How to sleep on international flights

a blue mask with stars and moon designsInternational flights are not my favorite, I’ll be honest.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. International flights in business class are super fun, with movies, wine, lie-flat seats, fluffy blankets, and delicious food. Coach is another story, especially when it comes to sleep. Of course, sleeping is (relatively) easy if you’re in business class. Just recline your seat to its lie-flat position and pass out!

Okay, there may be a few other steps. But there is no question that sleeping in coach is way, way harder. So here is the way to get the best rest you possibly can in those tiny seats.

Set your watch. As soon as you get on the plane adjust your mind/watch/phone to the time at your destination. Plan your sleep so that your adjustment to the new time will be easier (as much as is feasible).

Take a sleep aid. I like Tylenol PM, some like Melatonin, some like wine. Whatever you need, take it! Also, be smart about when you take it. Generally I recommend about 30 minutes to an hour before when you would like to be asleep. I thought I didn’t need it on my last trip over to Manila and wasn’t able to go to sleep at all. Never again!

Do your routine. Obviously planes are not the place for a long hot shower prior to bed. But recreating your bedtime routine as much as possible will help you get in the sleep mindset. Brush your teeth, wash your face, and read a book for a few minutes.

Get comfy. Make sure you’ve got comfortable clothes on that won’t pinch or dig into your skin. Recline your seat (except during food service!). Put on soft socks or slippers. Grab a blanket and pillow. Anything you can do to make yourself as comfortable as possible within the limitations of your seat. Tip: On my last trip I had two pillows–the one the airline gave me, plus an inflatable neck pillow. I was able to stack them on top of each other to get just the right height for my head. As part of this….

Elevate your feet. Sleeping while seated is difficult for most of us. Propping something under your feet, rather it’s bag, partially inflated beach ball, or actual footrest makes your body slightly more aligned for sleep.

Deprive your senses. Some people have no problem just closing their eyes to sleep. On airplanes I need a little more help! I use an eyemask to block out light, and my earbuds or noise-canceling headphones with a white noise app to block out sound. With the blanket around me it feels like I’m in my own little cocoon!

Sleep on an international flight  is definitely possible with the right planning! On my most recent trip using these tips I was able to sleep a shocking six hours straight in coach.  I woke feeling refreshed and ready to get going as soon as I landed.

Readers, what tips do you use to sleep on international flights?


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  1. @IR15H You know, I’ve tried Ambien at home and I had crazy wacked out dreams and hot flashes. So I was afraid to take it on a plane surrounded by strangers! I wish it worked for me though.

  2. Even if I have trouble sleeping I keep myself in “going to sleep mode” (Eye covers and ear plugs on, shoes off) and stay that way for the numbers of hours that I want to sleep. I tell myself that putting myself in a quiet “sleep mode” will give me almost as much rest as actually sleeping.
    When I think I can’t sleep, I tell myself that it is OK to not sleep but just to rest for the next X hours – this takes the pressure off of having/wanting to sleep and I do end up dozing off or actually having multiple naps.

  3. I always try to get some sleep according to the time of my destination and it usually reduces my changes to suffering from jet lag but I’ve never thought about the others you listed so thank you for this.

  4. Try not to take a morning connection flight that means you have to get up at 4 am or some such. I often can’t sleep that night because worry about alarm. If can chose an evening international flight to aid sleep. I prefer a left side window seat as like t lean against all. If day time be aware that one side of the plane will be warmer because of the sun, for that reason I’ll try and get the other side.

  5. I got one of those inflatable pillows that is like a small ottoman, it’s intended for leaning forward to sleep, you can set it on your tray table. It has handles for your hands to rest. I was able to sleep better that way than a neck pillow leaning back. This ottoman pillow also worked well if you have a window seat, putting it against the wall beside my head.

  6. The PM part of Tylenol PM is Benadryl. You can save some money (and your liver) by just buying Benadryl.

  7. I now include the Tip Pee Toe portable foldable child step stool in my carry on. While it obviously will not handle the weight of an adult, I am able to use it to as a footrest. I was shocked at how much better my back, hips, and knees felt than on previous 11+ hour flights.

  8. Thank you for the idea “Set your watch”. I never thought about it! Since I never change the time to the destination, I didn’t really know when is when. I just slept whenever I felt tired. Good tip! I will keep in mind for my coming trips.

  9. I am flying business class to Australia soon. Do they give you full size pillow or a regular travel pillow? Thank you for your help.

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