10 Tips to Help You Sleep on a Plane

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There’s nothing worse than catching a long 12-hour international flight, only to sit there wide-awake the whole time. While sleeping on a plane comes easy to some people, others are not so lucky. Fortunately for you, there are some things you can do to fall asleep on a plane, and today we’re going to explore some of them.

How to Sleep on a Plane

how to sleep on a plane

Avoid Caffeine

If you’re catching a daytime flight where even the view out the window can keep you from closing your eyes, you’ll find it much harder to sleep if you have coffee coursing through your body. Avoid any caffeinated beverage before boarding, and get some water or apple juice when the cart comes around.

Try a Sleep Aid

We’re not doctors and will not try to advise you on which medications you should take as sleep aids for a long-haul flight. Consider asking your friends or physician about the following medications.

Over-the-counter medications include Dramamine, melatonin, Benadryl, Unisom, or ZzzQuil. If you plan on trying a sleep aid before the flight, be sure to test any pills you’ve never taken a few nights before the flight—sleeping aids may have adverse effects for some people.

If staying up during that flight is not an option, ask your physician for a prescription sleep aid. Be advised, though, that medications such as Ambien have potential side effects, including memory loss, hallucinations, and more.

Bring Your Own Blankets and Pillows

Airlines never seem to have enough blankets and pillows for everybody. If you don’t plan on bringing your own, board early and ask for some as soon as you sit down. A better alternative is to bring your own. We recommend packing a travel blanket and pillow. You’ll feel warm and be able to rest comfortably knowing it’s your favorite blanket. Here’s a secret tip: rolled-up blankets can double as pillows, lumbar support, or even a footrest.

Practice Your Normal Pre-Sleep Routine

We are creatures of habit, and the routines we design for ourselves can help produce specific reactions within our bodies. For instance, if you usually prepare for bed by drinking tea and curling up with a book for an hour, try to mimic this nightly routine when it’s bedtime on the flight. The simple deed of engaging in a familiar routine may help you doze before you know it.

Put on Comfortable Clothing

Long are the times when flying requires formal clothing. Your joints tend to swell when on a plane, so cut them some slack – dress comfortably. Opt for loose clothing suitable for an overnight flight, or bring your pajamas onto the flight and pop in the restroom to change when the lights go down. Be sure to pack layers, though (warm socks), as you are likely to get chilly on the plane in the dead of night. For those at risk for deep vein thrombosis, consider compression socks.

Upgrade Your Seat

Having a little more legroom or the option to recline a bit farther can make all the difference in sleeping on a plane. Even if you didn’t initially buy an expensive class, the airline often offers the option to upgrade to premium economy or even business class for an additional fee at check-in if seats are available. If you’re a light sleeper, the last thing you want is to be seated by the restroom.

Bring Snacks (The More the Better)

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a flight in the middle of the night and hunger kicks in, particularly when the next meal service is hours away. Prepare for this worst-case scenario by carrying your own healthy, protein-filled snacks, such as granola or energy bars, nuts and trail mix, and fruit.

Get Noise-Canceling Headphones

Eliminating the noise of the passengers around you—particularly if there are sleepless children on the flight—is much easier with effective, noise-canceling headphones. If you don’t want to spend that much on a pair just for the flight, Bluetooth earbuds will do just fine.

Tire Yourself Out Before the Flight

sleep on a plane

Have an afternoon or evening flight to catch? Go for a run or hit the gym before in the morning, so you are worn out by the time the plane reaches 35,000 feet.

Install a Sleep App

Apps like Calm, which offer a free trial for the first 30 days and a 25% discount, come packed with lots of guided meditations, soothing tracks, and sleep-inducing podcasts. If you’re not trying to subscribe to an app just for the flight, there are other free apps like White Noise that have soothing tracks to put you in a sleepy mindset.

Takeaway

The worst part of sleeping is having to wake up. It’s even worse on a plane when you’re waking up to bright cabin lights, people chattering, and a burst of unfamiliar sunshine.

If it’s a long-haul international flight, consider setting the alarm on your watch or phone alarm 45 minutes or an hour before reaching your destination. That gives you time to wake up properly, go to the restroom, change back to your outfit, put on your shoes, drink some coffee, and step off the plane fully awake and ready for adventure. Arriving at your destination fully refreshed always beats stumbling around an unfamiliar airport sluggish and grumpy. Further reading:

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