How to Sleep Better on Planes: 13 Tips To Help You Fall Asleep

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tips to sleep on a plane

Nobody likes feeling drowsy – especially after a long flight. Having a plan, so you are prepared for the trip ahead, helps you from feeling the effects of jet lag, so you begin your vacation in prime condition. Below are some tips for getting the best in-flight Zzzz’s.

Tips For Sleeping On A Plane

Tips to Sleep Comfortably on the Plane Infographic

1) Pick the right flight

The simplest way to ensure quality sleep is by flying red-eye so that you’re in the air when you normally would be snoozing. It greatly increases your chances of peaceful rest if you fly direct via red-eye. If no direct flight is available and your destination requires a connecting flight, search for connecting flights that have both a long and short leg so you can get most of your sleeping done on the long stretch. When flying eastward, flying red-eye is optimal as you’ll be ready to start your day once you reach your destination.

If there’s not one available or you opt for a flight during the day, sticking to an early-morning take-off while you’re still tired could help you get back to a blissful sleep in the air. You can also prepare days ahead of your flight by adjusting your sleep schedule slightly, so you’re already adjusted the day of your flight.

2) Pick the right seat

For ideal sleeping quarters, first class is the way to go, but that’s not always a manageable option. Travellers who fly economy can increase their chances of snagging a favourable seat by booking early. If you have the option, selecting a window seat will give you additional real estate to lean against as you drift into sleep; it also helps you avoid being roused by others in the row as they make trips to the bathroom. If you happen to be on the tall side, you’ll be looking for legroom, which you can find by selecting a seat in the emergency exit row.

3) Wear comfortable clothes and footwear

It’s important to wear comfortable clothes, but pajamas tend to be a faux pas for adults when it comes to flying. Opting for loose-fitting clothing with plenty of elastic to avoid feeling restricted can achieve the same comfort as donning pajamas at bedtime. As the plane reaches altitude, the cabin pressure will change, which can mean an uncomfortable flight for those who wear form-fitting clothing as the body slightly swells as the cabin pressurizes. Because the temperature between the airport, plane, and destination can fluctuate, dressing in layers will also help reach the optimal temperature for sleep.

In addition, while it may be favourable to go barefoot, donning thick socks and slip-on shoes is a better alternative due to hygiene and can prevent any stench from affecting yourself and other passengers. The overwhelming consensus is that socks are a bare minimum if footwear will not stay on your feet. Compression socks can be a good contender as well to keep your feet warm but also avoid sleepy limbs by keeping the blood flowing.

4) Bring a comfort item

Make sure to bring items that will encourage sleep or make it more attainable by putting you in the right state of mind. When sleeping in a new environment, one of the hemispheres of the brain remains awake and alert to “keep an eye” on unfamiliar surroundings as the other hemisphere rests. One recommended tip is to bring something from home that will help you sleep, such as a pillow or blanket.

5) Don a neck pillow

Bring a neck pillow to get comfortable and help keep your head propped up to avoid lolling. You can position it around the front side as well to avoid the inevitable forward-falling jerk that rouses you when sleeping upright. There are a variety of pillows available to accommodate different sleeping positions. You can find a variety of neck pillows here. Using a travel pillow creates a comfortable cushion and keeps your neck in an optimal position to help avoid neck cricks and lingering discomfort.

6) Use an eye mask

Using an eye mask can help lead to a more restful flight. It will help block out the cabin light and daylight if travelling westward during the day. Using one with the message “do not disturb” could also aid in unwanted disturbances from flight attendants.

7) Avoid alcohol

While it may be tempting to take advantage of beer and cocktail selections at airport bars, avoiding booze will help ensure sound sleep for takeoff. Despite the sedative-like effects of alcohol, which can aid in falling asleep, it is known for disrupting the REM cycle, which is important for cataloguing memories.  It can also result in a hangover that may negatively impact your travel itinerary. Instead, drinking water will keep you hydrated and won’t disrupt your sleep pattern. If water doesn’t cut it for a pre-siesta beverage, tea can be a soothing alternative, but be sure to avoid caffeinated varieties and just say no to coffee.

8) Eat light

Any drastic changes to your diet can also affect how well you sleep on the flight. Similar to alcohol, carb-loaded and sugary foods can increase the onset of sleep, but negatively impact the quality. High-carb diets increase the levels of tryptophan (an amino acid that promotes sleep) and reduce the efficacy of orexin (promotes alertness), which ultimately reduces the amount of time your brain spends in deep sleep. Instead, your brain will spend most of the time hanging out in the REM cycle, which results in you feeling less rested.

9) Avoid screen time

Instead of killing time by checking the Gram or seeing what’s trending on TikTok, taking a break from screen exposure will get you sleep-ready. The blue light from electronic screens suppresses your body’s melatonin production and essentially tricks your internal clock, so you stay awake longer. If you remember to pack an eye mask, this will help block the blue light from the video monitors and anything streaming from your neighbours’ devices (source)

10) Wear noise-cancelling headphones

Public transit, in general, is not known for being quiet, so employing a combination of earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones will keep distracting sounds out so you can enjoy your flight. If listening to music, studies suggest playing music that has a tempo between 60-80 BPM, which matches the average resting heart rate and can help sync the body to sleep mode.

If music isn’t your jam, you can opt for soothing alternatives such as white, pink, or brown noise, which have varying levels of frequency that can help you sleep while simultaneously blocking the noises of the plane.

11) Buckle up

If wearing a blanket for added comfort, buckle the seatbelt over it, so it’s visible. Flight attendants will keep their eyes out to ensure seat belts are fastened across passengers’ laps in the event of turbulence and if that doesn’t wake you up it would be unfortunate if instead you were jostled awake by the shake of a concerned flight attendant.

12) Exercise

You can work off some of your energy by doing some light workouts at the airport while waiting for takeoff. Walking around the terminal or doing dips on your seat before boarding causes your core temperature to rise, which often results in being awake, but as your body starts to cool, grogginess sets in. If you don’t have time at the gate to take advantage of walking around, you can engage your muscles by flexing for 30 seconds and then releasing for 10. Exercising releases endorphins into the bloodstream, which can result in you feeling more awake and alert so it’s important to make sure you’re exercising at the time that works best for your body to induce sleep (source)

13) Take sleep aids

 

Medical Disclaimer: The following information is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice.

If all else fails, using natural sleep aids can alleviate some of the pressure to fall asleep. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland and regulates the body’s circadian rhythm. Typically melatonin levels in the body increase several hours before bedtime and peak in the early hours of the morning. Melatonin supplements primarily help regulate your circadian rhythm by keeping the body in a restful state as you sleep. If using a supplemental form of melatonin, it’s recommended to take it to work with your natural sleep patterns- so approximately 2 hours before sleeping is suggested.

Final Thoughts

Employing these tips can help you achieve restful sleep on your next flight. Ideally, once you reach your destination and you’re asked about your flight, you can answer that it was a blissful flight of sleep.

Taylor Malottki

Taylor Malottki

Taylor Malottki is a light sleeper and struggled with getting consistent sleep. Her sleep pattern has varied over the years and for a long time going to bed late and waking early became routine. While she is still a light sleeper, she has started utilizing mindfulness meditation techniques, melatonin supplements, and limiting her caffeine intake to a single coffee in the mornings. She still indulges in a soda habit that so many struggle to kick, but she opts for caffeine-free and sugar-free sodas that help her get her carbonation fix. When she’s not sleeping, Taylor spends her days working as an insurance underwriter and freelance content-creator. Find her on LinkedIn.

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