Flight Tips: Get a Better Sleep (How to Sleep On a Plane)

I’ve been accused on more than one occasion as being the worst flight travel companion. Why? Because I sleep for 95% of all flights, whether it’s a short 40 minute jaunt or a long-haul 14 hours. I do have some natural advantages – I’m small (don’t need any extra leg-room), flexible (watch me curl up in the seat, or in a smaller plane, sleep with my legs up in the air and feet on the ceiling), and can fall asleep almost anywhere. But, for those who need a little help, here are a few tips to get more Zzz’s in the air.

  1. Eat a little something. This can be either before you board, or carry a small snack with you. While a larger meal can disrupt sleep, a light meal or snack takes hunger out of the equation and helps your body to rest more comfortably.
  1. Drink something. Although some people claim that a glass of wine or alcoholic beverage helps them to fall asleep, it can also disrupt sleep because the alcohol leaves your system quickly and leaves you feeling dehydrated. Best bet? Drink water and keep yourself from drying out.
  1. Adjust your temperature. This is key for me. Because you can’t control the temperature on a plane, always dress in layers. I am almost always too cold, so I carry a small airline blanket that rolls up neatly and fits in my purse, along with arm warmers, and an extra pair of socks. A light scarf is also a good choice, as it can be used in lieu of a blanket, or as a makeshift pillow.
  1. Turn off the lights. Okay, so maybe you can’t control the general lighting of your aircraft, but there are a few things that you can do to signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. First, if you have a window seat (see the next point as to why you want a window seat), pull the shade down. Second, turn off your tv monitor (or turn it to the lowest light setting). Third, wear an eye mask, or if that is uncomfortable for you, lessen your light intake by wearing a hood (I’ve started wearing a comfortable hoodie on all my flights to help shield some light, and block out sound), and turn your face towards the window (if you have a window seat; turning your face towards your neighbour could be awkward).
  1. Ask for a window seat. This is especially useful if you are on a longer flight, as you only have one neighbour to deal with. I realize that some of you have extra long legs (my 6’3” partner would argue this point) and prefer an aisle seat, but if your goal is to sleep, you’ll find that an aisle has more traffic, and annoying carts that will inevitably bump into your elbows and feet. Furthermore, if you’re at a window, you get to choose when you need to move and get out of your seat. I used to feel guilty about asking those on the outside to let me out for bathroom breaks, but I’ve come to realize that aisle sitters expect and choose to be bothered by window sitters. Remember, more control = less stress.
  1. Shut out sound. Peace and quiet can be difficult to find on a plane, particularly if you’re unlucky enough to be seated near active children, or a Chatty Cathy. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do, short of wearing a “do not disturb” sign. Larger noise-cancelling headphones act similarly to wearing such a sign, or you can politely yawn and tell your neighbour that you’re looking forward to catching up on some sleep on the flight. I used to carry a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones with me, which are fantastic, but have found that they’re a bit too bulky for my purse or hand luggage. I’ve since switched to smaller earbud ones (really great AKGs with excellent sound quality) that fit in my purse, pocket, and ears, and are perfect for acting like earplugs (or carry some earplugs) and blocking out ambient noise. Putting the hood up on my hoodie also helps muffle sounds, and also wards off talkative neighbours.
  1. Wear comfortable clothing. Even if the purpose of your flight is business travel, make sure you wear clothing that allows you to move comfortably, adjust your temperature, and kick off your shoes. You can put a change of clothing in your briefcase or carry-on.
  1. Try aromatherapy. Carrying a small bottle of essential oil such as lavender or eucalyptus can be useful for both countering negative smells (air movement inside a plane is next to nothing), and calming your body and mind by simply dabbing a few drops on your wrists, temples, or neck. Remember that lavender is the only essential oil that can be safely applied directly to your skin. If you are using other oils, be sure to mix them with another carrier oil such as coconut, avocado, or castor, first. If you don’t want to carry the bottles with you, dab some oil onto your eye pillow, or scarf, or blanket before you leave.
  1. Yoga. I know it’s not possible for all of us to put our legs up the wall (typical sleep inducing yoga pose), or feet on the ceiling (my plane version), although it does make a funny photo…but there are some elements of yoga that we can use to help get a better sleep during flights. Pranayama (mindful breathing) can help to calm the body, and decrease stress and tension in the mind. Start by counting with your breaths as you inhale and exhale. Inhale for three counts, then exhale for three counts. Begin lengthening each breath, and bring your focus to expanding and releasing your chest and belly as you inhale and exhale.
  1. Don’t fight it. Sometimes, your body just isn’t hardwired to sleep when you want it to, and unfortunately this sometimes includes when you’re on an extended flight. Don’t squander this time! Use it to invest in self-care (get started on that book you’ve been trying to find time for), or catch up or get ahead on work (you can even pre-write emails and send them when you have an Internet connection), so that when your body is feeling tired and ready to sleep, you have some time to give.

As always, wishing you safe and happy travels. Like this post? Please share it with others. Have some tips to share? Leave us a comment!

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