TRAVEL
10/17/2019 11:32 EDT | Updated 10/24/2019 11:15 EDT

How To Sleep Better On Planes

Travel bloggers and experts share how they prepare to catch some in-flight z's.

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images
There are ways to make in-flight sleep a more attainable goal. 

Unless you have the capital to splurge on a flat-bed business class seat, sleeping on an airplane is likely not a comfortable experience for you. 

Between the cramped space, cabin pressure and general stress of transit, flights don’t offer ideal circumstances for catching some z’s ― even during the red-eye night hours. 

But there are ways to make it a little better. We asked travel bloggers and other experts to share their tips for sleeping during long plane rides. 

Avoid Sugar And Alcohol

“I know, someone call the fun police. But you should skip that free airline lounge Champagne, and avoid alcohol and sugar completely. While you might think alcohol will send you to sleep, this is usually only short-lasting, maybe 3-4 hours, and you’ll then wake up with a headache, feeling thirsty, and won’t be able to get back to sleep. Fine if your flight is only 3-4 hours, but if you’re on a long-haul flight, this might be counterproductive. With sugar, when you’re sitting down for long periods of time, you’re not using up a lot of energy, so when you eat salty or sugary foods this ends up causing a lot of bloating. And nobody wants to feel bloated while they’re flying.” ― Meg Jerrard, travel blogger at Mapping Megan

Take Melatonin

“When going on long-haul flights, I always bring a sleeping aid such as melatonin that helps me sleep better on those overnight flights.” ― Jessica van Dop, travel media specialist and blogger at The Dining Traveler

Wear Loose Shoes

“One thing I do that really helps on long flights (five or more hours) is wear slightly loose slip-on shoes. If I’m planning to sleep on the flight, I might end up with swollen feet but if there’s some room in the shoe I’ll be comfortable anyway. Plus a little room allows for socks on chilly flights!” ― Kay Dougherty travel blogger at Blonde Brunette Travel

Choose A Seat Wisely

“Try to get a window seat so you can lean against the wall (not to mention have control over the window blind). I usually wear a neck pillow and use the pillow provided by the airline to support my head against the wall.” ― Marek Bron, travel blogger at Indie Traveller

“I have flown over 150,000 miles in the past two years, and almost half of those flights have been red-eyes. I always recommend doing your best to get the seat you prefer, especially before long and/or overnight flights. Set a reminder to check in to your flight exactly 24 hours before, so you have your choice of window or aisle seat.” ― Stephanie Huston, entrepreneur and travel blogger at Steph Explores the World 

Tire Yourself Out

“Once I hit my departure gate and the stress level of travel stabilizes, I begin my flight pre-check to ensure smooth travel. I start drinking as much water as possible to keep hydrated, and use whatever time I have before takeoff to move around the airport. Airports are great places to walk and get your endorphins, immune and circulatory systems pumping. In addition to walking, I use airport seating for leg lifts and lower body muscle toning, and use walls for pushup and arm exercises.” ― April Merenda, president and co-founder of Gutsy Women Travel

Invest In A Good Travel Pillow

“Great the right travel pillow. Some people like memory foam; some people like the ones you blow up yourself. Know the size and style that works for you before you board the plane with that pillow. Test it out while on your own couch, and you will be able to sleep soundly on your next flight.” ― Danielle Nelson, travel blogger and creator of Pack This Journal

Meditate

“Even if you get stuck in the middle seat or just dread being on an airplane to begin with, let alone getting some good sleep on it, fear not! The No. 1 thing you can do is focus on your mindset! Stay aware of the thought narrative happening in your head ― don’t psych yourself out and get stressed before you even head to the airport. Take a quiet moment to set an intention to enjoy the entire journey ― starting with the airport experience, and practice gratitude that you’re lucky enough to go on a trip (and sleep on an airplane) when so many other folks in the world are not. The Inscape meditation app is my go-to for sweet dreams while flying. It has an entire section of meditations dedicated to mindful traveling without fear so you can keep a positive outlook and sleep soundly on the way to your next adventure.” ― Huston

“Meditation is key to comfort and sleeping on flights! Using aromatherapy essential oils under your nostrils is a great way to relax. I also use lavender essential oil. Meditation can help you get a good night’s rest. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and reduce your heart rate.” ― Merenda

Wear Comfy Clothes

“Buttons can be your worst enemy on a long flight. I love to dress in yoga pants, a cozy T-shirt, and something to layer over it. Layers are perfect when flying because the temperature of planes can be unpredictable.” ― Christine Johnson, travel blogger at My Traveling Kids

Bring Earplugs and Eye Masks

“Earplugs and eye masks are godsends when on a crowded, long flight. They block out the light and the noise from anything and everything around you, and allow you to zone out even if you are sitting straight up. No matter how dark and quiet the cabin may get, this will help you not be startled if your seatmate decides to suddenly turn on their reading light in the middle of the night.”  ― Nelson

“Noise is the main challenge when trying to sleep on planes. If regular foam earplugs don’t help, try using better earplugs made of silicone. The brand EarPlanes is made specifically for use on planes, also relieving air pressure.” ― Bron

Use Your Coat

“I wear a coat with lots of deep pockets that I can load with in-flight necessities, e.g., reading glasses, hand sanitizer, eye mask, earplugs, etc. I can also fold up my coat and use it as an in-flight pillow. I never use provided pillows and blankets loaded with germs!” ― Merenda

Eat Healthy Beforehand

“Vacation mentality can start at the airport, and you can often become careless about what you put in your body. You may regret this as soon as turbulence hits and your stomach starts doing somersaults. Try to make healthy choices and avoid sugar or heavy carbs.” ― Johnson

Don’t Dry Out

“I have a tiny bag with me with essentials like hand cream, sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, tissues, my own headphones ― and I also bring nasal saline solution to keep my sinuses moist during the flight, along with eye drops. I will also have a decongestant, as part of keeping my sinuses clear from the dryness and general bad air on planes. The main thing for me is making sure I am not dried out, whether my throat, my nose, my eyes, and my hands and skin, from the flight.” ― Michael Luongo, travel writer and photographer

Keep Germs At Bay

“I carry antibacterial wipes and once onboard wipe down my arm and headrests and tray table. I make sure to keep the cabin airflow on high to circulate air the entire trip keeping airborne germs and bacteria moving. I wear layers to keep myself warm and travel with a cashmere pashmina to play double duty as a blanket. I also bring a bottle of essential eucalyptus oil with me and every 20 minutes or so during the flight hold it under one nostril while closing the other and inhaling the oil deeply, alternating nostrils for 2-3 minutes with my eyes closed. It’s a great centering wellness meditative cleansing and preventative.” ― Merenda

Try Sleeping Exercises

“I often struggled to fall asleep on airplanes until I learned a method for falling asleep that’s apparently taught in the military. First, you relax all the muscles in your face, including your tongue, jaw and the muscles around your eyes. Then you drop your shoulders and let your limbs relax as though they just went numb. Finally, you control your breathing and let yourself fall asleep gradually.” ― Bron

Quotes have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.