How to: Sleep on a plane

sleep-on-a-plane
I fly over 150,000 miles a year and I’ve seen all kinds of methods and contraptions that passengers use to try and sleep better on airplanes. Everyone is different but flying as much as I do, I know what works. Here are 10 ways to help you sleep on a plane.

1. An eye mask
Eye masks help you create an ideal sleeping environment by blocking out all the light. Instead of using the cheap, scratchy eye masks that the airlines sometimes pass out on long flights, I bring my own fluffy one. I might look silly in it but it feels so good and does the trick. Mine is made by Lewis & Clarke and is $9 on Amazon.com.

2. Earplugs
Bringing earplugs is self-explanatory and is essential for a good night’s sleep.

3. Noise-cancelation headphones and soft music
If there’s a screaming baby near you, earplugs aren’t going to the trick. In that case, pop on your noise-cancelation headphones or ear buds and play soft music, an audio book or meditation music to drown out the noise and put you to sleep.

4. Wear comfortable clothes
The temperature on planes always varies. One minute it can be freezing cold and the next, hot as hell. Be sure to dress in layers and wear comfortable clothes. On long flights, smart business travelers usually wear their suits when boarding and deplaning but in between, they change out of their restrictive clothing and into pajamas or sweats. Don’t forget to wear cozy socks, too.

5. Buckle up
If you don’t want to be disturbed by the flight attendants, wear your seatbelt over the outer garment of your clothing or blanket so they don’t have to wake you when they do their safety checks if the seatbelt sign goes on. If your seatbelt is visibly fastened, they won’t disturb you.

6. Pack food and water
If you don’t want to be restricted to the flight crew’s schedule, bring your own food and drink. At some major U.S. airports (ahem, LGA) taxi time can be up to an hour and once you are in the air, it’s usually 40 minutes before the crew brings out the food and drinks.

7. Get a window seat
If you want to sleep on a plane, the best seat is usually next to a window so you have something to lean against and you don’t have to worry about your seatmates waking you so they can use the loo. Consult SeatGuru.com or SeatExpert.com for your best options.

RELATED: Six Ways to Get the Best Seat on a Plane

8. Communicate
When boarding, be sure to let the flight attendant know not to wake you for food or drink if you don’t want any, and kindly tell your seatmate when sitting down that you plan on sleeping and not to let the flight attendants wake you.

9. Bring a pillow or blanket
There are tons of different neck pillows on the market. Find out which one works for you and go with it. Also, not all airlines provide blankets so you might want to bring your own … or at least a cozy sweater.

10. Sleeping pills
I personally don’t take any kind of pills (including melatonin) and I don’t recommend them since I think everyone should be fully aware in case of an emergency. But I know many people who swear by them. Usually, the drug of choice is Ambien but consult your doctor first and don’t try a medicine for the first time on a plane.

These are my tips. Am I leaving anything out? What works for you? Do you have a favorite travel gadget? If so leave your comment/suggestion below.

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Johnny Jet

About the Author

Johnny Jet
I used to be afraid to fly and at times even leave the house! I conquered my fear (long story) and now I travel to 20+ countries a year sharing my firsthand knowledge, tips and deals with friends, family and readers. Please sign up to our free newsletters and tell your friends!

59 Comments on "How to: Sleep on a plane"

  1. Packing some snack may work. But you won’t get liquids on board nowadays.

  2. Good advice,I think I’m going in sweats next time I fly.

  3. I swear by pajama jeans and a neck pillow!

  4. mmmmmhh. Interesting…very interesting.

  5. If you want food or drink, leave your tray table open if you don’t notify them before

  6. If the person ahead in coach reclines their seat, I nicely tap them on the shoulder, say I am recovering from knee surgery, and the pain from their reclining seat is keeping me from sleep. It’s not a total fib–I need the surgery and am in pain. It usually works! My bad…

    • I never use 3rd recline notch in consideration for passenger behind me, 3rd position should be eliminated. I once complained and person understood.

    • Hey Viv… after you Nicely tap me on the shoulder I would nicely turn and reply ” the seats were made to recline ” then I would turn and get back to sleep…. The knee pain Fib is getting old…. but Nice try… :0)

    • You’re a lying B that gives the rest of us a bad rep.

    • As much as I love being considerate, I will recline because that is the only way I can sit for hours at a time. (Lying person sitting behind me or not)

  7. Useful experience. Lucky me I found your web site accidentally, and I’m surprised why this twist of fate didn’t came about in advance! I bookmarked it. Take tours in vietnam this autumn.

  8. A couple of glasses of wine and classical music do it for me. Agree 100% on the window seat advice. Aisle seats are susceptible to being bumped and jerked whenever someone heads to or from the lav. I also like to prop my feet up. I put a day pack under the seat in front of me and use it as a footrest.

  9. I don’t think sleeping pills are a good idea. It’s important to avoid deep-vein thrombosis which is surprisingly common and often lethal. The way to do this is to avoid dehydration, have a walk around the plane every hour or so (aisle seat better for this) and avoid your legs going to sleep due to drug or alcohol induced sleep. Also, maybe take one asprin the day before and day of the flight.

  10. thanks for this article. can you resend the link to the Lewis & Clarke eye mask from Amazon? the link didn’t seem to work.

  11. Unless I am totally flat, after a few hours my back hurts, and I just can’t get comfortable. Not comfortable = no sleep. Maybe Motrin????

  12. I always bring a small blanket and fuzzy socks. Thanks for the tip about the fluffy eye mask!

  13. A friend recommended Ambien. When I flew to China, I took one at LAX and woke up in Beijing wheels down. It was like a chunk of time was removed from my life. Very much like when you have surgery and you wake up in recovery to discover the whole process is over. Returning to the US, mirror image. Took Ambien in Beijing and woke up wheels down at LAX. No DVT or other problems. Also, absolutely no jet lag. Better than first class.

  14. neck pillows, travel pillows are #1. they work! look dorky but work.

  15. I’ve tried #2-9 and never had any luck sleeping on a plane. My mind is usually too excited in anticipation of arriving in a new country to relax enough to sleep :)

    • That’s how I feel!! But once there, I’m usually so tired…also what keeps me up are the personalized movie screens in front of your chair…There is never a list of movies that you don’t want to watch..its horrible.

  16. Usually……my flights I take are horribly early in the morning….so I’m already tired because I don’t sleep well before that flight….worried the alarm won’t go off in time….so with comfy clothes….neck pillow (a must) a blanket (pashmina wrap) warm socks I am out before the plane leaves the gate. And always upgrade to economy plus so the person in front of you who decides to have his seat back all the way back doesn’t crush our knees~!

    • My sister loves early flights in the early morning. But I feel your pain…I hate early mornings..especially when its so cold when you wake up, from your lack of sleep :)

  17. I wear comfortable clothes (definitely in layers) and bring cozy, fuzzy socks. I always carry a pashmina as it doubles as a blanket since I’m always freezing on a plane. Definitely pack snacks so you have something to eat whenever you wake up (since I would miss the food/drinks). Safe travels and happy sleeping.

  18. I recommend a NECK BRACE! I was injured because I fell asleep with no neck brace and my head hung out in the aisle…the brilliant stewardess ram rodded my head with her elbow… GET A NECK BRACE!!! And beside the safety factor, the comfort of being able to sleep without your head hanging forward or to the side is great!

    • A neck pillow does the same trick as a neck brace.

      • most neck pillows are useless!!! to me. I found one that velcros shut and I wear it backwards, it’s a little helpful. I’m going on a 17 hour flight soon and I’m going to try a real neck brace, there are a few that are actually comfortable.

  19. hey johnny r we able to take sleeping pills pass security

  20. My favourite eyeshades are Bucky’s! They are a thin foam, and have concave eyes, so there isn’t any pressure on your eyeballs. I use them even when not flying! I think they are also on Amazon, but I order from their website – http://www.bucky.com

  21. Bring empty bottle – fill on secure side of TSA checkpoint, a flavor enhancer to help with other state’s water taste. Bring food (sandwich {think Subway or McD’s salad}) or snacks – airport and plane food $$$$$$, unless its JB, snack are free :D. Bring your own blanket. Was on a flight from SFO to NY, its was an early flight and the back half of the plane was empty. Most had a whole row to themselves. FA offered a blanket (was in a bag) at some point I found a long blond hair on it definitely wasn’t mine. Didn’t realize that the blankets are “washed?” and reused. I went shopping for my own the next week.

    I like the neck brace idea, should work well when leaning on the window.

    The eyeshades are nice but throwing your blanket over your face, works just as well.

  22. Hey I’m getting on a flight in 2 days just really nervous , should I be worries about crashing or dying in a plane ??

  23. Your ideas worked (before you replied to my post) as I went on your and another site (packing clothes). I bought the eye patch, the banana-pillow (my name) and took the window seat. The chocolates really worked. But, I sat in row 41 of 44 and the engine noise was horrific but put me to sleep anyhow. Also bought a scough as I’m in Japan and most everyone wears a mask, especially in Tokyo and on train or transit – so many fumes.

  24. Absolutely a neck brace. About $20. You will never sleep soundly with neck flopping around and most times in a painful position. Neck brace solves that problem nicely! I always have
    1) Ambien (prefer Zolpidem)
    2) Bose noise canceling earphones AND earplugs.
    3) light hoodie with front pockets to keep arms from dangling.
    4) cushy eye mask
    5) comfortable clothes
    6) NECK BRACE
    With these I always get at least 6 hours sleep on long haul flights!

    • For usually older men who waken to leak at night, I would suggest one or two aspirin. At least this delays having to leave your seat during a long flight, possibly getting some added shut eye.

  25. I wear a pull over(Patagonia) layer jacket that I can take off roll up and place behind my head. I am jealous of how people sleep without any support. I just need a little cushion and support and the neck pillows seem too bulky. Give it a try sometime and it is less you have to carry around! + Classical music!

  26. That’s very detail and helpful tips everywhere , thumb up to you Johnny!

  27. Only problem with a neck pillow is bulk! Last overseas flight I took a Tylenol PM and wow sleep 4 hours solid, never do that ?

  28. Ok, I’ve traveled extensively. The one thing I will not leave behind is ‘BAYER BACK & BODY’ medicine. I find I don’t fidget in my seat and it relieve the stress of sitting so long!

    • Another thing I bring is a large napkin to tuck under when I eat an old pair of tennis socks which I throw away after the flight and an old pillow case that i tuck my jacket into use as a pillow.

  29. Fly in first. Or business f you want to sleep well.

  30. Great Tips. I will try some of these on my next long haul flight

  31. Christian Swanson | September 8, 2016 at 10:47 pm | Reply

    Nancy, how far into the flight do you eat the old pair of socks? And why do you eat them?

  32. nancy Thibodeau | September 9, 2016 at 11:24 am | Reply

    PLease, stop suggesting sleeping pills. The risk of getting DVT is very high the longer you remain in a plane seat
    Please talk to a health care professional about the dangers involved in taking sleeping pill while flying.It’s probably worse if you’re American, suggesting people take sleeping pills just might get you sued, very costly if they die and they can cause death. I worked in a hospital where we were close to the airport and it was not uncommon to have a least one patient with DVT caused by flying a week, sometimes more. When a person takes a sleeping pill the chances of them getting up and moving around every hour is unlikely . Taking aspirin for several days before flying might help but it is no guarantee. Aspirin can cause stomach problems so be careful.

  33. I’m not sure whether these are still made new, but I have an old inflatable torso-length 1st Class Travel Pillow (here’s one on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/1st-Class-Sleeper-Travel-Pillow/dp/B0009JVUEW ) that I’ve used on long-haul flights for years. I’m short, so without this my head gets shoved forward by the typical airline seat ‘headrest,’ my back slouches unsupported into the seat, and my legs dangle uncomfortably over the edge. The inflatable pillow seems to prop everything up and even cradle my head – don’t even need a neck pillow.

    Also I try to drink a lot of water the day or two before, but not so much immediately before or inflight, so I can sleep for a long time without having to get up.

  34. I can’t sleep. Too twitchy. I just read and watch movies. I eat the snacks. But I really enjoy watching the rest of you fold yourselves up like trombones and snooze away! Keep up the good work!

  35. I am writing a blog about my own travels I would like to include your link about sleeping on a plane and compare my own experiences to your suggestions. May I have your permission?

  36. Your tip about getting a window seat is the best one up there IMHO. Otherwise I’m that guy who sleeps on your shoulder and drools. Just kiddin.

    But, really, I flop around without the window seat. This way I lean against the cabin wall and for the most part all is good.

  37. This is a good recommendation. Since we usually feel exhausted when traveling. I use to lean my back on my chair, but if I had my traveling pillow, it would be nice. Overall this is nice.

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