Sleeping on a plane isn’t easy. There’s the noise of other passengers, ever changing (and personally terrifying) sounds from the plane itself, turbulence, the overhead announcements, the temperature and of course those passengers who need to be let out of the row.
That said, as impossible as it seems, it is possible to catch a little sleep on your next flight.
Over the years, I’ve found a number of tricks that help me sleep better on a plane. I hope they help you on your next flight, too.
Here are 12 tips to help you sleep on your next flight
1. Nab the window seat.
This allows you to lean on the side of the plane when you snooze, rather than doing the bobble-head dance for the whole flight. You often have slightly more room for your arm and shoulder, as well….not to mention, you won’t get clipped and awakened by the beverage and food carts. And let’s not forget, when you have the window seat, no one else has to wake you to go to the toilet. You do the waking, like a boss..
2. Noise-cancelling headphones, soothing music or ear plugs are a must.
Changes in speed and altitude can lead to changes in airplane sounds, which can wake you up. In addition, other passengers may be speaking loudly or playing on devices at full volume. Much to my horror, I’ve seen it in person. And announcements are also interruptive. By taking control of your audio input, you reclaim your ability to rest.
3. An eye mask is so helpful when the passenger next to you opens the window shade or turns on a reading light.
It also signals to your body that it’s time to sleep.
4. Essential oils can be soothing and helpful as well.
Planes and passengers come with many smells—often unpleasant ones. I bring along relaxing essential oils, such as lavender. I dab it on pulse points, on my eye mask and on my neck pillow.
5. An inflatable neck pillow is a great travel accessory.
Unlike the stuffed pillows, it takes up minimal space. You can underfill it before takeoff so that the pillow has more give (the air also expands as altitude increases). I rarely, if ever use my neck pillow around the back of my neck. Instead, if I’m in a middle or aisle seat, I’ll use it under my chin to prevent head bobbing. If I have a window seat, I use it like a regular pillow.
6. Bring socks and a pullover or cardigan.
Overnight flights almost always get cold for me. Just being able to keep my toes warm, or pull a hoodie up over my head, makes all the difference in my ability to sleep.
7. Wear comfy clothes.
Anything constricting, itchy or uncomfortable in any way should be left at home. We’re looking at you, itchy tags!
This doesn’t mean you have to wear sweatpants or athleisure wear; there are loads of comfortable clothing options that also look great. I try to avoid anything with a tight waistband, in particular, as it can cut in after 10 hours on a plane.
8. Weird Idea Alert! A friend of mine always brings his bathrobe belt for overnight flights.
To avoid head bobbing, he ties the belt around his headrest and over his forehead. He swears by it. If it works, it works!
9. Melatonin or Benadryl can be helpful in generating sleep signals, as can prescription meds.
I find both to be dehydrating but effective, so if you use them, drink loads of water leading up to your flight. And keep in mind that caffeine and alcohol can interact with medications and make your flight far less comfortable. Always consult with your doctor if you plan to take medications and fly.
10. Hydrate in the days and hours leading up to your flight, but cut yourself off an hour before boarding.
This eliminates your need to get up and go to the restroom while in the air, which is always a goat rodeo.
11. Avoid the screens and go analog.
Turn off the screen on the seat in front of you, and avoid staring at social media or your phone leading up to your flight, if you want to sleep. The same sleep hygiene principles apply in the sky as they do on land. Among them: screens, and the light they emit, signal to your brain that it’s time to be awake. Read a fun book or magazine instead.
12. Eat light before and during your flight.
Flying while full stinks. I always think of those meals the night and hours before my flight in terms of what I want to cart over the ocean in my belly. For me, eating vegan makes a huge difference in my comfort and my ability to get some shut-eye (that means no dairy, meat or eggs). Eating foods that you know won’t make you gassy also helps, as all that air expands with altitude (and your comfort goes downhill).
If you can, bypass meal service, eat a light snack you’ve brought instead, or pre-order a vegan meal for the flight, which will sit lighter in your body. Bodies don’t seem to digest with quite the same efficiency while traveling, so giving your body a break if you can may increase your comfort as you’re crammed into that 30 inches.
Sleep better on airplanes with these 12 tips
Travel can be a grind, and getting a good night’s rest puts you in the right headspace for a phenomenal trip. Use these tips, and you just might get some shuteye on your next long-haul flight. Wheels up!
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess, she applies her worldview to her business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
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