10 Best Tips You Need To Know To Sleep On A Plane

Are you one of those lucky people who can fall into a deep sleep on a plane? I used to be, what feels like a lifetime ago, but the past ten or fifteen years I have really struggled with sleeping on planes even on long haul international and night flights.

Air new Zealand Evening flight over clouds
Air New Zealand flight at sunset

When you take long international flights and don’t sleep it can often cost you the first day or two of your trip, with debilitating jet-lag and travel fatigue.

If you can’t fall into a deep sleep when you fly there is still considerable value in getting some quality power naps. The following tips will help you to either get some good naps in during your flight or to get into a decent sleep.

How To Sleep On A Plane

1. Bank Sleep.

Avoid boarding your flight exhausted. The more tired you are the harder it can be to fall asleep. I used to work right up until the last minute and would end up boarding my flight too exhausted to sleep. Then I would be stressing about not getting to sleep, which in turn kept me awake.

Now I bank sleep in the week leading up to my flight. Even catching an extra 15 to 20 minutes sleep per night can make all the difference in the world, and believe it or not actually help you to drift off during the flight.

2. Go Easy On The Booze…

Alcohol can dehydrate you during a flight and stop you from falling into a decent sleep. Ideally don’t drink any alcohol on a flight you want to sleep on, but if you have to have a glass of wine with dinner, stop at one. Sleep specialists disagree with the concept that a few drinks will lull you into sleep, arguing instead that they will keep you awake.

Your body starts to dehydrate while you are flying anyway, but compounding it with alcohol can really make you feel hellish when you land, even if you have drunk yourself into a slumber.


3. Avoid Salty Snacks

Choose your snacks wisely. Salty snacks like chips and nuts and sugary snacks like cookies, candies and sweetened food bars can also prevent you from sleeping and cause your body to dehydrate and swell up. Your best bet is to pack healthy snacks that are easy to digest and that are low sodium/salt and low sugar, and ignore the salty snacks on the beverage cart.

4. Be Very Careful With Sleeping Pills

Plenty of doctors will write you a prescription for a sleep aid, but proceed with caution. Make sure you take any sleep medication for a test run prior to flying. Some sleep medications can leave you feeling drowsy and lethargic when you land, others don’t end up putting you to sleep and just leave you feeling drugged and foggy.

Be very, very careful not to combine alcohol and sleeping pills as things can really go sideways at 35,000 feet. Be especially careful taking Ambien when you fly. If you have ever witnessed someone get crazy on Ambien you will know what I mean here. Google Ambien Zombies and you will see what I mean. There are endless stories of passengers getting naked, climbing on other passengers, wandering around planes in a drug stupor. And they have zero recollection of it once the drug wears off.

Last summer I had a house sitter go crazy on vodka and Ambien while I was in Italy. She has zero recollection of it, but during a 36 hour rampage wrecked tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage on my house. I had to take out massive loans to get my house fixed. I cannot imagine what would happen if that kind of crazy occurred at 35,000 feet! Technically the flight crew could put the passenger in restraints, but the screaming and carry on would continue throughout the flight. Don’t let that be you.

5. Dress For Comfort

I’m a big believer in looking stylish or at least decent when I fly (always channeling the business class upgrade!) but at the same time dressing comfortably. I avoid flying in jeans or anything too fitted or restricting. Most people swell when they fly, so jeans that are totally comfy on the ground can become torture devices during the flight.

angelina jolie always has perfect travel wardrobe
Angelina Jolie always looks good at the airport, while still dressing for comfort during her flight

If you are flying in the main cabin you have very limited space to get comfortable in so it is important that you aren’t overly constricted by your clothing. Wear layers that you can add on or take off accordingly, and be aware that planes can get very cold. It doesn’t hurt to have a soft sweatshirt or hoodie that you can roll into a pillow. I have yet to find a neck pillow that actually is even remotely comfortable…


6. Time Your Slumber

This is more of a jet-lag /travel fatigue avoiding measure, but having a plan in place seems to help with actually getting to sleep too.

As soon as your flight takes off change your watch to the local time at your destination, and try to adjust your sleep time accordingly. Try to time your sleep for nighttime at your destination. That can mean trying to sleep during the first half of a flight going east or the second half of a flight going west.

So if you are flying Los Angeles to Singapore, sleep the first half of your flight, and if you are flying Los Angeles to Rome sleep the second half of your flight.

7. Choose Your Seat Wisely

It is definitely worthwhile paying a little extra to choose your seat, and as most travelers are already clued in to this that means booking your seat when you book your flight.

economy cabin boeing 777

Window seats give you a wall to lean against, aisle seats mean you have to get up each time the middle or window seat people want to walk or go to the bathroom.

Exit row seating tends to have more legroom but there is nowhere to store a bag during takeoff and landing.

I use an app called Seat Guru to find the best seat on the plane. Some are too close to the toilets so get both noisy and smelly. Others don’t have full recline or have entertainment units under the seat in front, cancelling out your legroom and ability to stretch.

8. Explore Your Seat

I always see other passengers not using and not knowing about the features their seats offer.

Some planes have seats with more features. Check to see if your headrest bends to hold your head (saving you neck pain). Some seats don’t just recline, but the bottom slides forward, giving you even more comfort. Premium Economy typically has a bar that drops down below the seat in front of you, allowing you to raise your feet. Having your feet raised even a few inches changes not only comfort, but swelling, and can help avoid the dreaded DVT – this is huge. Make sure you are not front row Premium with no seat in front!


There are lots of features on newer plane seats that can make a huge difference in your comfort level, which in turn can help you to sleep. Every little detail counts!

9. Accessorize.

There are a variety of accessories you can bring along to help you get to sleep.

Ear plugs or even better, noise cancelling headphones, not only tune out neighbors conversation but also the incredibly annoying, sleep preventing, engine hum.

Sleep masks will help block the blue light from other passengers’ TV screens.

Fitglam Natural Silk Sleep Mask

Essential oils can help you fall asleep and also knock out any unpleasant smells wafting around. If you suffer from allergies the pressurized air in the cabin can wreck havoc on your sinuses. A little eucalyptus oil on a cotton pad can work wonders to keep you breathing clearly and alleviate sinus pressure, in turn helping you sleep.

BYOB – Bring Your Own Blanket airline blankets can be totally sketchy, so you always want to have a scarf/shawl/pashmina that you can use as a blanket or bundle up in to keep you warm.

10. Download Sleep Apps.

Download a sleep assisting app prior to departing.

From yoga nidra to binaural beats to apps like Sleep Pillow that allow you to create white noise playlists of different water and rain sounds, there are tons of sleep enhancing apps to put on your smartphone.

I have dozed off on plenty of flights listening to the sound of rain pattering away on a tent on my Sleep Pillow app!

Hopefully these tips will help you get some shuteye on your next long haul or overnight flight! If you think of any others please leave them in the comments section below.

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Reasons Why You Can’t Sleep On A Plane

I used to be able to sleep anywhere.
And I could sleep easily on airplanes. 
Now? Not so much. In fact lately I have a really hard time sleeping on planes, especially long haul, international flights.
In a few weeks time I have some really crazy trans-world flights happening, that seriously require a situation that involves me, sleeping.

So I was looking around to see if I could find some new advice, and I found this great article on AirfareWatchdog.com

This Is Why You Can’t Sleep on the Plane

By Avital Andrews

image via Huffington Post

When boarding a plane, you have the purest of intentions: You’re going to use this rare empty stretch of time to catch up on much-needed sleep. You’ll land at your destination bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to take on the world!

But things aren’t ever that simple, are they? In reality, you end up doing all the things that keep you from floating into dreamland. By the time you deplane, you’re tired, disheveled, and your carefully planned trip is off to a shaky start.

To prevent thwarting yet another vacation or business meeting because you’re overtired, figure out what you’re doing that’s making it difficult to sleep—and cut it out. Whether your goal is to squeeze in a catnap during a quick commuter flight or a half dozen REM cycles on a red-eye, these are all the ways you might be sabotaging your mile-high shuteye.

You Stare at a Screen

Who among us hasn’t gone down the social-media or Web-surfing rabbit hole when we should be resting our eyes and brain? It’s an easy mistake to make, but a mistake nonetheless, especially considering that smartphone, tablet, and laptop screens emit a bluish hue that messes with your body’s natural sleep hormones.

“Essentially what blue light does is interfere with melatonin production in our brains,” says Shelby Harris, the director of behavioral sleep medicine at New York’s Montefiore Health System. “Melatonin makes us sleepy,” she adds, “but needs darkness to work. And blue light reduces melatonin even more than plain old full-spectrum white light.”

If you can’t slow down your thoughts unaided, get into a paper book (or Kindle e-reader) instead. “Reading on an airplane is one of the best possible rituals you can do to help you fall asleep,” says Ben Michaelis, a clinical psychologist and wellness author. “It helps put your mind at ease, making you feel relaxed and distanced from the hustle and bustle of traveling.”


You Booze Before You Snooze

Sure, having a stewardess-stirred cocktail might make you nod off quicker (thanks, adenosine). But don’t fool yourself into thinking that a nightcap will help you sleep better. In fact, dozens of studies have confirmed that any form of alcohol consumed within an hour before shuteye will dehydrate you, leave you groggy when you wake, exaggerate jetlag, and, worst of all, disrupt your overall sleeping pattern, since you get fewer REM cycles during alcohol-induced sleep. (Besides, you’ll have to get up to pee.)

You know yourself best, of course, but if you’re like most humans, liquor is pretty much guaranteed to mess up your circadian rhythm so that you won’t sleep as long and you won’t get much real rest from the sleep that you do get.

You Drink Coffee

As tempting as a steaming cup of joe might sound as the flight attendant asks for your drink order, especially if that roasted-bean smell is wafting through the cabin, resist the urge if your goal is to sleep.

The fact that coffee keeps you awake hardly needs expanding upon (a typical eight-ounce cup packs 95 milligrams of caffeine), but it’s astounding how many passengers order it even if they intend to doze. Don’t do that.

Instead, request room-temperature water, herbal tea, or warm milk. Beware the airlines’ go-to Lipton tea, though—a bag steeped in eight ounces of water delivers 55 milligrams of caffeine. Steer clear of Coca-Cola and chocolate, too, both of which will buzz you up on caffeine and sugar.

You Pick the Wrong Seat

If you’ve ever been stuck in the middle seat between two strangers, you know the near impossibility of achieving sleep status there. And if you’re in the aisle, you’ll get awoken whenever your row mates need to visit the loo or the flight attendants need to deliver service. Your most nap-optimal option, then, is always the window seat. You’ve got the wall to lean against, the shade to close, and the luxury of being left mostly alone.

Book your window seat when making your flight reservation. Or if you’re flying an airline like Southwest whose seats are first-come, first-served, set your alarm for as soon as you can check in online. The earlier you check in, the earlier you can board the plane—and the likelier you are to nab a window seat.

As for other seat-related factors, Clint Johnston, founder of Triphackr.com, recommends using SeatGuru to suss out your most comfortable spot: “A seat away from the lavatory and the galley is a must,” he says.

Wherever you end up sitting, buckle your seat belt atop your blanket or jacket so that the flight staff won’t need to wake you to confirm that you’re safe.


You Come Unequipped

Don’t expect to be able to sleep well if you don’t bring the proper equipment. “Before your flight, pack a small sleep kit and toss it into your carry-on,” recommends Alanna McGinn, a certified sleep expert and the founder of the Good Night Sleep Site. “Earplugs and an eye mask can help minimize distractions and let you drift off a little easier,” she adds.

The other experts I surveyed for this piece recommend bringing noise-canceling headphones, thick socks, a neck pillow (some prefer to use it under the chin instead of behind the neck), a blanket, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and your contact case and solution if needed. If you don’t have an eye mask, sunglasses work in a pinch and can double as a do-not-disturb sign. 

If you know they work for you, you can take sleeping pills—Ambien is popular—or better yet, a natural sleep aid like melatonin or magnesium citrate powder. “Magnesium is an anti-stress mineral and sleep aid that will help you relax and fall asleep,” says Carolyn Dean, a women’s health expert. “You can take travel-size packets and pour one into your water bottle and sip throughout the flight,” she adds.

You Don’t Prep at the Airport

There are certain things you can do before you get on your flight that’ll make your time in your seat more restful. First of all, go to bathroom before you board. Also, eat a normal-sized meal—not too big, not too small—and get to the airport with enough time to get through security so that you don’t arrive at your gate flushed and stressed.

While you still have Wi-Fi, and before you put your phone on airplane mode, download a few relaxing songs and apps. Johnston recommends Sleep Machine, which, he says, “offers soothing sounds, like the forest, the ocean, or a campfire that you might prefer over blocking noise with earplugs.” Roger Brinkley, CEO of Pac2Go, a travel-accessory company, swears by the Ambi Science Pure Sleep app:”It uses a combination of binaural and isochronic entrainment,” he says. (That just means it plays two kinds of tones that get your brainwaves to calm down.) “Think of it as white noise on steroids.”


You Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable

There are so many little ways you can create your own comfort aboard an aircraft, yet most people don’t do it. For maximum coziness, don’t forget your pillow, take off your shoes, and slip on a pair of clean socks. If you need legroom, store as much as possible in the overhead bin; or, if you prefer a leg rest, use your carry-on to prop up your feet. A few travel experts recommend placing a pillow or your backpack on your open tray table for a comfortable place to rest your head, if you don’t mind leaning forward.

The day of travel, don’t wear anything constricting or stiff—except for compression socks or tights, if needed. Instead, dress yourself in clothes that are as loose and comfortable as possible without it looking like you’re wearing pajamas. On a long-haul flight, consider bringing actual pajamas to change into after taking off.

“Another tip is to layer up,” says Heather Richardson, a luxury travel advisor. “Cabins are always too hot or too cold, so make sure you can take off layers or put them on as required.” And a jacket can double as a pillow if you roll it up.

The eternal question of whether to recline your seat remains as controversial as ever—but if no one’s sitting behind you, or if that person is reclined, don’t hesitate to lean on back.

Your Timing Is Off

Avoid scheduling flights for the time of day that you tend to be most awake and alert. Early-morning flights are great for this reason, so long as you don’t have your usual cup of coffee. Otherwise, book a ticket that departs right before bedtime. Either way, the key is to board the plane tired. If that means you need to wake up extra-early that morning, or get in a hardcore workout during the day, do it.

“On short, transatlantic flights eastbound to Europe where flight times might be as little as six hours, the key in any class of service is to get to sleep right away,” says Kyle Steward, who owns a travel agency called Trip Sherpa. “You will have a chance at five to six hours of sleep, but getting a head start is key.”


You Fly Coach

Yeah, we know, this isn’t something most of us can control. But if you happen to have the money, miles, or charm to get up front, use it. For better chances of an impromptu upgrade, arrive at your gate early, dress sharply, and ask nicely. The worst they can say is no.

And if the flight staff ever asks for a volunteer to give up their economy-class seat to accommodate other passengers’ needs, raise your hand—there’s a decent chance they’ll escort you into business or first.

So long as you don’t indulge in the free champagne and chocolate, you’ll have a much better chance at getting longer, higher quality sleep where you have more space around you, fewer people, and seats that basically turn into beds.

You Chat up Your Neighbor

On an airplane, even a friendly greeting can be misconstrued as a signal that the conversational door is open. And then, if you’re seated next to a chatty Cathy (or a talkative Tom), you’re at risk for an hours-long back and forth when what you really need to be doing is sleeping.

When acknowledging your seatmate, keep it quick and polite, then quickly put on headphones or an eye mask. To solidify your chances of silence, say something like, “Hey, if the flight attendant comes by to take drink orders, would you mind telling her I don’t want to be woken up?” This’ll send the loud-and-clear message—without having to outright say so—that you’re not up for a gabfest.