How to Sleep on a Plane

image In my last article, I offered tips for trying to be as comfortable as possible on long flights.  Many long flights are overnight flights that land you into a different time zone.  For example, most flights from Hawaii to the mainland don’t leave Hawaii until after 4 p.m. and arrive on the mainland in the early morning hours.  To combat jet lag, it’s important to try to get in as much sleep as you can on the flight. 

There’s no doubt that it is a challenge to sleep on a plane, particularly in a coach seat that only adjusts to an undetectable recline position.  After many overnight flights, I’ve developed a few tried and true tricks to help me get off to sleep.  I hope these tips will help you catch a nap on your next long flight.

  1. Limit the amount of caffeine you drink the day of the flight and onboard. 
  2. Adjust your watch to the current time at your destination and get yourself in the mind set of being in that time zone. Do this as soon as you get seated on the plane.
  3. Wear comfortable clothing.  Avoid tight waistbands and any kind of clothes that restrict your movement.  I have a “fancy” track suit (I call it my J-Lo suit) that I like to wear on overnight flights.  It’s stretchy and comfortable without looking like a dumpy sweat suit or pajamas. 
  4. Get a window seat.  I think it makes it easier to sleep when I can lean against the window wall.  Plus the passenger next to me is relieved that I’m not leaning against him or her.  😉  Alternatively, if you are lucky enough to find a row of empty seats, ask a flight attendant if you can snag them.
  5. Bring a neck pillow, eye mask, earplugs and/or iPod or MP3 player.  These items are your best sleeping buddies.  The neck pillow offers great support to help you be in a comfortable sleeping position.  The eye mask help you filter out light. Use ear plugs or personal music player to filter out noise.  My secret weapon is to listen to a tropical rainforest sounds CD on repeat on my iPod.  Any kind of spa or soft music that you find soothing will work beautifully.

Of course all these tips are much easier to implement in business or first class, if you are lucky enough to have a seat up front.  Have you been able to sleep on a long plane trip?  Do you have some tips to add?  Please comment. 

This post inspired by Sarah at’s writing project

  1. Thanks for participating in my group writing project, I thought I commented here already. Well looks like you are off to a good start, you got quite a bit of votes judging from the trackbacks. Oh dear, I hope my trackback doesn’t look like that on everybodys website!

  2. I really need to get one of those neck pillows… keep thinking about it but haven’t tried one yet… hate the floppy head syndrome

  3. @GnomeyNewt – Thanks for hosting the project! Your trackback is attention grabbing. Maybe that’s a good thing. 🙂

    @MDB – Those neck pillows really are a big help. I use an inflatable one that packs flat when I’m not using it. I think I may have picked it up at Target or Walmart.

  4. Stay up all night packing and then toss & turn the rest of the night in bed with anxiety and anticipation of the trip. You should be completely exhausted and ready to pass out by the time you get in your seat.

    Just for good measure… Get Drunk – or – Take some sleeping pills before you board the plane. (Not both at the same time)

  5. It is the best when you can get a row of seats and lay down, but if you’re flying to Hawaii, you might just be on a full flight. 😉

    I tried something different recently…it’s called No Jet-Lag, found it at Whole Foods. It did seem to work and I’d use it again.

  6. @ Dave – LOL! I’d say those tricks would work as well. 🙂

    @ JoLynn – Thanks for adding the tip about “no jet-lag” Sounds interesting. When do you take it?

  7. This post has some good tips. Especially for people like me who are not really comfortable flying. I will remember this for my next trip, especially my caffiene intake.

  8. If you’re traveling then you might want to get one of these. I’ve tried many a travel pillow during my years in the skies. I have finally found one that is as comfortable as my pillow on my bed. It has a satin pillowcase, so my hair doesn’t get stuck in one spot while I’m sleeping on the plane or when I have a flight delay and I nap in the airport. I don’t get off the flight with the “bed head” look. I can go to a meeting or lunch with clients and my hair looks great. The pillow itself is designed to feel like down and it’s hypoallergenic. Both the satin pillowcase and the pillow are completely washable. When I’m home I throw it on the sofa and use it as a nap pillow. Now I won’t travel without it. I wound up getting satin pillowcases to take with me to use in my hotel room. The company I purchased the travel pillow from is
    A Touch Of Satin. Their website is if you’re interested. They had a great selection to choose from and they had some really cute ones for kids. If you do any flying at all, or even take car trips, this travel pillow is a must to take with you.

  9. Since it’s usually coming back from Hawaii that I have the redeye, I have made a tradition of staying up to watch the sunrise on my last night in Hawaii then heading back to the room for a nap before hitting the beach one last time. That way I get in as much Hawaii-time as possible and am sufficiently exhausted for the flight. I also ask my doctor for a prescription for a single dose or a sample of a sleep aid which I take right after boarding. I pack travel slippers and a pashmina, which is really warm and soft and packs tiny. By the time the flight is taxiing down the runway, I’m comfy, warm, and lawfully drugged up, the vibrations of the plane lulling me into dreamland.

    Also, it helps to bring a spouse or partner to rest your head on if you get stuck in a middle or aisle seat. 🙂

    Setting your watch to your local time zone is a great idea. Just remember that you did it or you’ll be confused when you wake up to pee mid-flight and think you’ve been on the 5 hour flight for 7 hours.

    You can buy a travel pillow in the airport for about 10 bucks if you don’t have one or don’t want to pack one. Or get an inflatable pillow and a fluffy pillowcase. I’m totally buying a satin pillowcase for my travel pillow (thanks Cathy!).

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