Flight Attendants Reveal the Secret to Sleeping Better on an Airplane

When it comes to air travel, making the most of your time helps reduce travel-related anxiety and stress. This includes sleeping while in the air. Since you have at least a few hours confined to a chair, why not? Sleeping on an airplane can significantly improve even your worst travel days — if you know how to do it right.

Try these flight attendant-approved tips for getting better sleep on every flight.

Dress comfortably

A woman reads a magazine while sitting on an airplane seat.

A flight isn’t the time to be dressed to the nines. | Kasto80/iStock/Getty Images

Don’t wear a three-piece suit to the airport unless you’re an expert at sleeping comfortably in one. It’s OK to dress down at the airport, especially when it’s (finally) nap time. Layer loose-fitting clothes — like sweatpants, T-shirts, and sweatshirts. You should also wear warm socks, comfortable shoes, and something with a lot of pockets — the fewer accessories you have to drag around with you (and attempt not to lose), the better.

Next: This is the best seat on the plane — claim it ASAP.

Grab a window seat, if you can

A woman sits in a window seat plane reading a magazine.

There’s a reason why we all fight for the window seat. | Riskms/iStock/Getty Images

Window seats aren’t just good for their view. You might also find sleeping easier when you’re further away from the aisle. Plus, a window seat gives you something to lean on that isn’t accidentally the shoulder of the alarmed stranger next to you.

Follow USA Today’s tips for snagging a window seat before you board — even if you didn’t have the chance to grab one while originally booking your flight.

Next: Make sure you pack this in your carry-on bag.

Pack a neck pillow — and use it ‘correctly’

A woman uses a neck pillow on a plane.

Your neck will appreciate the extra support. | SanneBerg/iStock/Getty Images

Wanting to avoid a stiff neck is a pretty good reason to refuse a much-needed airplane snooze. Using a neck pillow — maybe a little differently than you’re used to — can help you avoid this annoying side effect. Instead of wrapping the pillow around your neck the traditional way, SmarterTravel recommends flipping it around so it cushions the front of your neck instead. If you do end up leaning forward once you doze off, the extra support will keep your head from leaning too far forward.

Next: Keep this by your feet for a more restful snooze.

Use your carry-on as a footrest

A suitcase and carry-on bags in a hotel room.

This travel hack will make your flight more comfortable. | Jupiterimages/iStock/Getty Images

One of the hardest parts about actually falling asleep on planes is choosing the right position. There isn’t much room to curl up or stretch out on a plane, even with extra leg room. If you have a carry-on bag, you can use that as a footrest to avoid aggravating your lower back. The Telegraph also recommends reclining as far back as possible so you aren’t leaning forward or sitting up straight, which can cause neck and back pain, respectively.

Next: Here’s what you should — and shouldn’t — eat on the plane for better sleep.

Don’t overeat

Airplane food in containers on a white background.

Save room for all the amazing food you’ll eat during your travels. | Kondor83/iStock/Getty Images

Maybe for you, vacation (from real life and from your diet) starts the moment you set foot in the terminal. But filling up on airport food — and giving in to all the temptations your flight attendant rolls right up next to your seat — will make it hard to fall (and stay) asleep. Snacks full of sugar and caffeine can disrupt your sleep patterns and keep you awake and grouchy. Eat some nuts or a piece of fruit, or drink (caffeine-free!) herbal tea 30 minutes to an hour before you plan on closing your eyes.

Next: There’s something you shouldn’t drink during your flight.

Say no to alcohol

Glasses of red and white wine.

Ask the flight attendant for water or herbal tea instead. | TSchon/iStock/Getty Images

Too much sugar — and too much food in general — aren’t the only things you should avoid before or after boarding your flight. According to the National Sleep Foundation, drinking alcohol not long before going to sleep disrupts your deep sleep, which is an extremely important part of your sleep cycle. Though it might be temping to indulge, save the alcohol for after you land.

Next: Here’s what you can listen to when trying to fall asleep.

Fall asleep to white noise

A man wears headphones while looking out the window.

Sleeping on a plane might not be impossible. | LiudmylaSupynska/iSock/Getty Images

Planes are noisy, and if you already use sound to fall asleep, headphones are probably your best friend on every flight. However, if music is enough to cancel out that crying baby five rows back, but not quite enough to lull you to sleep, white noise might help. Business Insider says white noise helps your brain block out other sounds that might disrupt your sleep. It’s easy to find white noise online — just plug in your noise-cancelling headphones and say goodnight.

Next: Pack one of these in your bag to sleep better.

Wear an eye mask

A sleeping mask on a white silk sheet.

Clear out all distractions with a sleeping mask. | Jullli/iStock/Getty Images

According to Livestrong.com, wearing an eye mask while you sleep will block out the light that might otherwise keep you awake. Closing the window — if you got that window seat — may not be enough. If your flight attendants don’t offer you a complementary mask, make sure to pack one in your carry-on bag that’s easily within reach during your flight.

Next: Here’s another way to block out excess noise.

Use earplugs

Orange foam ear plugs.

Sound sleep might be possible with some ear plugs. | JoyTasa/Getty Images

Earplugs, whether provided by your airline or bought from the store, promote increased sleep quality, says the National Sleep Foundation. Similar to white noise, earplugs can block out sounds that might disturb your sleep. If you don’t have access to earplugs, you could also use noise-canceling headphones, or play relaxing music through your earbuds that blocks out sleep-destroying distractions.

Next: You might be able to take a supplement to improve your sleep while flying.

Take melatonin

Melatonin on an olive mat.

Melatonin can help you nap on your flight. | BWFolsom/iStock/Getty Images

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, your body produces melatonin naturally. Rising levels of melatonin prepare you for sleep — which is why many people take supplements when they’re having trouble falling asleep. Melatonin is only meant to be used short-term, so it’s perfect for making sure you can get to sleep before a long flight.

Next: Some smells can help you relax and fall asleep faster.

Use lavender essential oil

Herbal oil and lavender flowers on a wooden table.

This yogi staple will relax you during a stressful flight. | Grafvision/Getty Images

Does the smell of lavender really help you fall asleep? According to the National Sleep Foundation, certain smells — lavender included — have been shown to decrease your heart rate and reduce your blood pressure. Before you’re ready to get some sleep, use a small amount of lavender-scented essential oil to help your body relax.

Next: Here’s a simple trick for snagging extra leg room on your flight.

Book a seat online for extra leg room

Casually dressed middle-aged man working on laptop in aircraft cabin.

Book ahead for your own comfort. | Kasto80/iStock/Getty Images

Websites like SeatGuru.com make it easy to look up the layout of the plane you’ll be flying on so you can choose the seat that’s going to be most comfortable for you. If you need extra leg room to get better sleep on a long international flight, for example, you can do your best to claim these seats when purchasing your tickets in advance.

Next: Do you need to relax on your flight? Here’s how.

Meditate before trying to sleep

Couple asleep on a plane.

Board the flight with a clear and relaxed mind. | iStock.com

If you’re an anxious flyer, the thought of trying to relax on a plane probably doesn’t appeal to you. Managing your stress could help you get some much-needed restful slumber, though. According to Harvard Health, practicing brief mindfulness meditation can relieve insomnia symptoms and improve sleep quality overall. Apps like Headspace can help you practice quick meditations if you’re new to the habit.

Next: Asserting your personal space on a flight matters when it’s time to snooze.

Claim the armrest

An empty airplane seat.

Get comfortable from the start. | Verve231/iStock/Getty Images

When you’re planning to snooze during your flight, claim your bubble of personal space — especially when you’re stuck in the middle seat — it’s an absolute necessity. When you sit down, get that elbow on the armrest of your choosing — Travel + Leisure says the person in the middle should get to pick which one they want. If you’re near the window, you get to lean against it — lucky you!

Next: Here’s the best time to sleep during your flight.

Wait until after takeoff

Airplane with passengers on seats waiting to take off.

Wait until you’re in the sky to recline your seat. | AwaylGl/iStock/Getty Images

Your flight attendants won’t let you recline your seat until the pilot gives the OK. Because it’s difficult to fall asleep in the upright position, it’s best to wait until you’re in the air. No matter how sleepy you are — and now matter how much you hate that long wait between boarding and takeoff — you’ll be glad you waited to close your eyes. Safe travels!

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