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How to Sleep on a Plane – 10 Tips for Travelers

You’ve just booked your dream vacation and realized that you’ve got an especially long flight head. You’re already dreading the long hours, the cramped seats and the screaming children. If you can easily pass upon takeoff, you’re definitely one of the lucky few. However, for most of us sleeping on a flight is a huge struggle, leaving us exhausted and needing several nights of playing catch-up when we arrive. So, if you’re one of the unlucky, here are 10 tips on how to sleep on a plane.

10 Tips for Sleeping on a Flight

1. Choose Your Seat Wisely

choose your seat wisely

One of the main factors that will determine the quality of your sleep on a flight is the seat you choose. Business class will obviously provide you with the most comfortable seat. You have more space and you recline to a lying position. However, if you don’t feel like splurging and book economy, choose your seat wisely.

The best option is the window seat. First of all, you’ll have something to lean against as you sleep. And secondly, your seat neighbours won’t be disturbing you each time they need to use the bathroom.

Another thing to consider is legroom. Of course, having extra legroom is nice but keep in mind that these seats are usually located in the exit row. Some airlines have exit rows that don’t recline since that would create an obstruction in case of emergency. Moreover, some bulkhead seats offer stationary armrests that can’t be raised up. So even if the full row is unoccupied, you won’t be able to use the space.

You might also want to avoid the last row in the plane and the rows close to the toilets. The last rows don’t recline as much and the ones close to the toilets will be both noisy and smelly.

2. Pack Essential Sleep Accessories

tips for sleeping on a flight

Pack anything that would you feel more relaxed and comfortable during your flight. Bring a travel pillow, earplugs or noise canceling headphones, an eye mask and a scarf to use as a blanket.

An inflatable pillow that will keep your head from bobbing up and down and will prevent you from constantly waking up. A blanket (or a scarf) will help to keep a comfortable temperature. A mask will help to dim out the light. If you don’t have a mask, you can use the scarf.

One of the things that make it difficult to fall asleep on a plane is the noise. All the people around you talking, as well as the noise of the engine. Use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to drown out all the noise.

3. Wear Comfortable Clothes

wear comfortable clothes

You’re not going to get any good sleep unless you’re physically comfortable. So wear anything that will make you feel more at ease. You don’t need to wear pajamas but anything that will provide sleep-inducing comfort.

Choose non-restricting, warm clothes. For example, good options are an oversized hoodie, sweatpants or a huge pashmina that you can wrap around your shoulders.

Don’t forget also about footwear. Remove your shoes and use compression socks. However, don’t be the obnoxious traveler that puts they feet up on the seat disturbing other passengers.

4. Get Into a Comfortable Position

find a comfortable position

For those in business class, this shouldn’t be too hard. But if you’re in coach, you’ll have to do with only the few extra degrees backward.

The objective is to get your body as flat as possible. The more reclined your seat is, the less pressure you put on your lower back and the easier it is to fall asleep.

Sitting upright is not recommended as it leaves you without any lumbar support and this can lead to lower back pain. Sleeping slouched over is also not the best position for your back. It puts too much pressure on the spinal discs and the neck.

When reclining the seat, follow simple common courtesy. Always look behind you to check if the coast is clear. The person behind you might have a drink in front of them or they might be resting their head on the tray table.

You’re lucky if you’ve free neighbouring seats. Then, you can take up those seats and curl up on your side. However, make sure that your legs are not sticking out in the aisle.

5. Book a Non-Stop Flight

sleep on a long flight

Direct flights might not be the cheapest but they do give you the advantage of getting you straight to your final destination. You save on time and you also skip on the hassle of having to board one plane and then another. On top of that, direct flights are better for the environment since planes use the most fuel during takeoff.

Imagine falling into deep sleep, only to be awakened couple of hours later because you have to catch a connection. On a direct flight, you can get plenty hours of sleep without any interruptions.

6. Avoid Screens

avoid screens

Staying away from screens before sleeping is a good habit even if you’re not on a flight. Screens emit short wavelength light, which our brains use as cue to wake up. The light suppresses melatonin production, which is the sleep-inducing hormone. This throws off your biological clock and makes you feel more alert.

Pack away your phone, tablet or laptop. All of these emit blue light which can affect your sleep. Instead, take out a paperback book, listen to some relaxing music or just enjoy the quietness in noise-canceling headphones.

7. Avoid Alcohol

sleeping tips for travelers

If you want to get some good sleep, it’s better to forget about booze. It might make you feel sleepy initially but it will give you only a few hours of non-restorative sleep. On top of that, you’ll wake up with a headache and dehydrated.

Instead, opt for a drink that is non-alcoholic and which doesn’t have caffeine. Just drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated.

8. Don’t Eat Too Much

prepare for sleeping on a long distance flight

Eat a few hours before you go to sleep. And also mind what you eat. Choose something light, non-spicy and not fatty, so you won’t have troubles digesting.

9. Plan Ahead for Jet Lag

plan for jet lag

Try to adapt your sleep patterns prior to the flight. This will allow you to smoothly transition to the local time at your destination.

Depending on whether you’re flying east or west, make the changes in your pre-flight plan. If you’re flying east, then go to bed 30-60 minutes earlier than usual and also try to wake up 30 minutes earlier. If you’re traveling west, do the opposite. Go to bed later and wake up later. This will shift the sleeping window and can help in preventing jet lag.

Once you’ve landed, set your watch to your new timezone. If you arrive in the morning or afternoon, don’t try to catch up on the snooze. Try to stay up and go to bed as usual but at local time.

10. Avoid Sleep Aids

how to sleep on a plane

Sleep aids can be useful for sleeping on international flights that are 15 hours or longer. However, if it’s a shorter flight, it can create more problems. Some of the sleeping pills have long lasting effects, so on a short flight they’ll just leave you feeling drowsy and disoriented.

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