13 Best Tips for How to Sleep on a Plane: Expert Advice for a Restful Flight

Are you someone who struggles to get a good night's sleep on a plane? You're not alone. Many people find it difficult to rest comfortably while flying, especially on long-haul flights.  The first time in many years of travel I could seep on a fight was a 14-hour flight from Seoul, South Korea, to NYC, USA.  I left at 8 pm Korea time and arrived at 8 pm USA time.  I was able to sleep as I had a horrendous day and was returning to the USA for an emergency.  After that, for years, I never slept on a flight again until I finally made an effort to prepare myself correctly for the long flight.

Understanding the Importance of Sleep

When at an airport, the emotions are flying high.  People are either overly excited about their trip, extremely sad about whom they are leaving, or anxious about delays or canceled flights.  With that said, sleep is an essential part of our daily lives, and it's even more crucial when you're traveling. 

Getting enough sleep on a plane can help you feel refreshed and energized at your destination. Lack of sleep can cause fatigue and irritability and even affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses.

Watching a movie or catching up on work during your flight may be tempting, but setting aside time for sleep is what is best for you!  Prioritizing sleep on a flight can make a difference. 

1. Choosing the Right Seat

The seat you choose is one of the most important factors that can affect your ability to sleep on a plane.  If you can fly first class or business class, that may be the option for you.  If not, choosing what seat in economy class is the best option for you can make a difference.

Window Seat

I love the window seat as I like a wall to lean against when trying to sleep.  It can also help you avoid being disturbed by other passengers who need to use the restroom or stretch their legs.  You also have control of the window shade, which allows you to decide how much natural light to let in. The downside is having to ask the other passengers in your row to move when you want to use the restroom.

Aisle Seat

If you need to get up frequently or prefer to stretch your legs, choose an aisle seat. It can also help you avoid feeling trapped in your seat.  I am trying more the aisle seat these days as I can get up more often if I want.

Exit Row Seat

If you need extra legroom, consider choosing an exit-row seat. However, remember that these seats come with additional responsibilities in case of an emergency and a different price tag on the ticket.

Avoid Middle Seats

If possible, avoid choosing a middle seat. It can be uncomfortable to be sandwiched between two strangers, and there is that awkwardness of who gets the armrests on both sides of you.

2. Check SeatGuru

Before you choose your seat, check SeatGuru to see the layout of the plane and find out which seats have the most legroom, which seats are near the restroom, and which seats have power outlets.

Creating a Comfortable Environment

Creating a comfortable environment is key to getting a good night's sleep on a plane, and it starts with you.

3. Dressing for Comfort

While you want to look presentable when traveling, wearing comfortable clothing is essential for sleeping on a plane. Choose loose-fitting, breathable clothing. Avoid tight-fitting clothing or anything made from synthetic materials, as they can be uncomfortable and make it difficult to sleep. Dressing in layers is also a good idea, as temperatures on planes can fluctuate.  

4. Shoes and Socks

Compression socks to reduce leg swelling and increase comfort on long flights.

Comfortable shoes can make such a difference.  Some people like to take their shoes off while not realizing how the smell affects their neighbors on the plane.  But having comfortable shoes for lots of walking (or running) in the airport with your carry-on luggage.

5. Using Travel Pillows

Using a travel pillow can help you get comfortable and fall asleep on a plane. Many types of travel pillows are available, including U-shaped pillows that support your neck, inflatable pillows that can be adjusted to your liking, and wrap-around pillows that provide full-body support. Experiment with different types of pillows to find the one that works best for you.

6. Eye Mask

These days many airlines offer eye masks or a sleep mask when you enter the plane or at the beginning of your flight.   Remember, creating a comfortable environment is just one part of getting a good night's sleep on a plane.  

Mastering the Art of Relaxation

When it comes to sleeping on a plane, relaxation is key. Here are two techniques to help you master the art of relaxation:

7. Deep Breathing Techniques

Deep breathing exercises can help calm your mind and relax your body. One effective method is the 4-7-8 technique. Here's how to do it:

  1. Inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
  2. Hold your breath for 7 counts.
  3. Exhale through your mouth for 8 counts.

Repeat this cycle for a few minutes to calm your mind and prepare for sleep. You can also try other deep breathing techniques, such as belly breathing or alternate nostril breathing.

8. Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation can also help you relax and fall asleep on a plane. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Find a comfortable position while sitting up straight.
  • Focus on your breath: Take deep breaths and focus on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body.
  • Practice mindfulness: Notice your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Simply observe them and let them go.
  • Use a guided meditation: If you're new to meditation, try using a guided meditation app or recording to help you get started.

These techniques can help in any situation, but especially while flying or traveling.  Those who have a fear of flying can benefit greatly also from this.

Using Technology to Your Advantage

Technology can be your best friend when it comes to getting some shut-eye on a plane. Here are two ways to use technology to your advantage:

9. Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Investing in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones can make a world of difference when it comes to sleeping on a plane. Not only do they block out the sound of the engine, but they also help to reduce ambient noise from other passengers. Look for headphones that are comfortable to wear for long periods of time and have a long battery life.  If you would rather not buy headphones, ear plugs will also work!

10. Sleep Apps

Various sleep apps are available that can help you fall asleep on a plane. Many of these apps offer guided meditations, calming sounds, and white noise to help you relax and drift off to sleep. Some popular sleep apps include Headspace, Calm, and Sleep Cycle. 

Pink noise, like ocean waves, can be soothing and help induce sleep.

Just be sure to download the app and any necessary content before you board the plane, as you may not have access to Wi-Fi or cellular data during the flight.

Nutrition and Hydration

When it comes to sleeping on a plane, nutrition and hydration are key factors that can help you get a good rest.

11. Avoiding Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol are two substances that can interfere with your sleep. While caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake, alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycle and leave you feeling groggy and dehydrated. Therefore, it's best to avoid these substances if you want to get a good rest on your flight.

Instead of coffee or tea, opt for herbal tea or water. If you need a little pick-me-up, consider snacking on some fresh fruit or nuts, which can provide a natural source of energy without the crash that comes with caffeine.

12. Staying Hydrated

Some people may avoid water so they can avoid frequent bathroom trips.  But the truth is that staying hydrated is also crucial when it comes to sleeping on a plane. The dry air in the cabin can cause dehydration, which can lead to fatigue, headaches, and other discomforts that can make it difficult to sleep.

To stay hydrated, drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight. You can also bring a reusable water bottle with you and ask the flight attendants to refill it as needed. Additionally, you may want to avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate you even more.

13. Adapting to Time Zones

One of the biggest challenges of long-haul flights is adapting to new time zones. Jet lag can cause insomnia, fatigue, irritability, and other unpleasant symptoms. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the impact of time zone changes. Here are some tips to help you adjust to a new time zone:

  • Plan ahead: Before leaving, gradually adjust your sleep schedule to match your destination's time zone. If you're traveling east, try going to bed early. If traveling west, try going to bed later.
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration can worsen jet lag symptoms, so staying hydrated before, during, and after your flight is important. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate you.
  • Change Meal Times and Eat Lightly: Changing your meal times can help your body adjust to the new time zone. Try to eat meals at the appropriate times for your destination, even if it means eating at odd times. Eating lightly can also help you avoid digestive issues that can worsen jet lag symptoms.
  • Get some sunlight: Exposure to sunlight can help regulate your body's circadian rhythms. Try to spend some time outside during the day, especially in the morning. If you're traveling eastward, avoid bright light in the evening, as it can delay your body clock.
  • Avoid napping: It can be tempting to take a nap when you arrive at your destination, but this can make adjusting to the new time zone harder. Try to stay awake until your normal bedtime, even if you feel tired.
  • Stick to your routine: Once you arrive at your destination, try to stick to your normal routine as much as possible. This includes eating meals at regular times, exercising, and going to bed at your usual time.

While traveling can be stressful or emotional, there are ways you can take of yourself.  The difference between getting enough rest or not can change so much for you on your trip.  While keeping you healthy, it can keep you thinking clearly, especially in new and different places.

Now that you know how to get some rest on your flight, let's think about the best practices to keep in mind when booking a flight. Poor In A Private Plane has amazing tips in "How to Find Cheap Flights: The Ultimate Guide" and The Traveling Franklins give practical suggestions in "5 big mistakes to avoid when booking flights".

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some effective hacks for sleeping on a plane?

There are several hacks that can help you sleep better on a plane. Some of the most effective ones include wearing comfortable clothing, bringing a travel pillow, using earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and following your usual bedtime routine as closely as possible.

What are some tips for avoiding head falls forward when sleeping on a plane?

To avoid head falls forward when sleeping on a plane, try leaning your head back against the headrest or using a neck pillow. You can also try placing a small pillow or rolled-up blanket behind your neck for extra support. Another option is to use a scarf or hoodie to create a makeshift neck pillow.

How can I maximize my sleep on a long-haul flight?

To maximize your sleep on a long-haul flight, try to get a window seat so you can lean against the wall for extra support. Wear comfortable clothing and bring a travel pillow and blanket. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, and try to stick to your usual bedtime routine as closely as possible. Consider using a sleep aid, but make sure to consult with your doctor first.

Are overnight flights the best?

Overnight flights can be the best way to keep your sleep routine.  Depending on the flight time, flying during your sleep time can allow for some good sleep!

How do circadian rhythms affect sleep on international flights?

Your circadian rhythm is responsible for your sleep-wake cycle. On long-haul or international flights, it's best to adjust your rhythm to your final destination's time zone. This can help prevent jet lag and ensure better sleep on your next flight.

Can sleep aids or medication help?

Yes, some travelers use melatonin supplements or prescribed sleep medication. However, be aware of side effects, especially when combined with alcoholic beverages. Always consult a doctor before using.

How can blue light from devices impact my sleep quality on a plane?

Blue light from devices like cell phones can disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it harder to get shut-eye on the plane. It's best to avoid screens or use blue light filters if you plan to sleep.

What are some top tips for ensuring a restful flight?

Ensure your tray table is comfortably positioned, use the best travel pillow (preferably memory foam), and pack some creature comforts in your carry-on bag. Avoid large amounts of caffeine and consider limiting alcoholic beverages to a glass of wine.

Do airplane seats, like economy seats, matter for sleep quality?

While many have difficulty sleeping in typical economy seats, premium economy or lie-flat seats offer better sleep opportunities. The side of the plane you're on might also matter based on the direction of the sun and cabin noise.