17 Tips for How to Sleep on a Plane

Do you dream of visiting faraway places but hesitate because of a long-haul flight? They are intimidating, but that shouldn’t stop you. I’ve taken a number of 12+ hour flights (including one at 16.5 hours) and always have the ability to sleep. This is one of the top questions I’m asked, so figured here are my resources, tips, apps, gadgets, and habits that can help you sleep on a plane.

If you can figure out what works for you to sleep on a plane, then you’ll feel more energized upon landing, be able to fight jet lag easier, and have more time to explore your destination. 

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Essential Tip for Sleeping on a Plane: Practice

This list is filled with tips and gadgets. However, if you don’t practice with them, then they’re all useless. If you can’t sleep with a sleep mask on in the comfort of your own bed, then you definitely won’t be able to do it on a plane. Whatever you decide to do on a plane, you should test it at home first. 

It’ll take about a week to get used to something on your face (eye mask) or in your ears (ear plugs). If you’re planning on taking a sleep aid, such as melatonin, Tylenol PM, or a prescription aid, make sure to try it at home so you’re familiar with how it impacts you. 

By practicing and getting comfortable with these methods, you’ll feel more relaxed and prepared on the plane. 

Airplane seats. Paying for your preferred seat can make it easier to sleep on a plane.
If you’re trying to sleep on a plane, spend the money to get your preferred seat!

Tip #2: Book your preferred seat, even if it costs more. 

Some people swear by the window, others by the aisle. (I’m an aisle fan, but there are pros to each). Window seats allow you to lean against the wall and not be bothered by seatmates going to the bathroom. You can also control the shade (though don’t be a jerk, leave the shade down!) The aisle on the other hand allows you easy access to get up and stretch when needed. Having your preferred seat for better sleep is worth the extra money. For obvious reasons, the middle seat should be avoided. 

Tip #3: A sleeping girl’s best friend is a good eye mask

There’s nothing more annoying than not sleeping in darkness. A good sleep mask can block out the light from the plane and if any rude window sitters open the shade. The key part of using a sleep mask is getting the right one. A thick one with eye pockets that don’t put pressure on your actual eyes can help. I recommend this one with an adjustable strap. Be sure to get comfortable with it at home before wearing it on a plane. 

The sleep mask will also help your circadian rhythm – when it’s dark, we want to sleep. Keeping the eye mask on even when you’re awake helps prevent your eyes from adjusting to blue light or the cabin lights, making it easier to fall back asleep.

Tip #4: Get something to cancel the noise

Whether this is noise-canceling headphones or a good set of earplugs – you need something to drown out the noise of the airplane. As a light sleeper, I use normal earbuds with white noise (rain) to drown out the sounds. I practice with this sound at home, so when it’s on I naturally am conditioned to go to sleep (hence why practice is so important!)

A head set plugged into a phone!
A great set of headphones and white noise can help you sleep on a plane – I love my rain sounds!

Tip #5 Wear comfortable footwear

While I always tell people to wear their biggest shoes on the plane so they can save luggage space, make sure they’re comfortable. You also want to have the ability to loosen up shoes. Sleeping with socks and shoes can be annoying, so having the option to loosen up can make it more comfortable. Feet and legs can also swell. If you’re prone to swelling, check out compression socks that can help with circulation and prevent blood clots. 

Tip #6: Get physical activity in before the flight

Physically wearing yourself out will help you sleep. If you have an evening flight, take a hike in the morning or head to the gym. If you have an earlier flight, even doing laps around the airport can help you physically get tired. By the time you get on the plane and mentally ready for sleep – your body will be too! 

Tip #7 Avoid being bloated and alcohol

A super heavy meal (i.e. burger and fries) can make your body work overtime during the flight where you’re trying to rest. You also may have to use the bathroom a number of times on the plane (and who enjoys using plane restrooms). Alcohol has been shown to not provide quality sleep, so don’t add to the stress on the body. It also dehydrates you which can make your jet lag even worse. 

Tip #8: Drink water

Ensure you’re drinking enough water about 48 hours before your flight. Airplane and airport air can get very stale so it’s important to get hydrated and stay that way. Be careful about drinking too close to flight time to avoid waking up to go to the bathroom. 

Tip #9: Avoid caffeine

This is a no-brainer, but no one likes to hear it. Less caffeine on the day of travel can make your body crave rest even more. You can have plenty of coffee, caffeinated tea, or soda upon arrival. 

A person walking in an airport with luggage. Physical activity, even in the airport, can help you get sleep on the plane.
Physical activity, even in the airport, can help you get to sleep on the plane.

Tip #10: Pack chapstick

Some people have chapstick near them all the time, I am not one of those people. However, I need it on the plane. Keep your lips moist so you don’t wake up due to chapped lips. Also, when you sleep standing up you might do more mouth breathing than you do at home, increasing the chance of chapped lips. 

Tip #11: Hoodie vs. Blanket

Some people can’t wait to cozy up with the blanket on the plane, but I personally hate it. If I know I’m sleeping on a plane, I will wear a hoodie (even if I’m traveling to somewhere warm, like Egypt). I prefer to feel warm and snuggled and have somewhere to put my arms comfortably. I’ve seen some people turn around the hoodie to cover their face which can help with the light. 

Tip #12: Buckle over, not under

Whether you use the blanket or hoodie from the above tip, make sure you buckle your seat belt OVER it. Flight attendants have no problem waking you up to make sure it’s buckled! (And they should, your safety is a priority!). Make sure it’s visible before you sleep on the plane.

Tip #13: Use the tray table for comfort

I’ve seen people put their arms on the tray table to lean over and fall asleep. This looks terrible to me, but if it works for you, great! You can also use the tray table to rest your arms on. Be sure to wipe it down with travel disinfecting wipes to ensure it’s clean. 

Tip #14: Use sleep aid in moderation and only for long enough flights

Sleep aids such as melatonin, over-the-counter aids (i.e. Tylenol PM), or prescription aids (such as Ambien). This goes back to your essential tip. I know that Tylenol PM makes me groggy if I get less than 7 hours of sleep. So If I have a 5-hour flight, I”m not going to take it to help me sleep on a plane. If you have a prescription for sleep medications be sure to talk to your doctor about side effects, duration, and when you should take it on the plane.  You don’t want to take it too early and be sleeping in the airport before boarding! 

A plane flying through clouds
A plane that is flying during your normal sleep schedule can help you fall asleep on the plane. Photo by Rene.

Tip #15: Pack a pillow (or a pillow substitute). 

Full honesty, I hate travel pillows, they’re too snug around me and I don’t use them. Spencer loves his infinity pillow over the traditional u-shape, so to each your own. I tend to use a piece of my own clothing folded up as a pillow. Whatever you choose, be sure to test it out at home in a comfortable environment before trying to sleep on a plane. 

Tip #16: Fly direct if possible

Direct flights are best for sleep. The biggest reason being you don’t have to worry about a connection. If you fall asleep, you can wake up at your destination! It allows you to get more uninterrupted sleep which can help fight jet lag. 

Tip #17: Plan the flight for sleeping if possible. 

If you can take a flight that leaves at 9 pm your body will already be getting ready for bed. If it leaves at 2 in the afternoon, then it’ll be harder to get to sleep.  An overnight flight will just make it easier on you. 

Final thoughts

So there you have it, my 17 tips to help you sleep on a plane! Do you have any tips (or products) that help you sleep on the plane? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it as a reader favorite! 

Read More Planning Tips:

How to move through the airport quickly

My 6 Steps for Finding Cheap Flights

How much money you need to bring on your trip

Tips for Saving Money on Accommodation

Save “How to Sleep on a Plane” for later!

How to sleep on a plane pin
How to sleep on a plane pin
How to sleep on a plane pin

11 thoughts on “17 Tips for How to Sleep on a Plane”

  1. Very helpful tips. On our recent flight home from Chile I opted to take my contacts out before we flew and it made a huge difference! Going to Argentina, my eyes dried out so much. I don’t normally wear glasses all day but for long trips it’s a lot more comfortable. If contacts are a must, then be sure to pack eye drops!

  2. First off, I like your advice about practicing with sleep aids at home. I take Unisom to fall asleep, but I tried it at home first to see if it worked and to judge my reaction to it.

  3. I hear you on the preferred seat… however, hubby prefers aisle and I prefer window, so someone has to suffer and get the middle seat.
    We did travel with a couple that booked the aisle and window on our recent flight. Someone else got to sit between them. I guess that is one way to do it!

    1. That’s what we do if we have to have a window. Usually we both like aisle so we’re across the aisle from each other. If you do window/aisle, you increase chances of someone not sitting int he middle, but if the flight is full then yeah, it’s a little awkward. But then you both have your preferred seat!

  4. I’m really good at falling asleep in vehicles (definitely a blessing for long flights!), but these are all great tips! Direct flights are definitely where it’s at (when not astronomically expensive)! The window seat is my favorite!

  5. Great tips! Really great! I have a hard time with travel pillows – I find them uncomfortable. So I am eager to check out the infinity pillow. Thanks for the recommendation.

  6. Thanks for these great tips! Even after having worked as a flight attendant it’s a hit and miss for me. But on long haul flights I can usually get some sleep. Depends on the surroundings a lot as well unfortunately!

    1. I’m sure it’s difficult to snooze too with so many people needing you. You definitely can’t take sleep aids either! Good luck.

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