How to Sleep on a Plane

We’ve all tried to do it. And we all know it will never be as good as eight straight at home. But sleeping on airplanes is a necessary thing for anyone who travels frequently, especially internationally. But how do you get the best quality sleep while sitting upright with no personal space? Here are some tips.

Find a good seat. Obviously first or business class is great, but that’s not always available. The next best seat is a window in a bulkhead, where you’ll be able to lean on a wall, control the window shade, and have extra legroom. After that, choose a regular window seat. At least there you will have access to the wall and window shade. An aisle is okay, but not optimal, and of course the middle seat is never ideal. An empty seat next to you helps a lot, and having a row to yourself is even better (although almost impossible to find these days).

Bonus: If you’re in a bulkhead, use your personal item as a footrest. It gives you more options for body positions, which helps keep any one part of your body from hurting a lot (ie, tailbone).

Do the same stuff you do at home. Avoid caffeine several hours before trying to sleep. Don’t eat crazy spicy or heavy food right before. Don’t drink tons of alcohol, since that can dehydrate you and ruin the quality of your sleep. Wash your face (or use a cleansing cloth), read for a few minutes, have some herbal tea. Doing your normal routine will help ease you to sleep.

Get cozy and comfy. The most important items are a travel blanket and pillow. Inflatable pillows don’t take up much room, but make sure they have a nice cover so you’re not laying your head on rubber. I love wrapping myself in my Cabin Cuddler for sleeping on long flights.

Isolate yourself. An eye mask will block out your neighbor’s offending reading light and make you feel like you’re all alone. Adding ear plugs or noise canceling headphones helps even more. I love noise canceling headphones and my White Noise app.

Sleep aids. Not everyone needs a sleep aid, but I’ve found that Tylenol PM really helps me sleep more comfortably on flights. Some people like something stronger, such as Ambien, and some people use natural options, such as Melatonin.

Short flights. If you’re only trying to catch an hour or so, some of the above suggestions still help. Avoid caffeine, look for a window seat, and use your pashmina to cover up. I will often use my headphones, although usually skip the eye mask for a short flight.

Readers, how do you get a good night’s sleep while flying?


  1. Get to the airport early — early enough to have a cocktail, tea, something before your flight. The stress of trying to rush through security / run to your gate will make it harder to fall asleep.

  2. Ahh White Noise app! Brilliant! Glad I finally got an iPhone – this will be a wonderful addition

  3. I always bring my Panda Pillow Pet on long flights. It’s a little bulky, but makes an amazing pillow.

  4. The first thing I do on a long flight is take off my shoes and put on my comfy warm slippers. It makes me feel more like I am lounging. The other thing I am never without is Benedryl. It makes me sleepy without feeling groggy when I wake up.

  5. switch over to target local time several days before the trip.

    don’t understand why I could sleep on short domestic flights and can’t sleep on transcon, transoceanic, or turboprop flights

  6. I find that a benedryl, popped about 1 hour before my desired nod-off time will provide a good 4-5 hours, even in coach!

  7. I found some posts and see that you like Korres and Body Shop Tea Tree wipes. 🙂 Any other suggestions would be great (for my oily and acne-prone skin).

  8. A rather late comment, but Ambien is strictly speaking illegal to import in to the UK (and many other countries) without a licence. It’s also considered pretty drastic in the UK.

    Probably not a problem, but best to carry a letter from your GP (Primary care physician) and/or a copy of the prescription.

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