The unpredictability of crying babies, turbulence, and irritating co-passengers can make sleeping on a plane sound like a nightmare for many passengers. However, with a bit of planning and preparation, grabbing a few hours of sleep in-flight doesn’t have to be impossible.
We’ve collected a few clever on how to sleep on a plane; so don’t be surprised if you’re able to start your vacation as soon as your bum hits the seat.
15 Tips for Sleeping on Planes
When it comes to airplanes, the sooner you can reserve your seat the better chance you’ve got for quality sleep. This way, you can assure that you can get the right take-off time and preferred seats to best enjoy your flight.
1. Carefully Select Your Booking Time
Some people prefer to save a buck or two and pick the cheapest flights available. While this is savvy financially, this often means flying at inconvenient times in the early morning. The problem with this is that you end up battling your circadian rhythm, especially on long flights.
You may want to sleep on a long haul flight, but if you take off at 6:00 a.m., your body is ready to be awake because you’re flying through the day. Booking a flight in the evening should help you sleep better because rather than fighting against your body’s biological clock, you’ll be working with it.
2. Consider an Upgrade
If you’re looking for ultimate comfort and deep sleep, upgrading your seat for an additional fee is an option. Depending on the airline, this should provide considerably more space to spread out and get comfortable and cozy. Many international flights have privacy seating and fully reclining seats for these upgraded options, which are ideal for optimal shut-eye.
Upgraded and first class seats cost a pretty penny, but most airlines allow frequent flyer miles to be redeemed for an upgrade. Additionally, some credit cards companies offer point programs that can be used toward airline ticket upgrades— and sleep upgrades— as well.
That said, if you want an upgrade, do so when booking your flight. Avoid waiting until you get to the airport to try and upgrade because those premium seats may be booked up.
3. Choose Your Seat Wisely
Most airlines give you the option of choosing where you want to sit before you board, either for free or for an extra fee. If sleeping is your top priority, a window seat will likely be your best bet because not only will you avoid having to get up for people to get out of the aisle, you should be able to lean your pillow against the airplane window as well.
Think about which side of the plane you want to sit on to be most comfortable. Keep in mind that the window seats are favored and probably will be taken quickly.
If you are traveling with others, you’ll probably want to sit together, which should make sleep come a little bit easier; this way, you don’t have to worry about snuggling up next to a stranger. Some studies show that sleeping next to a loved one boosts oxytocin levels1, which can elicit drowsiness.
4. Try Natural Sleep Supplements or Anxiety Medication
Some people get anxious while flying, which can get in the way of a good nap. If you are among those who fear flying, consider talking to your doctor about anti-anxiety medications before takeoff.
Natural sleep supplements, like melatonin, are also an option. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps facilitate sleep2, and it’s also available in supplement form. Melatonin is an excellent remedy for sleepless flights (and regular nights) and can even help with jet lag once you arrive at final destination.
We advise consulting your doctor before using any supplements. Generally, health experts recommended starting with a small dose.
View Our Guide: Best Melatonin Supplements
5. Invest in a Travel Pillow
Travel pillows are one of the best ways to provide comfort and support for your head and neck while on a plane. Bringing a pillow doesn’t have to be bulky and inconvenient either; there are inflatable options that take next to no room in your luggage.
Some airplane pillows look like the letter U and go around your neck, and there are some that are adjustable. If you travel a lot or are taking a long international flight, neck pillows may be well worth the investment.
Learn more: Top Travel Pillows
6. Buy Noise-Cancelling Headphones
A common issue for many trying to sleep on a plane is the noise — the people having a conversation next to you, that kid across the aisle, and the noise of the airplane itself can hinder rest.
Noise-cancelling headphones can be lifesavers, especially if you are sensitive to external sounds when sleeping. These devices are especially great for those in aisle or middle seats because they won’t interfere with you trying to lean against the window. However, many modern devices fit snugly inside your ears, taking up minimal room in your luggage.
Find Out More: Top-Rated Headphones for Sleeping
7. Pick Out Some Sleep-Inducing Music & Podcasts
Sometimes drowning out the world around you helps to fall asleep. Music and podcasts are an excellent way to do this, and there are options for all sorts of interests. Countless audiobooks, meditation, and sleep podcasts are available to download onto your device, and some are specifically designed to put you on the fast track to sleep.
Classical music is a great way to relax; the lack of words often allows people to zone out and switch off. Look to select music that’s not overly stimulating and lets you drift off easily to dreamland.
Need more info? See our list of the most relaxing sleep music here.
8. Wear Comfortable Clothing
When it comes to air travel wear, we recommend opting for function over fashion. Although you might not look your best in sweats and t-shirt, wearing comfortable clothes will allow you to get cozy with ease. Bring a jacket that you can layer over your clothes because being prepared helps when your aisle mate’s air-conditioning has you shivering like you’re in the artic.
For the same reason, wear or bring compression socks in your carry-on. You don’t want to be caught 30,000 feet in the air with cold feet. The more comfortable you are, the easier it will be to fall asleep.
9. Lay Off the Caffeine
Consuming caffeine before attempting to sleep on a plane, or anywhere for that matter, can create a major slumber hurdle. Caffeine can actually stay in your bloodstream for up to 10 hours3, meaning that long after you have consumed the coffee, the caffeine could still be pumping through your veins.
Travel days in the airport can be long, but try to avoid caffeine as much as possible before a long night flight.
Read More: Caffeine Effects on Sleep
10. Stay Hydrated, But Don’t Overdo It
Staying hydrated is always important, and you may be extra thirsty up in the sky because of how dry airplanes tend to be. Drinking water is the best way to keep hydrated, but to avoid those extra bathroom trips at bay, try not to go overboard with it. Sleeping requires you to be comfortable, which might be difficult when you’re frequently running to the restroom.
11. Minimize Carry-Ons for Extra Legroom
Planes are notoriously short on legroom & space, especially in economy seating. If you can, keep your carry-ons to a minimum – one bag should be able to fit in the overhead bins, and a small bag can fit underneath the seats in front of you.
If you plan on only bringing one bag, organize it so that your in-flight necessities are in an easy to reach place. Before takeoff, pull out the items that you need and store the bag in the overhead bins to save on floor space.
12. Workout Before You Leave
Exercising is an excellent trick to bring on the ZZ’s — after that initial burst of energy that many feel after exercise, a good workout can promote better and longer sleep4. This is a natural option for those who would rather skip the sleep medication but still could use some extra help falling asleep.
Plus, it’ll probably feel good before a long flight in which you’ll be seated for an extended period.
13. Talk to Your Flight Attendant
This may have happened to you before — you’re just about to fall asleep when you feel a tap on your shoulder and hear, “Would you like something to drink?”, and you’re jarred out of peaceful slumber.
To avoid this scenario, chat with your flight attendant before takeoff. Let them know that you are going to sleep and would appreciate not being bothered while you’re sleeping.
14. Skip the Alcohol
Although alcohol does have a drowsy effect and can take the edge off of an anxiety-filled flight, drinking it can actually worsen your sleep quality5. So while you doze off sooner, you’re more likely to have more sleep disturbances and less slow-wave (deep) sleep.5
Further, alcohol can increase your trips to the bathroom, potentially interrupting your sleep. Alcoholic beverages can also make you more dehydrated, encouraging you to drink more water, which leads to more bathroom trips and less sleep.
Learn More: How Alcohol Affects Your Sleep
15. Fasten Your Seatbelt Over Your Blanket
Flight attendants are required to check if your seatbelt is fastened, so if you are planning on covering up with a blanket, place the blanket on you first and then buckle the seatbelt over it. This will assure that the attendant can see that you are buckled without needing to wake you up. Plus, it might help keep the blanket in place.
What If I Still Can’t Sleep on a Plane?
Sometimes no matter how hard we try, sleeping on a plane just won’t happen. In this case, you’ll need to keep yourself occupied until (hopefully) you’re finally to finally doze off.
Try to Exercise Your Legs
Leg exercises can help prevent clotting and could potentially make you tired. Leg lifts, ankle circles, and pulling your knees up to your chest are some exercises that you can easily accomplish while stuck in an airplane seat.
Read a Book
Take a trip to the bookstore to grab something that catches your eye before your trip. Better yet, if you know ahead of time that you’ll have trouble getting into a new book, make an effort to begin a new novel a week or two before your flight. This way, you might feel more inclined to get back into it on your overnight journey. Reading might be just what you need to finally fall asleep.
Learn more: Reading Before Bed
Book a Flight Arriving at Night
Arriving to your airline’s destination at night is the best solution if you can get any rest during the journey. If you are flying across multiple time zones, this could also help your body get used to a new circadian rhythm more quickly. Plus, after a long day of traveling, you’ll probably be ready to curl up in a cozy bed at your hotel.
Taking a nap on an airplane is not always an easy task. Much of what happens while flying is out of your control, and when there are unforeseen variables, sleeping can be hit or miss. Try out these tips and tricks on your next trip to make getting that nap in more attainable; starting your travel out well-rested is always a good thing.
Jess is only serious about a few things in life: sleeping, writing, and making the perfect chocolate chip cookie. In her free time, you’ll probably find her having a dance-off to ‘80s pop with her family or watching scary movies with her cat, Waffles.
- Sifferlin, Alexandra. “Sharing a Bed Makes Couples Healthier”. Time Magazine. 2012.
- “Melatonin for Sleep: Does It Work?”. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Webpage accessed November 14, 2023.
- “How To Quit Caffeine Without a Headache”. Cleveland Clinic. 2023.
- Youngstedt, Shawn D. “Effects of exercise on sleep”. National Library of Medicine. 2005.
- Colrain, Ian M., Nicholas, Christian L., Baker, Fiona C. “Alcohol and the Sleeping Brain”. National Library of Medicine. 2014.