Airplanes are one of the most challenging places to sleep! You’re cramped in an uncomfortable seat with insufficient legroom, have a baby crying beside you, and a toddler kicking the back of your seat. In addition, you have people walking by and the consistent ding of the call bell.
When on a long flight, this can become very frustrating! If you are traveling overseas a solid sleep on the plane could help reduce jet lag. However, when you struggle to sleep and land exhausted, you could experience lasting consequences. This is because you are much more likely to take a long nap as soon as you get to your hotel, and your sleep schedule will continue to be disrupted.
Chances are, you already know this, which puts even more pressure on you to fall asleep during the flight. This can make each passing minute feel like an hour - you toss and turn, adjust your eye mask, and check your watch again and again. Fortunately, there are ways you can combat airplane sleeplessness with the following 9 tips.
- Pick the right seat, and if it’s in the budget – upgrade!
Your seat can make all the difference! Of course, you want to minimize distractions and noise and have as much legroom as possible. Sometimes it’s a matter of give and take. For example, often, the seats behind a bulkhead will often have more legroom; however, in front of the bulkhead may be a washroom which means there will be a lot more foot traffic by your seat. Think of your most significant pain point when flying (e.g., uncomfortable in your seat or too much noise) and try to reduce that.
When in front of a bulkhead or emergency exit row, you may have more legroom, but the seat may not recline, and the armrests may not move. This will depend on the aircraft but you can call the airline and ask before booking.
Although an aisle seat will give you easier access to get up and move about the cabin, a window seat can be better for sleep. When seated next to the window you won’t have people knocking into you from the aisle, and you can lean against the wall. If you bring a neck roll pillow or a travel pillow, you can place it against the wall and lean it into it, making it a much more comfortable sleeping option.
Alternatively, upgrading to a premium economy or business class seat will help with your comfort levels. These seats have more legroom, deeper recline and may come with better blankets and amenities. Of course, this comes with a price increase as well. You will notice these premium seats are located at the front of the plane. If you don’t upgrade to a more expensive seat, consider picking a seat closer to the front. The engine noise is much louder at the back of the plane, and you will feel turbulence much more intensely. There is also usually a large galley and bathrooms at the back, meaning there is a lot more traffic. When you sit at the front, you will be served your meal earlier and have your tray picked up sooner so you can fit in more sleeping time without any disruptions.
- Pack your carry-on for sleep
When you pack your carry-on, remember to bring items that will help you sleep. First, get a travel pillow. Many pillows you can get at the airport aren’t comfortable and won’t provide you with the comfort and support needed to help you sleep. Instead, consider a Cervical Neck Roll Pillow or buckwheat travel pillow. Next, pack something cozy and wear layers. Airplane temperatures can be unpredictable. Sometimes it can be too hot, other times it’s too cold. So, ensure you have a warm sweater on hand and a cozy pair of socks to put on it. This will make sleeping much easier! If you opted for an exit row seat, remember these seats tend to be colder. Occasionally an airline will provide blankets but it’s never a guarantee. You can pack a small travel blanket if you tend to get cold or will be sitting in one of these seats. If you want to learn more about which cushion works best for traveling, check out our full travel pillow buyers guide.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before and during the flight
You may be tempted to grab a coffee from Starbucks while waiting in the lounge, but don’t! If you want to sleep on the plane, you should avoid caffeine. Caffeine has lasting effects and can make it much harder to catch some Z’s. And remember, sodas and tea can also have caffeine.
Alcohol is also known to disrupt sleep, and its effects are much more robust in the air. It is said that one drink in the sky will give you the effects of three. Travel experts recommend swapping out sugary, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverages with water. Air travel also dehydrates you, so staying hydrated will help you sleep better as well as reduce jet lag when you land.
- Take a sleep aid
Some people have great success with sleep aids while flying. According to a USA Today article, over-the-counter sleep aids like Dramamine, melatonin, or antihistamine may help. Still, it would be best to try them at home before using them on a flight. A natural sleep aid like magnesium glycinate can help you feel relaxed and ease you into sleep. It will also help you sleep when you land if you have trouble sleeping because of jet lag.
- Use headphones or earplugs
The noises you hear on a plane can be very distracting as there’s a lot is going on! Just imagine if you heard all those sounds while you were in your bed – you wouldn’t be able to sleep there either! Bring your own headphones and download some soothing music in advance of your flight. Listening to this will help drown out the other noises and help you fall asleep. Some headphones aren’t as comfortable and may get in the way if you are trying to get comfortable, so also bring a pair of earplugs with you.
- Prioritize sleep over other activities
If you have a great selection of movies at your fingertips or packed a variety of interesting magazines and books to read, you may get caught up in all your activities. This is a common mistake many people make when they travel. Very rarely do you have several uninterrupted hours to sit back and do something you enjoy, so you may jump on it when you get the opportunity. This is fun at the time, but you may soon regret it when you land. Consider the time of your destination when you land. For example, if you leave the U.S. for Europe on an overnight flight, you will land in the morning in Europe. To reduce any jet lag, you should then stay awake until nighttime. As you can imagine, this won't be easy to do if you haven’t gotten any sleep the night before! This is why you need to prioritize sleep and ensure you get as much as possible on the flight.
- Avoid bright lights
If you are waiting to fall asleep, engage in an activity that will promote sleep – not prevent it! Avoid bright lights from T.V. screens, your iPad, or your phone. If it is still daylight outside, close the blinds and read by a reading light until you are ready to go to sleep. For when you decide to sleep, you should also bring an eye mask with you. Although the cabin crew will dim the lights, for safety reasons, the cabin will still be bright enough for people to walk around. If you are accustomed to a dark bedroom when you sleep, this could make it challenging. A sleeping mask will shut out the light, just as your earplugs shut out the noise.
- Reduce the amount of carry-on luggage
Depending on the airline, you might get away with a carry-on roller, backpack, purse, and duty-free bags. And although it may seem convenient, having all of this stuff tucked around your seat will reduce your legroom and make you feel unnecessarily crowded. When you pack lighter (and only bring the sleep essentials) you will have more room for your feet. When you get to your seat, take out the items you may need like a book, eye mask, and headphones and tuck them into the seatback pocket. Then, place your luggage in the overhead bin. The more room you have to stretch out your legs, the better!
- Wear a comfortable face mask
Face masks are now a standard practice and must be worn when flying. It must be worn for the duration of the flight and can only be removed to eat or drink. You want to pick a mask that will be comfortable while you are sleeping. Consider what is comfortable around your ears and face. Look for soft, adjustable masks that properly fit your face.
Sleeping on an airplane doesn’t have to be a nightmare! By following these 9 tips, you can have sweet dreams on your buckwheat travel pillow the next time you fly.