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How to Sleep on a Plane

It is possible to sleep on a plane—even in the middle seat.
Photo: Shutterstock

Whether you have a long-haul international flight or just a short journey, falling asleep on a plane can be difficult, but there are steps you can take to increase your chances of getting that much-needed rest. Here, the sleep experts at Bed Kingdom have shared their top tips on how to get yourself—and your kids—to sleep on a plane, from avoiding alcohol to loosening your shoelaces. 

Choose your seat carefully 

Where you choose to sit on a plane can determine how easy it might be to fall asleep. For instance, try to avoid sitting near the toilets, as this area can get quite busy. 

  • Window seat – Whenever possible, select a window seat for your flight, as it provides a solid surface to lean against while sleeping and gives you control over the window shade, allowing you to create a darker environment.  
  • Middle seat – Sleeping in a middle seat can be more challenging due to the limited space available. Make sure to store all your belongings in the overhead bins to give yourself as much legroom as possible. When sitting in the middle seat, plane etiquette says you get both armrests, so make sure to board early and claim your space as soon as you’re seated. Also, bringing a neck travel pillow is essential, as it offers comfort and supports your head while you doze off sitting upright.
  • Aisle seat – If you are sleeping in an aisle seat, make sure to utilize the aisle armrest. Since you have easy access to the aisle, you can use the aisle armrest as additional support for your arms when sleeping.   

Loosen your shoelaces before sleeping 

Keeping your shoelaces too tight for an extended period can end up compressing nerves and restricting blood circulation to your feet, allowing your feet to fall asleep midway through your sleep. So, loosening your laces on the plane can help reduce any discomfort and help maintain healthy circulation, which can therefore help you sleep for longer.  

Also, consider wearing comfortable slip-on shoes or travel socks on your flight instead of shoes with laces to provide more freedom for your feet while you sleep. 

Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine  

Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages and alcohol before and during your flight, as they can disrupt your sleep patterns and leave you dehydrated. 

It can be tempting to have an alcoholic drink before your flight, either to start celebrating your holiday at the airport or to help calm any pre-flight nerves. However, drinking alcohol actually lowers the quality of your sleep as you spend less time in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, which can make you feel more tired when you wake up. 

Uncross your legs 

It is also recommended to uncross your legs on a plane, especially for long-haul flights. Sitting cross-legged limits blood flow on one half of your body, which places extra stress on your lower spine. Over extended periods of time, this can make you uncomfortable and disrupt your sleep. Instead of crossing your legs, make sure to keep your legs parallel with your knees slightly bent for the ultimate plane sleeping position. 

It’s also recommended to adjust your leg position periodically during your flight, stretching your legs where possible and moving your feet and ankles to promote circulation, reduce swelling, and enhance comfort. 

Pack a sleeping kit 

A sleeping kit can include essential travel items to heighten the chances of falling asleep, such as eye masks, travel pillows, and noise-canceling headphones or earplugs. 

Consider investing in a supportive memory foam travel pillow to prevent neck strain and help you maintain a more comfortable position for sleeping. If you are limited with space, consider taking an inflatable neck pillow or a large scarf that can be rolled around your neck and also be used as a blanket. 

An eye mask is also essential to block out any light and create a darker environment for more effective sleep. Finally, you should bring earplugs or invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones to drown out any in-flight distractions, such as other passengers or aircraft noise. 

How to get children to fall asleep on planes 

Getting children to sleep on planes can be challenging, and while there are no guarantees, you can take steps to help prepare for a smooth flight for you, your kids, and other passengers.  

  • Pack their favorite sleep aids – Familiar items can provide a sense of security and comfort, so don’t forget to pack their favorite cuddly toys, blanket, or pillow to create a normal sleep-friendly environment. 
  • Block out the light – To aid your child in falling and staying asleep, try to block out the light and distractions as much as possible. For instance, this could be using a car seat cover or blanket to reduce the light entering your child’s car seat or seat. 
  • Tire them out before the flight – One of the best ways to get your child to sleep on the plane is to make sure they burn all their energy before you board. Letting them run around in an uncrowded area or taking them for a long walk around the airport can help them drift off quicker on the flight.
  • Feed your kids within the first hour of the flight – Make sure you are prepared with plenty of snacks to keep your kids fed and happy on the plane. Make sure to avoid sugary treats, soft drinks, and juice and keep them hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Once their bellies are full, they should be able to sleep much easier. 
About The Author
julieKeller_author-1

Julie is the co-founder of Well Defined and a longtime influencer and advocate in the wellness world. Along with her work at Well Defined, she is an executive recruiter and marketing specialist for Hutchinson Consulting. She is also a consultant and content strategist for numerous wellness brands. She is the former editor-in-chief and publisher of American Spa and was named a 2019 Folio Top Woman in Media in the Industry Trailblazers category and a 2018 winner of ISPA’s Innovate Award. She is also a seasoned journalist, specializing in spa, travel, health, fitness, wellness, sustainability, and beauty. She has been published in Departures, ForbesTraveler.com, E! Online, Gayot.com, Insider’s Guide to Spas, Luxury Travel Advisor, Marin Magazine, Ocean Home, Smart Meetings, Spa Asia, and Travel Agent.