Tips For Sleeping Well On An Airplane
You know those (infuriating) people, who can seem to fall asleep absolutely anywhere?
The ones that get on a plane and are asleep before it’s even left the gate, let alone taken off?
I’m sure I’m not the only one that silently curses them, wondering how on earth they can fall asleep in such seemingly uncomfortable positions.
For those of us that don’t have that gift, drifting off on a plane is no mean feat. But there’s no need to let a sleepless flight spoil the start of your big adventure.
Making sure you get some sleep, provided it’s a good idea with jet lag in mind, is a way of ensuring you’ll be able to make the most of your trip from day one.
There are a few fairly obvious things you can do, like bringing along an eye-mask, earplugs, and a pillow and dressing in comfy clothes that are also warm so you don’t fall foul of the air conditioning.
There’s another fairly obvious way of upping your comfort level, but just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s realistic. Booking a business class ticket or getting yourself one of those first-class cabins wouldn’t hurt if you’ve got the budget for it.
Can’t quite stretch that far? Didn’t think so! Don’t worry, even for those of us with slightly less disposable income, there are still a few things that can be done to ensure you get some good shut-eye whilst up in the sky.
1. Get a window or aisle seat
Depending on your priorities, one or the other might suit you better. Having a window seat means you have something nice to lean your head against and your neck won’t end up being as achy, but having an aisle seat might be best for those with long legs, as it means they can stretch out a bit.
Grab the best seats by checking-in online as soon as you possibly can. If you travel a lot try and stick to the one airline as much as you can and sign up for any rewards schemes, which might include access to better seats without any extra cost.
Many airlines also let you pay a little (or quite a lot!) extra for the best seats in economy class, and if you’re on a long flight then it may well be worth paying up, as an emergency exit seat can make a whole world of difference.
If you want to know which seat is your best bet, try the amazing Seat Guru, which gives you all the details you need to know about every seat out there, right down to the centimetres of space you’ll have available to you.
2. Recline your chair
Yes, I know there’s a bit of controversy surrounding this one, but as long as you don’t recline during mealtimes, no one should complain if you do it when the cabin lights are dimmed and most people drift off to sleep.
It helps to take some pressure off your lower back. Just be reasonable and don’t recline all the way, and that’s pushing it a bit. Unless, of course, there’s no one sitting behind you, in which case recline away!
Related: 19 ways to survive not just enjoy a long flight
3. Turn off your devices.
You know how we’re all told not to check our phones before we go to bed, because it’ll keep us up? The same’s true on a flight.
If you’ve been watching something on your in-flight entertainment or even on your phone or tablet, you’ve been exposing yourself to stimulating blue light that will keep you awake, so you can’t expect to turn off a film and fall asleep straight away.
Put your electronics back into your carry-on luggage and try reading for a while to send yourself off to sleep.
4. Skip the alcohol
We all seem to labour under the misapprehension that alcohol is good at making us fall asleep.
Whilst it’s true that it can knock you out initially, that effect will only last for a few hours at most, and before long you’ll be wide awake again, probably with a bit of a hangover.
As cabin air can really dehydrate you, you’re likely to experience more of a hangover than you might on the ground with the same amount of alcohol in your system.
You’re then probably going to overcompensate for the hangover with water, and a full bladder never makes it easy to sleep.
So, the moral of the story is, swap the gin and tonic for a nice juice or cup of herbal tea.
Related: Importance of sleep: Tips to sleep during travel
5. Take steps to beat jet lag
Think about the time zone of your destination and try and go to bed a little earlier or later in the days leading up to your flight to prepare your body for the shock.
Change your watch or the time on your phone as soon as you board the plane, and if you possibly can only let yourself drift off to sleep when it’s night time wherever you’re going, rather than wherever you came from.
6. Choose somewhere quiet
The front of the plane is the most popular spot, as people think that it’ll be quicker to get off.
Although that’s true, families often choose to be near the front to save a long traipse down the aisle with all their stuff, and you’ll have the stewards rattling around in the galley, so the noise levels aren’t often very conducive to sleep.
The back of the plane will normally be a bit emptier if the flight isn’t full, although you should avoid the rows right at the back if you can, as you’ll have people hovering near you in the queue for the loo.
If the flight doesn’t happen to be relatively empty and you spot an empty row, ask one of the flight attendants if it’s alright for you to move.
There’s nothing quite as luxurious as having a whole row to yourself on a long-haul flight. Put the arm rests up, stretch out and you’ll sleep like a baby.
7. Put your buckle on display
If the seatbelt sign goes on, the flight attendants need to see that your belt buckle is done up, even if that involves waking you if your belt is hidden under your blanket.
Make sure you keep it’s visible so they don’t have to prod you awake.
8. Bring comfort enabling items
On the subject of comfort, the blanket that they give you is properly better used as lower back support than to cover you.
A sleeping bag liner, your own travel blanket, or even a sarong are a better bet than a plane blanket, and you’ll feel much more comfortable and ready to sleep if you have something to snuggle under.
As we mentioned earlier, throw an eye mask and a set of earplugs in too. Sometimes, if you’re stuck next to the engine the noise can be disturbing, and there’s always the possibility you’ll be sitting next to a screaming baby.
Also, don’t underestimate the role a good eye mask plays in situations like this. Proper darkness is your best friend when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.
You’ll regret not bringing an eye mask when the person next to you opens their window blind and lets in daylight when the cabin lights are dimmed!
It can get quite cold on an aeroplane. Compression socks are another thing that can keep you warm and comfy if your blanket doesn’t cover your legs completely.
9. Don’t encourage chatter
Some people try and make themselves feel less nervous about flying by distracting themselves by chatting to the person next to them.
If you don’t want to risk your neighbour keeping you awake with small talk, get out a book or your headphones as soon as you sit down to politely signal that you’re not up for anything more than a quick chat about who you are and where you’re going.
10. Eat and drink well
Salty snacks or anything too sugary could make you feel bloated or leave you buzzing.
Make sure you stay hydrated and consider bringing along a chamomile tea bag if that helps you get in the right frame of mind for a good night’s sleep.
When it comes to food, there are no hard and fast rules, but as long as you avoid any foods you know can make your stomach funny and make sure not to overdo it on anything, you should be fine. Everything in moderation, and all that jazz.
11. Adjust your expectations
Last but not least, the most important tip of all is having realistic expectations. If you’re convinced that you’re going to sleep like a baby the whole flight through and arrive fresh as a daisy, you’re kidding yourself.
Expect to have the worst night’s sleep of your life, and plan accordingly for your activities for the following day, not expecting yourself to be in the right mindset for anything too strenuous, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.
Greatist, The expert-approved guide to sleeping on a plane