For some, sleeping on a plane sounds like a joke—the unpredictable turbulence, incessant coughing from the row behind you, the incredibly loud conversation that seems to last the entire plane ride, the five-year-old kicking the back of your seat. Yeah, I’ve been there too.
But grabbing a quick nap doesn’t have to be impossible; in fact, by following a few tips and tricks, you might be able to start your vacation early while travelling in dreamland.
Chances are that you are booking your tickets in advance, and when it comes to airplanes, the sooner you can reserve it the better. This way, you can assure that you can get the flight and seat you want.
I am a total cheapskate, so I tend to pick the cheapest flights available, often flying at ungodly times in the early morning. The problem with this is that I am battling my circadian rhythm, especially on long flights; I want to sleep on the flight, but my body is ready to be awake because I am flying through the day.
Booking a flight in the evening might be a much better alternative because rather than fighting against my body’s natural clock, I am working with it.
If you’re looking for ultimate comfort, upgrading your “class” is definitely the answer. Depending on the airline, you should get a lot more space from side to side and leg room to get cozy. Many international flights have privacy seating and fully reclining seats, ideal for optimal shuteye.
This obviously comes at a pretty penny, but most airlines allow frequent flyer miles to be redeemed for an upgrade. Some credit cards have point programs that can be used toward airline ticket upgrades, as well.
Most airlines have you purchase your seat when buying your ticket or at least give you the option of choosing where you want to sit. If sleeping is your top priority, a window seat will most likely be your best bet because you should be able to lean your pillow against the wall of the airplane. If you like to lay a certain way, you can even decide which side of the plane you want to sit on to be most comfortable.
If you are traveling with others, you will probably want to sit together, which should make sleep come a little bit easier as you do not have to worry about snuggling up next to a stranger. Some studies show that sleeping next to a loved one boosts oxytocin levels that can bring on drowsiness, so you might even get some extra shuteye with your partner next to you.
Some people get particularly anxious while flying, and this can get in the way of a good nap. If you are among those that have a fear of flying, consider talking to your doctor about some anxiety medications that you can take before takeoff. This can help you relax, helping you sleep and ultimately making your travel a better experience.
Melatonin is a supplement that you can get at any drug store, and studies show that it can help promote sleepiness more naturally than sleeping pills. Although it might not be quite as effective as a sleeping pill would be, it eliminates the chance of grogginess and the potential side effects that medication can bring.
Bringing a pillow doesn’t have to be bulky and inconvenient; travel pillows are one of the best ways to get comfy on a plane. There are inflatable options that take next to no room in your luggage.
Your classic pillows look like the letter U and go around your neck, and there are some that are adjustable. Check out our travel pillow list to see some of the options out there. If you travel a lot or are taking a long international trip, it may be well worth the investment.
A common issue for many trying to get some sleep on a plane is the noise—the noise of the airplane itself, the people having a conversation next to you, that kid across the aisle playing a game at full volume on his mom’s phone. Research has even shown that exposure to aircraft noise leads to worse sleep.
Noise-cancelling headphones can be lifesavers, especially if you are sensitive to external sounds when sleeping (see our favorite headphones for sleeping here). These are especially great for those in middle or aisle seats because they won’t interfere with you trying to lean against the window. Make sure the ones you pick out are comfortable, though, because you will be wearing them for a long period of time!
Sometimes you just need to escape and drown out the world around you in order to fall asleep. Music and podcasts are an excellent way to do so, but you have to pick the right ones! There are countless audiobooks, meditation and sleep podcasts you can download on your device that are specifically designed to put you on the fast track to the land of Nod.
Classical music always does the trick for me; there’s nothing more sleep-inducing than Beethoven tickling the ivories. Try to select music that unstimulating because some could actually keep you awake rather than help you fall asleep.
When it comes to travel, always pick function over fashion. Although you might not look your best in sweats and an old t-shirt, you will be able to get cozy with ease. Make sure to bring a jacket that you can layer over your clothes so that you can take it on or off depending on whether the plane is hot or cold.
For the same reason, wear or bring some socks! You do not want to be caught 30,000 feet in the air with freezing cold feet. The more comfortable you are, the easier it will be to fall asleep.
Consuming caffeine before wanting to sleep on a flight, or anywhere for that matter, can cause some major problems. An average coffee or energy drink can affect your body for 4 to 6 hours, meaning that long after you have consumed the caffeine, your body can sense it.
Although travel days in the airport can be long, try to avoid caffeine as much as possible.
It is always important to stay hydrated, and you will probably be extra thirsty up in the air because of how dry planes tend to be. To keep those extra bathroom trips at bay, try not to drink too many fluids. This should hopefully help avoid unnecessary sleep interruptions.
Planes are notoriously short on 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 seat 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.
Exercising can bring on the sleepy dust like no other—after that initial burst of energy that many feel after exercise, a good workout can promote better and longer sleep. This is a natural option for those who would rather skip the medication but still could use some extra help falling asleep.
And as an added bonus, you will look extra radiant on your beach vacation.
It has happened to me before; I’m just about to fall asleep when I feel a tap on my shoulder and hear, “Would you like something to drink?” To avoid this happening, chat with your flight attendant before takeoff. Let them know that you are going to sleep and would rather not be bothered—unless you want a drink, of course.
Although alcohol does have some drowsy effects and can take the edge off of an anxiety-filled flight, it actually can keep you awake. Alcohol is a diuretic, so you may have to take extra bathroom trips. It is also known to decrease REM sleep, which is the kind of sleep that makes you feel the most rested.
It can also lead to dry mouth, encouraging you to drink more water, which leads to more bathroom trips, all equalling a recipe for disaster in terms of getting sleep.
Flight attendants are required to check if your seatbelt is buckled, so if you are planning on cozying with a blanket and falling asleep, try wrapping the blanket around you and then buckling afterward. 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.
Sometimes sleep just ain’t happening. No matter how many tips you try and products you buy, napping on the go just is not your thing. Well, you have to fill that time doing something, but what?
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 airplane seating.
I have learned from sitting in waiting rooms or at the DMV for way too much of my life to always bring a book wherever I go. Take a trip to the bookstore to grab something that catches your eye before your trip. Reading might be just what you need to do to fall asleep, too.
Arriving to your destination at night is the best solution to getting no rest during travel.
This works best for short trips because time differences will not be as difficult to adjust to, but if you are flying internationally, it could help your body get used to a new circadian rhythm more quickly. And after a long day of traveling, everyone could use a long stint relaxing in bed.
Taking a snooze on an airplane is no 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 more attainable; starting your travel out well-rested is always a good thing.
 Exposure–Response Relationship Between Aircraft Noise and Sleep Quality: A Community-based Cross-sectional Study, National Center for Biotechnology Information
 The Effect of Aircraft Noise on Sleep Disturbance Among the Residents near a Civilian Airport: A Cross-sectional Study, National Center for Biotechnology Information