How to Sleep Better on a Plane: 13 Tips for Inflight Sleeping

Let’s be real: trying to sleep on a plane is usually less than ideal. Uncomfy seats, noisy announcements, restless fellow passengers, the list goes on. But if you’ve got a long flight, chances are you’re going to need to catch some shuteye in order to arrive well-rested and ready to enjoy your trip. That’s why I’ve compiled my top 13 tips for how to sleep better on a plane

How to Sleep Better on a Flight

How to Sleep Better on a Plane + Inflight Tips

This site contains affiliate links. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you.

1. Choose Your Seat Wisely to Sleep Better on a Plane

For most sleepers, the window seat is best. No one will have to wake you up to scoot by to the bathroom and you’ll have the side of the plane to lean up against while you snooze. Seats to avoid:

    • Exit rows: while you’ll get a little extra legroom, the seats often don’t recline.
    • The back row: You’ll be right up against the bathroom and more prone to unsavory noises and smells.
    • Also see: this article on the worst seats on any plane

The best resource for trying to find a seat is SeatGuru! They have airline seat maps that can help you figure out the best flight and airline for your sleep needs.

2. To Sleep Better, Dress Comfy for a Flight

How to Sleep Better on a Plane - pick the right seat

That is, dress as comfortably as you can! Air temperatures can fluctuate on flights, so it’s always wise to bring a few layers you can easily take on and off. My go-to is a breezy dress or comfy athleisure wear, and I always bring a sweater or jacket or flannel shirt I can wrap around my waist in case it gets cold.

You’ll also want to think about your choice of shoes. Going barefoot on planes is a controversial topic—nobody wants to be the next viral post on Passenger Shaming. If you are going to take off your shoes, make sure to have clean socks just for the flight to not bother your neighbors with stinky feet.

Pro tip? For long-haul flights, pack a pair of compression socks to help your blood flow (linked above).

3. Bring Inflight Sleep Accessories

Some long flights will provide blankets and pillows, but shorter ones often don’t. Not to mention the free ones provided by airlines are less than ideal. That’s why I always bring my own neck pillow—an absolute must if you want to sleep better on a plane.

That being said, don’t just buy and pack any old neck pillow. Think about your sleep style—back, side, or front—and choose accordingly:

4. Limit your Baggage for Foot Room

If you can check more of your bags or simply pack a little less so you only have one carry-on bag, you’ll save yourself from having to stuff an overfilled backpack or suitcase under the seat ahead of you. That way, you’ll have more space to stretch out your legs for better sleep.

How to Sleep Better on a Plane - leave more leg room

If there’s no way around bringing lots of carry-on baggage, there is one trick you can try. During takeoff, keep your stuff under the seat ahead of you as you’re meant to. Once you reach cruising altitude, you’re typically permitted to move those items. Drag your bag back out so it’s directly in your foot space, and reach your legs over it for a DIY foot rest.

5. Try a Foot Rest for better inflight sleeping

If you’d rather opt for the real deal, it’s time to invest in a legit foot rest! My favorite pick is this adjustable option made from memory foam. It fits right over your tray table and can be adjusted to fit your height perfectly!

Pro tip: if you’re going to use one of these footrests, definitely opt for a window seat. Nothing’s worse than your seat neighbor needing to go to the bathroom and having to take five minutes to dismantle your sleep setup every time!

6. Stay Away From Light to Sleep Better on a Plane

There are two kinds of light that threaten your inflight sleeping: natural and screen light. To minimize natural light, get a window seat so you can control the window shade. And no matter where you sit, make sure to get an eye mask for complete darkness.

How to Sleep Better on a Plane - light tips

Blue light interacts with your circadian rhythm and throws off your natural sleep cycle, so you’ll want to minimize blue light from your phone screen and/or the inflight movie screen. I know in our world today, it’s basically impossible to avoid screens, so consider blue-light blocking glasses to help.

7. To Help You Stay Asleep on a Plane Cancel Out Excess Noise

Noise-canceling headphones will change your life on a flight… they are hands down 100% worth the investment (I have the Bose earbuds). You can listen to ambient music, a podcast, or nothing at all and just use the noise-canceling feature to help sleep on a plane!

If you don’t have noise-canceling headphones, try earplugs. Ear Planes are some of the most highly-rated, they not only help to block out excess noise but also reduce discomfort from changes in air pressure while flying!

8. Listen to Pink Noise

You’ve probably heard of white noise—which plays at the same frequency and intensity repeatedly—but pink noise lulls you to sleep better by wavering in its intensity and frequency. One study found that listening to pink noise helped people to fall asleep up to 38% faster than without!

You can listen to pink noise by downloading a white noise app and paging through the options. Think ocean waves, whale sounds, or rainfall—anything that has more variation in frequency than your typical white noise.

9. Clue in Flight Attendants

If you’re trying to catch some major shuteye, loop in your flight attendants. Let them know at the beginning of the flight that you’d like to sleep and not to disturb you for meals. 

How to Sleep Better on a Plane - alert attendant

Pro tip: so your flight attendants don’t wake you, clip your seatbelt over your blanket, so they don’t have to rouse you to check if you’re strapped in.

10. Pad Your Lower Back to Help You Sleep on an Airplane

One of the reasons it can be so tough to fall asleep on flights, especially in economy seats, is because of the angle you’re trying to sleep at. Plane seats only go back so far, leaving you at a strangely reclined position that leaves your lower back strained. To help straighten things out and relieve pressure from your spine try using a lower back cushion

Pro Tip: If you don’t have a lower back cushion, use an extra pillow, blanket, or rolled up jacket. You’ll create a smoother angle to lay against and protect yourself from that telltale post-flight soreness.

11. Skip the Caffeine (and Alcohol)

I know I know, it’s tough to say goodbye to that preflight cocktail or inflight beer (I’m guilty of this myself).  Even though alcohol may at first make it feel easier to fall asleep, you’ll have a much harder time staying asleep and getting quality REM cycles if there’s alcohol in your system.

How to Sleep Better on a Plane - avoid caffeine and alcohol

Even if you do indulge in a drink or two before your flight, you should absolutely avoid caffeine for obvious reasons. Go for water instead, which won’t interact with your energy levels and will help keep you hydrated while flying.

You May Also Like: 11 Tips for Preventing Jet Lag

12. How to Sleep Better on a Plane: Take a Sleep Aid

If after all these tips you’re still struggling to catch some shuteye, consider taking an over-the-counter sleep aid like melatonin or ZzzQuil. If you’ve never used a sleep aid before, test it out before you fly. You don’t want to have a bad reaction for the first time in the air!

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’ve never used a sleep aid before, ask your doctor and test it out before you fly. You don’t want to have a bad reaction for the first time in the air!

13. Bonus: Wake Up 45 Minutes Before Landing

Okay, so this one isn’t about how to fall asleep faster, but it is one of my favorite tricks for a smooth night of sleep on a plane. Before falling asleep, set an alarm for about 45 minutes before you’re due to land. 

Your alarm will go off 15-20 minutes before the cabin crew starts to prepare for landing, at which point the lights will all turn on, announcements will start crackling overhead, and flight attendants will start walking around asking for the last of your trash. This way, you get to wake a little more peacefully and have time to use the bathroom and prepare to deplane before all the other passengers are woken up.

3 thoughts on “How to Sleep Better on a Plane: 13 Tips for Inflight Sleeping

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.