aid, or magnesium powder to pour into your water, to help you doze off.

Ditch the electronics


If you’re seriously trying to sleep, skip on the headphones and don’t stay up for the movie – unless you’re listening to peaceful music to tune out the distractions or have noise cancelling headphones. If it helps, make a specific relaxing playlist for your flight or read a paper book to help your mind relax. Just like at home, you shouldn’t use electronics before bed. The blue light from electronic screens interferes with natural sleep hormones, suppressing the release of melatonin.

How you can prepare in advance

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To help yourself sleep on the plane and adjust quicker to your new time zone, there are some measures you can take ahead of time to fight jet lag. Find your strategy. If you’re heading east or west, determine if you should go to bed an hour or so earlier or later during the days leading up to your trip to get you in the groove. Then, wake up 30-60 minutes earlier or later. As soon as you board, set your watch to the new time zone and pretend you’re already in the new city. Eat on the new city’s time and drink coffee on new time to accustom yourself to the destination. The sooner the better.

Hopefully these tips on how to sleep on a plane help you during your flight. When you arrive, grab a cup of joe and splash your face with cold water to feel more awake. Refuel with protein and fiber (no sugary snacks) and stay up until a reasonable time in the new time zone. If you need to nap, keep it to a half hour and just give your body time to adjust!

Have tips for how to sleep on a plane? Share them below!

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