8 Ways to Actually Sleep on a Plane

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Flying solo can sometimes feel like a game of roulette, holding your breath every time a potential seat mate walks down the aisle. And even if you do get lucky with your seat partners, there is exactly a zero percent chance of getting much sleep unless you are magically able to contort yourself into a pretzel. Unless you’ve brought some sleep aid with you or scored a whole aisle to yourself, getting some sleep on a plane can seem like an impossible task. But never fear, if you’ve got a super long flight ahead of you, we’ve got some tricks and tips for how to actually sleep between dinner and breakfast service.

plane

1. Opt for the window seat

Yes, it might make bathroom breaks more awkward, but having that window to lean against is way better than falling asleep on your neighbor’s shoulder. Try picking a window seat on “your” side- for example, if you sleep on your left side at home, pick a seat on the left side of the plan. There is also another sneaky reason to be on the left side of the plane: the windows are usually off-center—compared to the right side, where they line up evenly—which makes cozying up against the side of the plane easier.

2. Create a headrest

If you have one of those U shaped neck pillows, flip it around so it actually provides some support for your neck. If you don’t have one, bring a really big scarf (a definite must for long flights) that you can use as a pillow. You can also spritz your pillows with calming lavender essential oil for relaxation and for blocking out other possible unpleasant airplane smells. Yep, we’ve all been there. If you can snag a couple extra little airplane pillows, you can wedge them between the seat’s adjustable headrest to keep your head from rolling around and jerking you awake.

3. Put your feet up

Now that your top is comfortable, it’s time to try and figure out what to do with your feet. Economy seats are famously uncomfortable and hard on your spine, so sitting on a pillow can really help. If you’re tall, keep the area under the seat in front of you free. If you’re shorter, you can rest your legs on your carry on bag to try and get as close to 180 degrees as possible. Kick off your shoes and bring comfy sock so your toes don’t get cold.

4. Get a little creative

Here is where being short has it’s advantages. Curl up. You might get some weird looks, but it’ll be worth it. If you’re taller, lift both armrests and lean against the side of the plane. Put your pillow, scarf, sweatshirt, and whatever else you have you have that can serve as a cushion behind your back.

5. Watch what you eat

Say no to cocktails, coffee, tea, and soda, which are all dehydrating and have caffeine and ask for milk instead; it contains tryptophan, which can promote drowsiness. Keep some bags of chamomile tea in your carryon and stick to healthy, sleep-inducing snacks like almonds and bananas while you’re waiting at the airport.

6. Block out everything

You may think watching the in-flight movie will help you relax into sleep, but it will probably just put you into a sluggish coma. The bright lights from the TVs, your laptop, or any other tech sends signals to your brain that just make it more awake. Make sure you’ve got some noise-canceling earphones and choose relaxing music over another sappy rom-com. Another bonus to wearing headphones is it acts as a polite signal to your talkative seat mate to let you get some rest.

7. Put on the sweat pants

Let’s be honest, the cute outfit you put on when you got to the airport is no longer looking great and it’s definitely not going to look better after a 15 hour flight. As soon as the captain turns off the “fasten seatbelt” light, head to the bathroom and slip into something a lot more comfortable. Sweatpants comfortable. You should also take off your makeup and apply lots of moisturizer to give your skin a rest.

8. Shoot for short naps

Obviously, none of these tricks are going to make you sleep for ten hours straight. Unless you are a magical being that can snooze through turbulence and drink service, just try to aim for a 90- minute nap. When you sleep, your brain cycles through various stages, each lasting 90 minutes so even if you just nap, you’ll actually wake up feeling refreshed rather than hungover.

How do you get sleep on long flights? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

WOW Contributor

Story by World of Wanderlust contributor Kate Thorn.

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53 Comments

  1. danilo@muitaviagem.com.br'

    Dan - Muita Viagem

    November 11, 2015

    The best way to get a nice sleep on a plane is to become friend of the Flight Attendant… =)

  2. andres.d.jimenez1991@gmail.com'

    Andrés

    November 5, 2015

    I’m also afraid of those pills, thats why on my next flight (Spain – Colombia 12h) I will try drinking wine before and on the plane. Wine always makes me dizzy.

  3. brucewayne11151@gmail.com'

    brucewayne

    July 29, 2015

    I will use them when ever I will travel in the plane .

  4. joey@travelwits.com'

    Joey @ TravelWits

    June 19, 2015

    Poppyseed oil is actually a great and natural way to get some good sleep on a plane! Just take a spoon full about an hour before and it will naturally relax you. I’ve done this before and woke up refreshed after landing.

  5. evelina@utterdahl.se'

    Evelina

    June 17, 2015

    I don’t really need to do anything. My superpower is to be able to sleep anywhere, at any time. At most, I need ear plugs and eyemask. Very handy when flying short and long flights. Sometimes I fall asleep before the plane leaves the ground, and wake up when we’re gonna land.

  6. Bodminsontour@hotmail.co.nz'

    Heather

    June 13, 2015

    Last year we did a 14 hour flight and I didn’t sleep at all. Thank goodness for my iPod. For the return flight I bought a u shaped neck pillow. It is a memory foam one and it’s the best thing!!! I did sleep and in future I won’t fly without the pillow!

  7. janerachelheller@gmail.com'

    Rachel

    June 9, 2015

    I’m too tall to curl up and, to make matters worse, I have a hernia in my neck that hurts like hell if I fall asleep with my head to either side. The only thing that’s worked for me so far is wearing my neck brace. Normally I don’t need to wear it anymore, but on a plane it’s the only thing that works. Combined with a dose of tamazapam, I can usually sleep for a couple of hours and not wake up in pain. I wish I could afford business class!

  8. ng.kieu@gmail.com'

    Kieu

    June 8, 2015

    Definitely, put on sweatpants! I’ve gotten creative and do a side cradle with my legs folded — I’m small enough to pull it off. 🙂

  9. jenniferdstevens@gmail.com'

    Jennifer Stevens | Adventurous Appetite

    June 8, 2015

    These are good tips, but I can never put my feet up in economy class! I find myself walking past those comfy-looking people with their legs elevated, sipping champagne, and feign a smile. Secretly (but not so secretly), I hate them. And I know I won’t get a wink of sleep. *Sigh*

  10. kerjan@backpackbabe.com'

    Backpack Babe

    June 8, 2015

    YES, completely agree! Melatonin is awesome, especially too because its natural compared to those sleeping pills! xx

  11. kerjan@backpackbabe.com'

    Backpack Babe

    June 8, 2015

    Omgosh, I wish I could fall asleep like you! Haha but I completely agree, I don’t like those sleeping pills. They freak me out!

  12. kerjan@backpackbabe.com'

    Backpack Babe

    June 8, 2015

    Great tips! I’ve found that traveling with a scarf is super helpful to use as a pillow or to keep warm. It also works great as an eye mask over your head! But yeah, sleeping on the plane can be tough. I always bring a journal and book just in case I can’t get enough Zzz’s 🙂

  13. kat@katbern.com'

    Kat Bern | Dream Home Creator

    June 8, 2015

    Confession: very often I’m dead asleep before the stewardess even takes out the equipment for the safety presentation.

    Truth be told, I’ve got motion sickness and take pills for that. Side effect? Really sleepy! 🙂

    But even though it might look like everyone around you is sleeping, the reality is that it’s not very relaxing either way. Sleep caused by pills is like a coma. And a good night’s sleep on a plane is a myth. But I do think they should introduce some sort of “quiet time”, so that people would stop talking loudly and let you attempt a nap.

    But it does help to get the window seat!!! 🙂

  14. gaster.katherine@gmail.com'

    Katie

    June 8, 2015

    Ahh- the tryptophan thing isn’t true at all! Common myth but completely false, people say it a lot about turkey: “eating turkey will make you tired because of the tryptophan”, except for the fact that in order to actually consume so much tryptophan that you feel sleepy afterwards (due to tryptophan alone), you’d have to eat upwards of 40 pounds of turkey. Sleepiness is much, much more likely to be triggered from eating large quantities of food or following a sleep routine – if you drink a glass of milk nightly before bed, your brain might start to associate it with sleepiness.

  15. naomi@naomiinwonderland.com'

    Naomi

    June 6, 2015

    Ugh yes! I will forever have a hard time falling asleep on a flight (or anywhere but my bed really) but these are all very useful and work

    xo

  16. arnewell@gwu.edu'

    Allison

    June 6, 2015

    I can’t sleep on a plane without taking Melatonin beforehand. However, I have managed to sleep almost all the way through flights to Brazil and Hong Kong when I was able to score a row to myself.

  17. saakshi.kmr15@gmail.com'

    Saakshi Kumar

    June 6, 2015

    I am currently in the middle of a long haul flight and yes i find this very helpful. 🙂

  18. carl.michael@gmail.com'

    Mikedefieslife

    June 5, 2015

    Here’s a tip, use http://www.seatguru.com/ when selecting your seats to make sure you don’t end up with a bad one. The previous passenger comments give you a good insight into what to expect e.g where media boxes are located, where the plane curves or where windows are offset etc..

  19. cndoorack9@gmail.com'

    Nolen

    June 5, 2015

    WATERWATERWATER. In April, I went on a 17 hour flight from Atlanta to JoBurg. I made it a goal to stick with water, eat fresh fruit and nuts, and minimize the in-flight entertainment. I think that’s what helped me get through the brutally long flight. Taking little naps and walking quick laps around the plane helped as well.

  20. lil_lea2004@hotmail.com'

    Leanne Winters

    June 5, 2015

    What lovely tips! im going to sprinkle some lavender on a scarf when i go away in october x

  21. kim.purcell4@gmail.com'

    Kimberly Purcell

    June 4, 2015

    Great tips – window seats are a MUST!
    xo
    Kim

  22. cravearte@gmail.com'

    Nidhi

    June 3, 2015

    I am a terrible traveler, as I have a motion sickness issue and my only way to be save from my sickness is to sleep through out the journey. But i never get a comfortable sleep, next time will try your tips… hope they will work for me.

  23. info@agirlandherpassport.com'

    Tiffany

    June 3, 2015

    I get the same way. I bring saline nasal spray to help with this. Keeps the nasal passages dry. If you don’t mind looking silly, I have also used saline nasal gel. It lasts longer but can drip. Hope this helps!

  24. liveshoptravel@gmail.com'

    Julia Kim Murphy

    June 3, 2015

    I used to hate long haul flights and now I love them because I can actually sleep. I make sure I switch off all devices just after dinner because then you start to feel drowsy once the meal is in digestion phases. Don’t have coffee or soft drinks is right.
    I bring a really big pashmina like scarf that doubles as a blanket and create a little foot hamock – a part of the scarf goes under my bum and then a ‘foot sling’ is created – it’s so comfortable!

    A neck pillow and noise cancelling headphones are a must! I use BOSE – they are the best.
    x

  25. saakshi.kmr15@gmail.com'

    Saakshi Kumar

    June 3, 2015

    I am in the middle of a long journey and this couldn’t be anymore helpful 🙂 thanks.

  26. andres.d.jimenez1991@gmail.com'

    Andrés

    June 3, 2015

    Fortunately I dont have any trouble. If I have any problem I try to “read” one of the magazines that is in the front seat 😀
    BTW I leave this here, is my blogg, as this one is also about trips.

  27. regina.caetano.lima@gmail.com'

    Regina

    June 3, 2015

    I really wish I could sleep on planes. But I usually can’t, which is annoying, since I always arrive super tired. But that’s ok. Travels are not for resting, but to explore and go on adventures 😉 Xx, Regina

  28. exploresmore@gmail.com'

    Julia

    June 3, 2015

    I always sleep for intervals on the plane during the first half of the flight (by the second half I have gotten uncomfortable from sitting for so long). I also swear my a beanie, fuzzy socks, and down jackets if you are flying somewhere in the winter (the best pillow you’ll ever have). And of course taking a nap as soon as you land so you can enjoy the rest of your trip refreshed 😀

    Julia

  29. m.m.shy@outlook.com'

    Maria Shy

    June 3, 2015

    I officially found out I just can’t sleep on a plane, ever! And when I booked my last plane tickets, I booked night flights only because I thought I could, and isn’t it perfect to fly at night and arrive at your next destination in the morning? I tried everything! What bothers me most is the dry air.. my throat gets soar and my eyes and nostrils hurt from the dryness.. does anyone have any tips for that? haha thank you

    Love your blog!

    Love, Maria

  30. monika@violetroots.com'

    Monika

    June 3, 2015

    I never thought of curling up before but at 5’3″ that is certainly an option I’ll test out next time!

    -M

  31. charactersandcarryons@gmail.com'

    Joyce

    June 3, 2015

    I am usually really good at sleeping on flights (and anywhere else, for that matter), but I always bring an eyemask and a U shaped pillow when flying. Thanks for the additional tips!

  32. parisbyfriday@outlook.com'

    Paris by Friday

    June 3, 2015

    Luckily for me, falling asleep on moving transport is an easy task – in fact, I fall asleep faster in a car than I do just lying in my bed. Something about motion is very relaxing for me (perhaps I should just live in a hammock?) so sleeping on a plane is rarely an issue. I like to get comfy with some fluffy socks, a warm jumper and a blanket. Most economy seats have adjustable headrests so I usually fold one side of the headrest to lean on when a travel pillow isn’t at hand (I usually sit in the aisle seat because I like more legroom and I’m a little claustrophobic next to a window or sandwiched between people).

    I usually tuck myself into a fetal position and lean against the seat side-on or I sit cross-legged, but I can understand how this may be more challenging for taller people! Finally I put on a playlist of jazz and atmospheric music to help me drift off as lyrics usually keep me awake since I subconsciously listen to and process them in my brain.

    Thank you for this post and I hope my comment is a somewhat helpful as I do feel bad for people who just can’t get some shut-eye on a plane. Just remember, the red-eye flight may be more difficult as you’re trying to sleep through it, but it’s probably quieter and definitely better for your wallet!

    With love ♥︎

  33. theprintedsea@gmail.com'

    Ira

    June 3, 2015

    Great post dear!

  34. jasiminne@gmail.com'

    Jasiminne | Posh, Broke, & Bored

    June 3, 2015

    I try to fly business class on long haul flights (anything longer than 5 hours) but every now and then I have to fly economy. When I do, I make sure I have Xanax on hand – pop one of those bad boys with some whiskey and I’m out like a light for the whole trip, and usually when I reach my destination I’m well rested (if not there’s always melatonin for a good night’s sleep)! x

    Jasiminne

  35. honeyandgazelle@gmail.com'

    honey&gazelle

    June 2, 2015

    I’m terrible with sleeping on the plane! It’s just too uncomfortable and noisy. The best position I find is to curl into your side and always wear a sleeping mask!

    xx Jia, honeyandgazelle.wordpress.com

  36. catquayle@gmail.com'

    KittyQ

    June 2, 2015

    I was hoping for some new exotic advice, but yes this is all tried and true. I do all of these things every time I fly to Asia and I can’t live without sleeping pills either. Go see your doctor and please test drive them first. On my flight to South Africa the guy in the seat next to me apparently drank too much and caused quite a ruckus. I woke up just as we were descending and missed the whole thing 🙂

  37. diana@polopeopleplaces.com'

    Diana

    June 2, 2015

    Yes being short is definitely an advantage in this situation! I always girl myself up in weird ways. Another tip is to use one neck pillow round your neck obviously and one on my lower back, this helps me a lot and makes it more comfortable. Another great seat is front and center on wide-body aircrafts, so you have space in front of you, but it is not an exit row as you are in the middle. Whenever I can I choose this seat as you can after the seat-belt sign is off put your carry-on in front of you and stretch your legs on top.
    I do a lot of flying, I am a stewardess and I fly a lot on my days off as well. check out my blog with my newest upcoming adventure

  38. karmapoliice@gmail.com'

    Tessa / Bramble & Thorn

    June 2, 2015

    Reading this is making me anxious, I’ve got a flight from Melbourne to Milan in two weeks and I’m absolutely dreading it! I’m going to utilise all of these tips in the hope I can get at least a couple of hours sleep.

    Tessa

  39. rosiemckay@hotmail.co.uk'

    Rosie

    June 2, 2015

    Great tips 🙂
    Will be following these during my flights this summer 🙂
    Rosie
    x

  40. www.v10@hotmail.co.uk'

    Vanisha

    June 2, 2015

    Love these tips! I almost never get any sleep on a plane but i’m determined to change that!

  41. miss.getaway@gmail.com'

    MissGetaway

    June 2, 2015

    Great tips. I personally can always sleep when I’m tired enough 😀
    I always see people with those neck pillows on the plane though… definitely need to try those out on my next long haul flight 😉

    Love from Austria,
    Kerstin

  42. michellereimann@gmail.com'

    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel

    June 2, 2015

    I do all of these things, drink plenty of water and don’t wear contact lenses on a flight (it dries out your eyes something chronic!) and yet, I still feel hungover when I step off a flight. I’ve come to accept that this is just the reality of flying! Kudos to those who don’t feel this way… the only thing that makes me feel better is thinking of a shower, a change of clothes, a good healthy meal and comfy bed that awaits me on the other side of that flight!

  43. cml99@q.com'

    Clara

    June 2, 2015

    Right now I’m actually waiting on a plane before we take off on a 10 hour overnight flight, so finding this post was truly a blessing. I’ve never been able to sleep much on planes so I will try some of these tips!

    Clara
    colormepurpple.wordpress.com

  44. michael.belden10@gmail.com'

    Michael

    June 2, 2015

    My secret is sleeping pills 🙂

  45. karen@littleblackshell.com'

    Karen Farber

    June 2, 2015

    Somehow I am able to sleep like a baby on a plane! Idk what it is about it, but I sleep through the whole flight sometimes

  46. renee.barnes@mainfreight.co.nz'

    Renee

    June 2, 2015

    Agree with most of this… the headrests are such a worthwhile investment I don’t travel without mine now! Trackpants, although not overly sexy, a must when travelling, would never fly in jeans or tight skirts and comfy shoes that you can take on and off easily

  47. Ashleighdate@hotmail.com'

    Ashleigh

    June 2, 2015

    Brooke I understand this wasn’t written by you but it is poorly edited.. A whole aisle to yourself? No, it is a row, the aisle is what you walk up.

    Picking a side on the “plan” – pretty sure it is missing something!

    They are only minor but a quick proof read would have picked them up and would make the whole article a little more professional, which is what I’ve come to expect from your site.

  48. susannamolson@att.net'

    Susanna

    June 2, 2015

    Great tips. I like to bring an iPod with my favorite music loaded on so that I can listen to my favorite tunes. That helps me.

  49. photo@joefigari.com'

    J F

    June 2, 2015

    I tried Business class but it is also not comfortable at all.

  50. happyhazel777@gmail.com'

    Happy Hazel

    June 2, 2015

    Love these tips! I always think I should have bought the neck pillow whenever I’m in the plane, can’t fall asleep and see other people using it. 🙂 Hope I don’t forget this time! Thank you for reminding me! <3

  51. xo_shelbs_ox@Hotmail.com'

    Shelby

    June 2, 2015

    Trying to sleep on the plane has to be mission impossible. I’m always envious when you look over and it seems like people are passed out for hours. I usually try to lay on the table trey if it’s not to squishy 😛

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