It’s difficult to sleep on an airplane. Try these suggestions to boost your chances: If you’re at ease, take the medicine. Make the most of your vantage point. Invest on the right accessories.
You’re ecstatic to be travelling internationally and taking that cross-oceanic journey. What’s holding you back from being ecstatic to the point of bursting?
Friends, don’t worry—even those who travel in economy class and lack the magical ability to fall asleep anywhere may get some rest on a long-haul journey. There are several ideas and strategies to help you sleep on a plane!
How to Sleep on a Plane: Use Medication
Even in economy class, you might want to consider the use of a few little… sleep aids… AKA medications. It’s not for everyone to use sleep medication while flying, but if your only choices are to land in a foreign country as a zombie, or to sleep for a couple of hours, some sleep medication can help.
Please note that we do not recommend that you take prescription medications that you haven’t been prescribed. Never take more than the recommended dosage of over-the-counter medications. It’s important not to arrive in-country still feeling drowsy, or worse, having a reaction that requires medical attention. Medicine is serious business.
Benadryl, Aleve PM, or Tylenol PM
You can sleep on the plane by taking over-the-counter drugs you already take at home, such as Aleve PM and Benadryl. These are typically non-addictive, relatively easy to get (over the counter FTW), and contain diphenhydramine.
This drowsiness-inducing antihistamine is not recommended for people with ongoing sleep problems, but if you need a few hours’ sleep when you’re on a plane, it might be helpful. Furthermore, these pink or blue wonder drugs are fairly common medications, so you may already have them in your medicine cabinet.
- It is an antihistamine.
- Take it 1-2 hours before you want to sleep.
(The natural route to melatonin)
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body around bedtime that helps control your natural sleep-wake cycle.
Melatonin supplements have been shown to stimulate your circadian rhythm without causing the grogginess or sleep effects associated with antihistamines. When you land, try to stay awake until the normal sleep time and then take another dose of melatonin to help your body adjust to the new time zone.
- It is a hormone supplement
- If you can, align it with your destination’s “normal sleep time”
Flying Sleeping Pills Other Prescription & Over the Counter Sleeping Pills
A variety of other sleep aids are available for flying, including Ambien, Lunesta, Temazepan, and Valerian. It is a good idea to not take your first dose of any sleep-aid on your flight abroad, regardless of the drug you choose. You should also test it at home before going so you’re aware of any side effects and how your body will react.
Sleeping on a Plane in Economy Class: Optimize Your Space
When figuring out how to sleep on a plane in economy class, you should pay attention to which seat you are assigned.
If you’re flying overnight, it’s often worth paying the higher fee to know you’ll be in a place where you can sleep. It may be necessary to employ different strategies to optimize your seat space and sleep well, depending on your comfort level with contorting your body.
Your dog is a lucky one! You don’t have to deal with as much uncomfortable touching when you have a built-in headrest. The chances of catching some zzz’s mid-flight are still high, even if you don’t get to go to the bathroom as frequently as you’d like. So try to get some shuteye by the window.
I apologize. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how you can still sleep on a plane while in the middle seat. The ideal travel partner would be next to you (and willing to let you snuggle close to their shoulders for improved comfort).
You can also use the schoolboy sleep tactic-pull your tray down, cross your arms, and lay your head on top. As you lean to the left or right, you can adjust the wings of the plane headrest to provide you with more support. You’re more likely to fall asleep with your mouth open from the middle seat, but no one is going to remember that anyway.
If you’re sleeping in the aisle seat of a plane, you’ll still need to get creative as you figure out how to sleep. Keep your elbows and feet tucked in, because no one enjoys being run over by the drink cart (and neither do the flight attendants). As with the middle seat, you should rest on the tray or lean left or right with the help of the headrests.
You may want to scrunch up your legs (if space allows) and lean your head on your knees, too. Nine out of ten times, the person next to you will need the bathroom as soon as you start to fall asleep. Do not let the false starts deter you from reaching your goal!
The Right Gear for Sleeping on a Plane
You’ve already created a packing list for your trip, but have you considered packing for your airplane sleep? Pack these items to ensure you get a good night’s sleep. What’s even better? They will fit neatly into your carry-on or personal item.
Pillows for travelers
With your trusty travel pillow, you can avoid nightmares. The majority of travel pillows on the market are terrible, but these ones aren’t. Shawn recommends the Cabeau Evolution S3 Travel Pillow ($40) to anyone shopping for a new plane-friendly pillow. You’ll realize that sleeping on a plane pillow is almost as important as your boarding pass!
Masks for the eyes
My partner David looked like he was wearing a bra when he tried on his Nidra Deep Sleep Luxury Eye Mask (Amazon, $12) for the first time, but he swears it’s the difference between a “long ass flight” and a “long flight.” Bennett compared some of the best travel eye masks, from budget to deluxe. If you’re in the market, take a look at his recommendations.
Earplugs or Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Noise is a problem with planes. People snore in their seats. Baby crying is common. If sleep is important to you, invest at the very least in a pair of quality earplugs if sleep is important to you. A key piece of flight gear for ensuring quiet on long flights is noise-cancelling headphones. Shawn compared the options for Bluetooth headphones for you so that you don’t have to.
You can use a snuggly travel scarf as a pillow or blanket. When rewatching Apollo 13, you may be able to hide your tears with it. You should keep your scarf neutral so that it can be worn with multiple outfits, and ensure the material is durable (so it won’t unravel out of nowhere). This travel-themed scarf from Kate Spade (Nordstrom, $47) is amazing.
You wouldn’t ordinarily sleep in socks at home, and you wouldn’t normally sleep sitting up in a room with dozens of strangers either. Bring a pair of wool travel socks, such as SmartWool ($10), to help you master the art of sleeping in economy class on a plane.
This travel-themed scarf by Kate Spade (Nordstrom, $47) is my fave. In mid-flight, you’ll feel more invigorated and less likely to have circulation or clotting issues. Laura compared several of the best compression socks to help you decide which one is right for you.