If you’ve ever had the misfortune of taking a red-eye flight, then you’re probably familiar with the struggles of sleeping on a plane. From noisy/distracting passengers to uncomfortable seats and cramped quarters, it’s not always easy to get shut-eye when you’re flying. And even when you do sneak in a few minutes of sleep, it’s typically not very restful or restorative.
While you’ll probably never get the best sleep on your life on an airplane, there are some steps you can take to make yourself more comfortable and catch some Zs the next time you fly.
Adjust Your Sleep Ahead of Time
Start by considering your flight and route details. Will you be flying overnight during the hours you’d normally be sleeping? If so, then you’ll want to consider how much sleep debt you might accumulate if you’re not able to get a lot of restful sleep on the plane. From there, adjust your sleep or make plans to catch up on sleep after your flight so you’re not completely exhausted.
Don’t forget to factor in potential time zone changes as well. If you’ll be flying to a destination in a different time zone, make sure you have a plan for adjusting to that time zone not only when you arrive, but when you fly back home as well. A little preparation and planning can go a long way here.
Take Advantage of Overhead Storage
You probably wouldn’t think that your carry-on luggage could affect your ability to sleep while flying, but think again! If you’re bringing any carry-ons, you’ll want to stow them in an overhead bin whenever possible rather than using space underneath the seat in front of you. When you place items such as purses and laptop bags in front of you, you’re taking up precious leg room that could prevent you from getting comfortable when it comes time to sleep.
By limiting your carry-ons or keeping them stowed overhead, you can free up this space and stretch out a little more, which could help you rest better on your flight.
Don’t Dress to Impress
Unless you’re meeting someone you need to impress as soon as you land, there’s no reason not to dress comfortably for your flight. This doesn’t mean you have to wear pajamas to the airport, but there are plenty of comfortable clothing options that will make it easier to sleep on the plane while still looking decent.
The key is to choose clothing that is lightweight and not too restrictive. Loose-fitting and flowy pants or leggings are a practical choice for many, as are t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts. From a footwear perspective, consider something that will be comfortable to sleep in. Just be courteous of your fellow passengers and don’t go barefoot on the flight. One option to consider is packing a pair of slippers in your carry-on luggage.
Because planes can sometimes be hit-or-miss when it comes to temperature, it’s also a good idea to dress in layers. This way, you can easily add or remove a layer if you find yourself too warm or too cold.
Choose Your Seat Strategically
If you have the option to choose your seat when flying, you’ll generally be best served by a window seat if you plan on sleeping during the flight. A window seat is furthest away from the aisle, so you’ll be less likely to be bumped into by beverage carts or interrupted by other passengers. With a window seat, you’ll also have the ability to close the window shade itself, which can block out light and make it easier for you to sleep (especially if you have a daytime flight).
If you’re really lucky and end up on a flight that’s not full, consider asking a flight attendant if you can move to a completely empty row. If so, you may be able to lift arm rests up and lay down across an entire row of seating for a comfortable snooze. Of course, if the “fasten seatbelt” sign illuminates at any time during your flight, you can expect to be woken up by a flight attendant.
Depending on your budget for flying and the specific aircraft in which you’ll be traveling, you may also want to consider upgrading classes for additional leg room and comfort. Some airlines offer first-class fares with fully reclining seats. This can be a great way to maximize your comfort (and your chances of actually sleeping well), which may be worth the added cost.
Invest in Your Own Comfort
Regardless of whether you’ll be flying economy, business, or first class, there are some relatively small purchases you can make to maximize your comfort while flying. A cheap eye mask, for example, can help to block out distracting light while flying and sends a good message to the people around you that you don’t want to be disturbed. Another way would be to take melatonin. Check out the benefits and risks of taking melatonin on a flight.
A quality travel pillow is also a must to avoid waking up with that dreaded neck and shoulder pain. There are many different styles of travel pillow available to help you achieve the most comfortable and ergonomic position, so explore your options and see which is best for you.
Noise-canceling headphones are another accessory to consider if you do a lot of flying; these can help drown out the sounds of children crying or loud conversations around you, which may help you sleep better. Even if you’re not convinced that spending money on noise-canceling headphones is worth it, you can pick up a cheap pair of earplugs to help muffle some of the noises around you during your flight.
Plan Your Meals Carefully
What you eat and drink leading up to your flight could also affect your ability to sleep. Ideally, you should avoid coffee or any forms of caffeine in the hours before your flight departs. Alcohol should also be avoided, as it can make it difficult to stay asleep and is also likely to result in more trips to the airplane lavatory.
Spicy foods have also been found to interrupt or even prevent sleep, so try to avoid these before your flight. If you decide to eat a meal before you fly, stick to something bland and try to finish your meal at least three hours before takeoff.
Stow Those Electronic Devices
Electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets, emit blue light that can prevent you from being able to fall asleep easily. If you plan on sleeping during your flight, then, consider stowing these devices away completely. This will also help to eliminate distractions that could keep you from falling asleep. If you must use electronic devices for any reason, check to see if your tablet or phone has a “blue-light block” setting, which will cast a yellow filter over your screen to reduce the intensity of blue light emitted. This is a feature offered by many devices these days.
Consider Ear Plugs or White Noise
Nearby conversations, crying babies, and the sound of the beverage cart making its way down the aisle are just a few examples of the major noise distractions that can prevent you from sleeping on a plane. The good news is that you can easily filter these out by wearing headphones with white noise playing or even donning an inexpensive pair of ear plugs. As an added benefit, white noise can also help to relax your body and mind, which might make it easier for you to fall (and stay) asleep on the plane.
Talk to Your Flight Attendant
While many flight attendants are experienced enough to know when a passenger is trying to sleep and doesn’t want to be disturbed, this isn’t a guarantee—especially if you’re sitting in an aisle seat. Avoid being woken up by a well-meaning flight attendant who wants to take your drink order by politely pulling one aside before the plane takes off. You can then explain that you plan on sleeping during the flight and wish not to be disturbed.
Flight attendants will still need to wake you up if, for example, the “fasten seatbelt” sign comes on and you’re not wearing your seatbelt. However, letting a flight attendant know that you don’t want to be disturbed means you won’t be woken up when they come around to take drink orders or deliver snacks.
If you have other passengers sitting around you, it’s also a good idea to let them know that you plan on sleeping. This way, they’ll also know not to wake you when the beverage cart is coming by—and if you’re really lucky, they may even go out of their way to keep their own noise levels down so you can catch some Zs.
Getting restful sleep on a plane isn’t always easy, but with a little preparation and planning, you just might be able to catch a few hours of restorative sleep. As a result, you can arrive at your destination feeling refreshed and ready to take on your trip.