How To Sleep On A Plane & Land Feeling Refreshed

How To Sleep On A Plane & Land Feeling Refreshed

By Dr. Shoaib Muhammad , published on June 22, 2023
Dr Shoaib Muhammad,MD

Arriving at your destination feeling groggy and jet-lagged after a long flight isn't a great start to your holiday.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

If you're tired of getting only 1-2 hours on a long-haul flight, you'll be glad to know that there's a lot you can do to get more.

From strategic seat selection to ingenious sleep tricks and accessories, here are techniques and hacks to leave you well-rested and ready for adventures when you step off the plane.

So buckle up, relax, and get ready to master the art of sleeping on a plane like a pro.

Tip 1: Choose the right seat

Choosing the right seat is crucial for getting quality sleep on a plane. Window seats provide a supportive surface to lean against and reduce disturbance from passing passengers.

That said, aisle seats offer more legroom and easier access to stretch and walk. Bulkhead seats have extra legroom, but armrests may be fixed, limiting sleeping positions.

Consider your privacy, movement, and support preferences when deciding between window, aisle, or bulkhead seats for a restful journey.

Tip 2: Dress comfortably for sleep

When it comes to dressing comfortably for sleep on a plane, two key considerations are loose-fitting clothing and layers. Opt for loose-fitting garments that won't restrict your movement or circulation during sleep.

Dressing in layers lets you adjust your clothing according to the cabin temperature. Bring a cosy travel blanket or shawl to provide extra warmth and comfort for your nap.

These items can help regulate your body temperature and create a comfy environment for restful sleep while in the air.

Tip 3: Wear noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs

Minimising ambient noise is essential for better sleep on a plane. Consider using noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs to create a quiet environment.

Noise-cancelling technology actively blocks external sounds, allowing you to focus on sleep without disturbances from plane engine noise or chatter. These headphones or earplugs provide a cocoon of tranquillity, promoting deeper and more restful sleep.

The benefits of noise-cancelling technology include reduced stress, increased relaxation, and improved sleep quality, ultimately helping you feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

Tip 4: Wear a travel pillow

Creating a comfortable sleeping environment on a plane is crucial for quality sleep. Using a travel pillow or cushion can greatly enhance your comfort and promote better sleep posture.

Look for a compact, portable pillow that suits your preferences and offers adequate support for your head and neck. Opt for pillows with memory foam that can be easily adjusted and packed away, like the SNUGL linked above.

By providing proper alignment and cushioning, a travel-size pillow ensures a more restful sleep experience, leaving you feeling refreshed upon landing. More info how to wear your travel pillow here.

Tip 5: Block light with an eye mask

To create darkness and improve sleep on a plane, using an eye mask is highly recommended. Eye masks effectively block out light, allowing you to create a sleep-friendly environment even during bright daylight or cabin lights.

There are various types of eye masks available. Choose one with customisable straps for a snug fit and that's made from soft materials for maximum comfort.

Choose an eye mask that suits your preferences and ensures complete darkness, enabling you to sleep undisturbed and wake up feeling refreshed.

Tip 6: Choose the right seat position

Set your seat position to lean right back, or at least use the seat's recline feature to find a comfortable sleeping position.

Adjust the seat to a reclined angle that provides adequate support for your back and neck. You can experiment with different strategies to find a suitable position, such as using a neck pillow or placing a small pillow behind your lower back for added lumbar support.

Find a position that minimises discomfort and allows you to relax, ensuring a more restful sleep experience during your flight.

Tip 7: Take your shoes off

Taking your shoes off during a flight can contribute to a more comfortable sleep and help you feel refreshed upon landing. Keeping your feet confined in shoes for an extended period can lead to discomfort and poor circulation.

Cooling your feet down can also help you sleep if it's warm on the plane. By removing your shoes, you allow your feet to breathe and relax.

It's a good idea to wear comfortable socks or pack a pair of clean, breathable slippers to keep your feet cosy during the flight. Remember to maintain good hygiene and consider using foot moisturisers or sprays to keep your feet feeling fresh.

Tip 8: If you're travelling with back pain

For passengers with back pain, it's important to address the specific challenges of sleeping on a plane. First, understand the causes of back pain during flights, which include prolonged sitting and inadequate lumbar support. Be sure to take along any prescribed medications for your back problem.

Utilise a lumbar support pillow or roll to maintain the natural curve of your spine and reduce strain. Perform stretching exercises and movements to alleviate discomfort. Simple exercises like pelvic tilts and seated leg extensions can help relieve tension and improve blood circulation.

Prioritise proper support and use stretching exercises to minimise back pain and help you land feeling refreshed. See my full article on how to travel with back pain here.

Tip 9: Listen to pink noise

Listening to pink noise can be a helpful strategy for improving sleep on a plane and landing feeling refreshed. Pink noise is a type of soothing sound that has equal energy per octave, resembling the natural sounds we encounter in our environment.

It can help drown out background noise, promote relaxation, and enhance sleep quality. Use headphones or earbuds to play pink noise through a mobile app or audio playlist specifically designed for sleep.

The gentle and consistent sound can create a calming ambience, helping you drift off into a deeper, more rejuvenating sleep during your flight.

Tip 10: Plan your sleep schedule

Planning your sleep schedule is essential for a restful flight and feeling refreshed upon arrival. Align your sleep patterns with the duration of the flight to maximise rest. If it's a long flight, plan for extended periods of sleep by avoiding naps beforehand.

However, for shorter flights, strategic napping can enhance restfulness during the journey. Also, consider the time zone differences at your destination and adjust your sleep schedule accordingly to minimise the impact of jet lag.

By planning your sleep effectively, you can optimise your rest on the plane and start your journey feeling revitalised.

how to sleep on a plane infographic

Tip 11: Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Avoiding caffeine and alcohol is crucial for quality sleep on a plane. Stimulants like caffeine can disrupt sleep by increasing alertness and making it harder to fall asleep.

Similarly, alcohol may initially induce drowsiness but can lead to fragmented and restless sleep. Instead, opt for alternatives to stay hydrated, such as drinking water, herbal tea, or fruit-infused beverages.

These choices keep you hydrated without interfering with sleep patterns, ensuring a more restful journey and a refreshed landing. Prioritise these alternatives for a well-rested and rejuvenating flight.

Tip 12: Don't eat heavy meals

When it comes to eating before sleep on a plane, opt for light snacks and meals to balance hunger and sleep needs. Heavy or greasy foods can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep.

Instead, choose foods that promote relaxation and sleep, such as those rich in tryptophan, magnesium, and melatonin. Examples include bananas, nuts, whole grains, and herbal teas like chamomile or lavender.

These choices provide nourishment without burdening your digestive system, allowing you to rest more comfortably and wake up feeling refreshed upon landing.

Tip 13: Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is crucial for a comfortable sleep experience on a plane and to combat the effects of dehydration on sleep and jet lag. Dehydration can lead to dryness, discomfort, and difficulty falling asleep.

To stay hydrated during the flight, drink plenty of water and avoid excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption. Consider carrying a reusable water bottle and asking for refills during the flight. Using a hydrating facial mist or saline nasal spray can help combat dry cabin air.

By staying well-hydrated, you can promote better sleep and arrive at your destination feeling refreshed.

Tip 14: Maintain good posture

Maintaining a good posture is vital for quality sleep on a plane and feeling refreshed upon landing. Poor posture can lead to discomfort and restless sleep.

To achieve a comfortable and ergonomic posture, keep your back aligned against the seat and avoid slouching. Support your lower back with a lumbar pillow or rolled-up blanket. Utilise seat features like headrests and adjustable recline to find a position that promotes good alignment.

By maintaining a proper posture throughout the flight, you can reduce muscle tension, improve blood circulation, and enhance your sleep quality.

Tip 15: Minimise screen time

Minimise your screen time. The blue light emitted by those screens can disrupt your body's natural sleep/wake cycle and hinder melatonin production.

Reduce screen exposure before sleep by avoiding gadgets like smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Instead, engage in calming activities like reading a book or listening to soothing music.

If screen use is necessary, use screen filters or activate the night mode feature, which reduces blue light emission and promotes better sleep quality. 

Tip 16: Ask the flight staff not to disturb you

If your sleep is especially important to you, consider politely asking the flight staff not to disturb you during your designated sleep time. This simple request can help minimise unnecessary interruptions, such as meal services or routine checks.

Use a "Do Not Disturb" sign, if available, or inform the flight attendants about your intention to rest. They’ll usually help ensure you get uninterrupted sleep.

By proactively communicating your sleep needs, you can enjoy a more peaceful and rejuvenating flight.

Tip 17: Do what usually makes you sleepy

Try to recreate the conditions that usually make you sleepy. Our bodies are accustomed to certain sleep cues, so mimic them while onboard.

Listen to soothing music, wear comfortable sleepwear, or use relaxation techniques that work for you, such as deep breathing exercises or meditation. Bring familiar scents, like lavender oil, which can promote relaxation.

By recreating a sleep-inducing environment, you can signal your body that it's time to rest, helping sleep more deeply.

Tip 18: Be careful with sleeping pills

Sleeping pills may seem tempting to induce sleep, but they can have adverse effects. Sleeping pills can leave you feeling groggy or disoriented upon waking, making it difficult to adjust after landing. Also, they may interact with other medications or have unwanted side effects.

Instead of relying on sleeping pills, focus on implementing natural sleep-promoting strategies such as creating a comfortable sleep environment, practising relaxation techniques, and adjusting your sleep schedule.

Tip 19: Set an alarm before the touchdown

Setting an alarm before touchdown can help you maximise your sleep on a plane and ensure you wake up feeling refreshed. It's easy to lose track of time during a flight, so setting an alarm ensures you don't oversleep and miss any important announcements or the opportunity to freshen up before landing.

Set the alarm for around 30-45 minutes before the expected arrival time to give yourself enough time to wake up, pack your belongings, and mentally prepare for landing.

By doing so, you can have a smooth transition and step off the plane feeling well-rested and ready for your next adventure.