How To Sleep Better On Long Flights

by SharonKurheg

There are some lucky souls who can sleep just about anywhere, including on planes. And then there are the rest of us.

When you’re on a long haul flight, having a first- or business-class seat to actually lie flat (or sorta flat) in is REALLY helpful with getting to sleep. But again, most of us are not that lucky, at least a whole lot of the time. So for the rest of us, here are some things and ways to help bring that sleep on when on long plane journeys:



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In general, it’s harder to get to sleep when it’s light outside, probably because ours bodies are usually naturally programmed to sleep when it’s dark. A sleep mask can bring the dark to you, and an added bonus is that it’s easy to slip into your small personal bag.



This one kind of depends on the flight. Some flights are generally quiet, others include the screaming baby section(s) and/or the couple behind you who are playing “Heads Up.” If you need to drown all of that out, ear plugs are a cheap and convenient option.



If you’re not an ear plug sort of person, noise cancelling headphones, albeit larger and more expensive, can work wonders. White noise is always fine to listen to, but other people like “sleepy music” (like what they play in spas). Also keep in mind there are audio files of relaxation techniques (breath focus, guided imagery, body scan, etc.) and they might help you get to la la land faster, as well.



Business- or  first-class would be nice, but depending on the airline, you may still have an option for a more comfortable seat – Delta offers Comfort+, Spirit has The Big Front Seats, and other airlines offer their respective versions of more comfortable seats, if you’re willing to pay for it.

If you’re not willing to pay that much, you might want to consider an over-the-wing Economy seat (there’s less turbulence felt in those seats) or at least avoid the bulkhead (where families with young kids sometimes pick), or near the lavatory (lots of hustle and bustle there).

Personally, I prefer a window seat if I’m going to sleep, because I have someplace to rest my head, and no one has to bother me if they have to leave their seat. Other people still prefer to have an aisle seat. Your Mileage May Vary.


If you know you’re going to want to sleep on the plane, dress for it. Pajamas aren’t the most appropriate, but try for loose fitting, stretchy and comfortable clothing. Natural fibers like cotton are more breathable than polyester and may make it easier to sleep.

Cooler temperatures allow you to sleep better, which is why they keep cabin a little chilly on those longer flights. I strongly don’t suggest using the airlines’ blankets because they’re not cleaned nearly as much as anyone would like. Instead, bring a sweater or your own portable blanket.

If you’re lucky enough to fall asleep, you’re going to want to stop your head from bobbing. Besides looking silly ;-), the movement might be enough to wake you up. Neck pillows are a great way to keep your head aligned – there are a bajillion different designs on the market nowadays.



There are plenty of sleep medications out there, from stuff your doctor can prescribe, to over the counter meds like Tylenol Simply Sleep, Unisom, Zzzquil, Sominex, Dramamine, Benadryl, etc.

There are also more natural sleep enhancers, such as lavender oil, kava or melatonin, that you can also consider.

Any sleeping aid that you decide to use, make sure to not take it until you’re on the plane and have taken off – the last thing you’ll want is to be fuzzy headed if the plane turns around for mechanical difficulties and you have to make decisions about getting onto another plane while doped up on something. And, of course, it goes without saying that before you start using anything to help you sleep, check with your personal physician.


Don’t forget that if you do decide to snooze on the plane but still want meal/snack/drink service, either let the person next to you know, or maybe do a set-up like this…

XXX PleaseWakeMeFor

Sweet dreams, travel friends!

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Pamela Mohiuddin November 9, 2018 - 8:37 am

Good advice, I have a terrible time getting to sleep on a plane. Will take all advice.

SharonKurheg November 9, 2018 - 11:06 am

Cool beans….I hope something works 🙂

Gizmosdad June 7, 2019 - 9:53 pm

I’m one of those people that is lucky enough to be able to fall asleep on flights (even short ones.) Like this article says, my success is due to a sleep mask, noise-cancelling earbuds, a mp3 player playing the sounds of ocean waves crashing on a beach (I find that more relaxing that just white noise), enough blankets/jackets to keep me from freezing on the plane, and if need be, some sort of pharmaceutical like melatonin (only good for a <3hr nap) or ibuprofen-PM (good for longer than 3 hours)


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