Can Never Sleep on an Airplane? Seasoned Travelers Spill 14 Snoozing Secrets

Let’s face it: Finding a way to get comfortable on an airplane feels impossible, let alone sleep on one. That is, until you read these tips from travel experts and globe trotters who have mastered the skill.
So you can’t afford first class (who can?)—what’s the next-best option for sleeping arrangements? Even though flying coach doesn’t allow for the luxury of a fully-reclining seat 10,000 feet above the ground, Greg Geronemus, the co-CEO of smarTours says a window seat is a great option. Why? It’s easier to fall asleep because you can rest your head on the window, either with or without a pillow, you won’t be woken up by a fellow passenger looking to get into the aisle, and you can control the light exposure since you’re next to the shade.

Invest in a good eye mask

eye maskSleeping in an eye mask might make you think of your grandma and her nightgown, but Malena Cahall, a travel agent, says to not knock it until you try it. Because these effectively block out light, it makes it easier to disconnect from your surroundings and imagine you’re at home, in the dark, sleeping per usual. But don’t just hop down to the local pharmacy and sift through the $1 bin. Instead, Cahall says to spend a bit more. “You’ll want a thick, comfortable one that actually blocks the light out completely. I recommend paying attention to the nose area because that’s where gaps that let light in are fairly common,” she says.

Eat light and skip the wine

chicken-saladWhile a grumbling tummy might prevent you from getting to dreamland (or make you dream of French fries), eating a super-heavy meal isn’t a good idea pre-boarding, according to Geronemus. Because your body will need to digest, you don’t want to make that process happen when you’re up in the air, trying to rest. Instead, he recommends eating light, with a grilled chicken salad or something of the sort. And though vino might usually do the trick to make you pass out on the couch after a workday, Geronemus says to skip the booze to get quality sleep.

Don’t forget socks

socksFor most people, sleeping in socks can be super-uncomfortable and annoying, when they’re in the comfort of their own bed. But when you’re flying high? It’s kind of the opposite: if you’re covered in a blanket but your feet are wild and free, they’re also cold. That’s why travel journalist and blogger Lisa Niver says to pack warm socks. That way your toes won’t keep you up. If you’re prone to swelling, compression socks will keep that in check and also prevent blood clots, reports

Buckle your seat belt over your blanket

blanketEver finally fall asleep, only to have a flight attendant wake you up to make sure you need to buckle up? Avoid being disturbed (or at least, make it less likely) by fastening your seat belt over your blanket. This way, they’ll see that you’re tucked in, sound asleep and completely safe too, Geronemus says.


Invest in noise-cancelling headphones

headphonesIf you’re someone who is already hypersensitive to your partner’s tossing and turning (and snoring) habit and can hear the ticking of a clock downstairs, being on an airplane and trying to sleep will drive you nuts. Not only are you trapped (gulp), but you really can’t politely ask the guy in the next row who snores like a dinosaur to ‘kindly shut up.’ Instead, Cahall says to go ahead and invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to take the stress out of the situation. It’s a personal trick of her’s that works every time.



Work out before your flight

bikeIt seems like a no-brainer, but one of the most important keys to slumber success is wearing yourself out pre-flight, so you’re actually tired when you get on the plane. Janice Holly Booth, a travel writer and blogger, says fitting in an intense sweat session several hours before your flight can help get your muscles aching. “I’ll go for a strenuous hike or bike ride in the morning if I have an overnight flight or even a cross-country flight leaving in the afternoon,” she explains. “Your body is going to crave rest badly, and combined with all the other tips given, you’ll be asleep in no time.”


Consider an oversize hoodie

hoodieWhile most airlines will give you a blanket when you’re flying overnight, they aren’t always the best option for slumber. (Some airlines even have you pay for the privilege.) Instead, Kimberly Milnes, a travel agent, has found that a giant, oversize hoodie that makes you feel incredibly warm and snuggled is a better option. She uses the hood to cover her face, too, so if you really can’t sleep with an eye mask, it might be a better bet for you.

Don’t forget about your tray table

trayWhen you think about the design of an airplane seat, at first, it feels very basic without a lot of options. But if you get creative and consider the various ways you can use the accessories to your advantage, Cahall says you might hit the jackpot with sleep. The first place to look? The tray table. “I personally have a hard time sleeping in a sitting position and the best trick I’ve discovered is don’t be afraid to utilize the tray table. I always wipe it down first (I’ve seen people actually changed dirty diapers on those trays!), then I simply put a small travel pillow or even my sweatshirt on the tray and lay my head down. This position is a little awkward, but really does help. It works best for smaller people,” she explains.

Look around for open seats

emptyOnce you reach cruising altitude, take a look around the plane. More often than not, you’ll see a few empty seats or if you really get lucky, a free exit row with three seats flying solo. As long as there is no reservation under those seat assignments, they’re up for grabs and will make it easier for you to rest easy. Just check with your flight attendant to be courteous. “More seats equal more room and more sleep.,” Cahall says. “I personally am not above sleeping across a few seats if there are plenty available. Just remember, it’s important to be considerate of other passengers and avoid blocking the aisle.”

Do what usually makes you sleepy

sleepyConsider what you do in at home to make yourself get tired: listen to relaxing music? Read? Watch a movie? Whatever sleep routine works for you on a day-to-day basis is what will help you in an unusual circumstance, too. For Niver, watching a movie is her go-to trick, as it cancels out the noise around her and makes her eyelids feel heavy. Think about what works normally and apply it to your travel experience.





Make sure you’re hydrated

hydrateOleksii-Shalamov/ShutterStockIf you rake in a bunch of travel reward points because you’re a frequent flyer, catching and boarding flights, then you know how tough the stale air can be for your skin. In addition to moisturizing pre-flight and wearing lip balm, Booth says it’s a good idea to hydrate the full 24 hours before your takeoff time, but not right before you board. “Drink lots and lots of water before getting on the plane, so that you don’t have to drink a lot before going to sleep. Nothing like falling into a deep slumber only to have to wake up due to thirst or to answer nature’s call,” she says.

Don’t drink caffeine

teaYou java lovers out there might find this one  impossible, but we promise you can make it work. Look at this way: One day without caffeine means that when you land at your destination, you can have all the coffee and espresso that you want. Michelle Weller, a travel agent from, says the way to satisfy your palette (especially when you might be dragging from java withdrawal) is to bring a chamomile tea bag and down a cup before you sleep.


Be strategic with sleep beforehand

windowIn addition to working out, Joost Schreve, the co-founder and CEO of kimkim, says sleeping in on the day you’re going to travel cross-country or cross-Atlantic is a bad idea. “Plan ahead in terms of your sleep patterns. For example, the day before boarding a red-eye, I prefer to wake up early to make sure I am tired enough to ensure that I fall asleep early on the red-eye.”

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