How To Sleep On A Plane
I make a dozen or more overnight flights each year during my frenzied schedule as a travel photographer and I’ve learned a few tricks on how to get the proper rest to maintain the highest physical, mental, and creative energy levels possible. Sleeping at night while traveling can be difficult for a lot of people. Different beds than you’re accustomed to, jet lag, and disruptions to your body’s circadian rhythm are just a few reasons. My advice when traveling internationally is to get your sleep whenever and wherever you can. That includes on the bus, in the car (as long as you’re not driving) and on planes, especially during overnight flights.
The worst way to begin an overseas adventure is tired, fatigued, and with zero energy after a 14-hour flight. Here are some tips on how to avoid that by getting some good sleep on the plane.
My Three Favorite Accessories for Travel Sleep
Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow I’ve tried pillows of every variety in order to perfect the cosmic airplane sleep. The airline pillows are crap. I even never understood the neck pillows that seem uber popular with travelers. They were never comfortable at all to me. The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow (medium size) is about twice as big as the standard airline pillow, has 3 times the loft, and compresses down to a manageable size for putting in your carry on bags.
Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones Bose products are simply the best. I prefer the noise-cancelling ear buds over the bulky headphones that makes it difficult to get comfortable for sleep. Use these for soft music or use the noise-cancelling feature alone just to cut down on ambient plane noise.
Earth Therapeutics Dream Zone Sleep Mask I’ve tried a half dozen eye shades until I found these. These are silky, soft and so comfortable to wear. When I lay by head back to rest, I don’t even realize I am wearing anything over my eyes.
I don’t try to sleep immediately after takeoff. I’ve learned the routine of the on-board staff so I choose the optimal time to pull down the eye shades and get some shut eye. When the plane climbs to 10,000 feet, there are usually a barrage of announcements and crass commercial promotions you have to endure. Then within the first hour, dinner is usually served. I take a pass on the airline food but I might order a glass of wine at this point to help continue the process of winding down. Some of you might be tempted to drink more than just one glass of wine to help with sleep. This is a bad idea. Drinking excessive alcohol will lead to more bathroom visits and dehydration. As I said, it’s just a bad idea. Don’t do it.
As soon as the dinner service is completed and the lights in the main cabin are turned down, I’ll use the restroom one last time, throw on a sweater to stay warm, grab my pillow, turn on the noise-canceling headphones, and drop the eye shades. My next conscious moment should come about eight hours later with the breakfast service announcement.
The Window Seat
I think we can all agree that the middle seat is the least desirable seat option. But the window is far superior to the aisle seat if you plan on catching some sleep on your long flight. There are several good reasons for this. First, you won’t have passengers or flight attendants bumping into you while strolling down the aisle during the night. Second, you don’t have to worry about fellow passengers in your row waking you to get up to use the restroom. Third, the window seat offers the side of the plane and/or window to rest your head and pillow up against. Window seat. Very important.
If you’re using one of the blankets provided to you by the airline, make sure your seatbelt is clearly visible. Otherwise, if the plane encounters turbulence, an airline attendant might wake you to be sure you’re buckled in. That goes for any heavy coats or sweaters as well. It might be difficult to fall asleep again after the interruption.
To Recline Or Not To Recline?
There is a surprisingly heated debate among “travel experts” on whether it’s appropriate to recline your seat on a plane. Many say it’s rude and it should absolutely never be done. But then again, that big round button on the side of the armrest is there for a reason. The closer your body can gain the horizontal, the easier sleep will be. If there is no one sitting in the seat behind me, I will definitely recline. If the person behind me has reclined, I will also recline with no issues. If the passenger in front of me has reclined and there is someone sitting behind me, I will always politely ask if it’s ok before pushing my seat back. No one has ever refused the request.
Love your blogs! Thank you for posting this…Such attention to detail! All these items are such great suggestions! The detailed explanation of reclining your seats- So many people are inconsiderate with this.. and just plain rude. I think asking or not reclining unless the person in front of you has.. and/or the person behind you…plus, asking the person behind you if it’s okay.. is so very thoughtful…So many people just don’t care. It’s hard when you have long legs especially… I wish I liked the window seat more but I feel claustrophobic sometimes being stuck where I can’t get free!! Lol …But you’re right.. it’s noisier and getting bumped into is especially a real possibility for the aisle seats.. which is where I usually sit. The seatbelt suggestion ..so true…This exact scenario has happened to me going to Africa..I was fortunate to have empty seats next to me..so I could lie down but the flight attendant DID awaken me because she couldn’t see my seatbelt under the blanket…and I had just gotten into that sweet spot of sleep FINALLY.. It was such a bummer!! Lol …I value the information you give with all your travel experiences.. it’s SO appreciated! Thank you for taking the time to give us the links too! Yay!! Can’t wait for my next international adventure!
I never understood neck pillows either until a flight from Utah to Colorado last week. I was exhausted and purchased a loftier than expected memory foam neck pillow that cradled my head more than it should have. Experimenting with it, I put it over my shoulder and found my head has the perfect space for it to lay against the window and still be fully supported.
Interesting read. I have a long haul flight coming up. I really struggle with relaxing on planes nevermind falling asleep. I just toss and turn in my seat for the entire journey. I will but a neck pillow and see if I feel more comfortable!
Thanks for your words of wisdom. Sleeping on a plane is always tricky.
I will use your suggestions next time I travel.
Yeah that whole sleeping on a plane thing… I’m pretty sure my mouth falls open and who knows what happens after that. It’s probably in the category of “most embarrassing things to do in public”. I gotta check out that pillow though!
One thing I learned as well for overnight flights, avoid the caffeine. I love my coffee and it easy to juice up leading up to the flights however I swore off caffeine after noon on the days I travel overnight
I usually just mix a shot of Jack honey with a few swigs of Nyquil. You sleep so good one time I dozed off while on fire. Woke up so rested.
There is always also the option of sleep medication. A doctor friend of mine was traveling for business from LA to Sidney (flying First Class). He was told to take a tablet of Temesta on take off. He woke up hungry and asked for some food, which was refused as they were landing in Sidney. He had slept 15 hrs without even reclining his seat.
Even funnier was a young friend of mine who decided to take a tablet of Ambien before boarding. The flight was delayed and she had to be dragged to her seat by her traveling companions. Not easy to explain at the gate I guess. 🙂