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How to Sleep Comfortably On an Airplane

Woman sleeping peacefully on a plane
Undrey/Shutterstock

One of life’s greatest challenges is getting quality sleep on an Economy seat on a long-haul flight—at least that’s how it feels. We’re here to help make your next trip more bearable.

Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who can fall asleep even standing, you know the frustration that comes with spending the night at 30,000 feet in the air with limited space, surrounded by strangers, and with the mind-numbing drone of the jet playing in the background. 

Though seemingly impossible, there are ways to secure better shuteye and proper rest on overnight flights. Read on for all the tips you’ll need on your next trip. 

Pick the Right Seat

Frequent flyers are aware of the importance of seat location. If you pick the right one for you, you’ve already done half the job to ensuring some well-deserved undisrupted sleep throughout the flight. 

Window seats provide you with a wall to rest your head and prevent you from having people bothering you every time they need to use the restroom. However, if you’re one to use the toilet rather often or to walk around when you can’t sleep, then you should pick an aisle seat on the central block of seats. That way when you’re awake, you can get up as many times as you please, and when you’re sleeping your neighbor can simply turn to the other passenger next to them to let them through.  

Emergency exit and bulkhead seats should be avoided as the former don’t usually recline, and the latter tend to be reserved for families with infants. 

As a general rule, pick seats near the front of the plane and away from lavatories and the galley to avoid loud noises and unpleasant smells. If the airline allows it, you can reserve a seat during the booking process. Alternatively, you can ask at the check-in desk if they can change your seat to any that would suit your preferences.

Comply With the Essentials

There are three components to a good night sleep: light, temperature, and sound. These are the tools you’ll need to fulfill them:

  • A Quality Eye Mask: Though they are generally provided free of charge, some airlines require you to pay for them, and the quality is often disappointing. Do your research and invest in a thick and soft eye mask that provides you with the comfort you need. Look for the kind with extra foldable fabric on the lower edge as that will prevent any light from reaching your eyelids. 
  • A Hoodie and Extra Socks: Other than dry, the air in the aircraft is usually quite cold, so extra layers might make it easier to sleep. Bring your favorite sweater and an extra pair of socks to avoid relying on the thin blankets they give you on the flight. And don’t forget to buckle in over your outer layer if you don’t want to be awakened by a flight attendant wanting to check your seatbelt! 
  • A Travel Blanket: A hoodie might be a more versatile pick (after all you can wear it when you reach your destination), but if you crave the comfort of a blanket we understand. Fortunately, there are some nice ultra-light travel blankets to choose from.
  • Noise-Canceling Headphones: Following meal service, the atmosphere on the plane tends to quiet down. However, engine noise can still make it difficult for you to get some rest. Putting on noise-canceling headphones can help with the challenge. You can either listen to white noise to lull yourself into sleep, or you can leave them on but unplugged to minimize the surrounding noise. If the cost of noise-canceling headphones is too much for your budget (good pairs are pretty pricey) or you just dislike the feeling of pressure in your ear that some people experience while using them, you can also use specialty airplane earplugs—the plugs have a little pressure valve so your ears can pop naturally.

Get a Neck Pillow or Use the Headrest

Man sleeping with a neck pillow in an airport
BCOZZY

Not a lot of people know this, but neck pillows are meant to be used to rest your chin, not the nape of your neck. There are lots of options on the market that differ in features and price tag so you can be sure there’s one perfect for you out there. If you’re not sure where to start, the top pick for traditional neck pillows over at our sister-site Review Geek is the BCOZZY model seen above—it’s a comfy take on the standard U-shape.

Alternatively, you can make full use of your seat. Nowadays, most airplanes have headrest cushions that you can adjust by moving it up and down, and by bending the extremities to get some support to rest your head while you sleep. 

Sit Upright 

Though some people like to use the meal tray as a surface where to lean their arms and head to sleep, it’s not a good position for the spine. Instead, it’s recommended you lean back on your seat and let your uncrossed legs relax in front of you. Such a position favors your skeleton as well as your circulation and prevents you from waking up in the middle of the night feeling sore or uncomfortable. 

Say No to Caffeine and Alcohol

Yes, it’s difficult. Who doesn’t enjoy free drinks after all, especially if alcohol is included in the deal? However, for as good as coffee and wine can be, they can disrupt your sleep cycle and leave you feeling groggy after an unsuccessful attempt at getting some shuteye on the flight. Opt for chamomile tea instead. It might be less exciting, but it can help you feel more relaxed and soothed. So bring a tea bag with you and prepare to feel zen. You can always double your caffeine intake the following day! 

Consider Lavender 

If herbal tea doesn’t cut it, lavender might help. Not only does it have a pleasant smell, but it also has sleep-inducing properties that can come in very handy on a long-haul flight. If the sticky feeling of oil and hand lotion isn’t your thing, there are plenty of lavender-scented products you can choose from, including sprays, inhalers, and even neck pillows and eye masks—talk about killing two birds with one stone!

Don’t Be Scared of Melatonin

This hormone, which we naturally produce in our bodies, can be a lifesaver for frequent flyers as well as for those who travel across many time zones and don’t have the time to deal with the jet lag. Melatonin is produced at nighttime, and it regulates your circadian rhythm, that is your sleep-wake cycle. Take some as soon as you board the plane and wait for your body to process it and make you fall asleep. To fight the jet lag, take more on your first night at your destination.

Don’t Overeat

Two things happen when we overeat: you feel uncomfortable, and your heart has to work harder to pump blood to the digestive system. Overeating usually leads to bloating, and considering gas expands at higher altitudes, you can expect your level of discomfort to be much greater than it usually is back at home. 

While it’s tempting to load up on airport food, it’s probably not the typical fare you usually eat and stuffing yourself full of food that’s much greasier or carb-loaded than usual is a recipe for an unsettled stomach on your flight. It’s also a good idea to stir away from salty foods as they lead to water retention and dehydration. However, airplane food is high in sodium compared to standard restaurant food as our sense of taste weakens at traveling altitudes. If possible, book your meal preference in advance otherwise make sure to bring healthy snacks with you to eat before or after you sleep.

Board the Plane Tired

Falling asleep when you’re not tired isn’t easy. To prepare your body for a long flight, do an intense workout hours before departure or wake up earlier than usual on that morning. Your energy levels will eventually drop, and by the time you finish your meal, you’ll be ready to get some well-deserved shuteye. 


Although it may not feel like it, it is possible to sleep soundly on a plane. Try these tricks for yourself next time you’re on a long-haul flight; you won’t regret it. Sweet dreams!

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »

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