Long Flight? These Tricks Will Help You Sleep on a Plane

There is truly nothing worse than being wide-eyed and alert on a long international flight while everyone around you is completely passed out. After your fourth movie, your third meal, and your second time disturbing your neighbor so you can escape to the bathroom and stretch your legs, your mind may be begging for sleep. Unfortunately, your body may have different ideas.

While some people will always have more trouble sleeping on planes, there are some little tips to prepare your mind and body for that long international flight.

1. Book a nighttime flight

Man looking out the window of the airport

Having trouble sleeping on the plane? Book your flight around your bedtime. | iStock.com

If you have the option, always try to book a nonstop flight at a time that’s close to your normal sleeping hours, Business Insider recommends. If your flight takes off at 9 or 10 p.m. local time, then there’s a good chance you’ll be able to naturally drift off to sleep since the timing fits in with your regular bedtime routine. Taking off in the morning or even afternoon after you’ve gotten a full night’s sleep in your own bed will make falling asleep difficult. You may even find yourself wide-awake until your natural bedtime. It also might be worth the extra money to book a nonstop flight so you don’t have to exit, wait, and re-board multiple times, which will keep you alert and awake and put a stop to any sleep you were getting.

2. Choose your seat wisely

The interior of an airplane

Where you’re sitting on a plane can impact your quality of sleep. | iStock.com

First, you’ll need to evaluate your sleeping style, says Entrepreneur. If you sleep on the right side of the bed at home, opt for a seat on the right side of the plane. The same goes for left side of the bed sleepers. This will naturally make you feel more comfortable in your positioning on the plan. Next, for long overnight international flights, book a window seat so you can use the wall of the plane to lean on as you nestle in. To ensure you’re not stuck in that one row that has non-reclining seats, check your plane and flight on SeatGuru so you can find the prime seats (meaning more leg room, space, and reclining seats) on every flight.

3. Pack like a pro

Man packing his suitcase for travel

Make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothes on the plane. | iStock.com

Don’t show up in a suit or tight-fitting pants and expect to get a good night’s sleep. Wear nice sweatpants or sportswear that is comfortable and warm, says The Huffington Post. If you have a meeting right upon arrival, pack your suit on the top of your carry-on and dress in the airport bathrooms upon arrival. Not only will it feel good to get on fresh, clean clothing, but also your suit won’t have that slept-in, crumpled look. Make sure you have a pair of socks, a travel pillow, a sleeping mask, and either earplugs or noise-canceling headphones readily available. Experiment flipping your neck pillow around so it’s under your chin. This will support you when your head naturally lolls forward in deep sleep.

4. Take advantage of plane amenities

Sleeping passengers on a plane

The footrests on the plane can actually help you feel more comfortable and sleep better. | Thinkstock

When you find your seat, take a moment to evaluate your space and come up with a game plan for getting as comfortable as possible. This is your home for the next several hours, so it’s important you find little tricks to make it livable. Support your lower back or lumbar spine by rolling up the airplane blanket and using it to support the inward curve of the lower back, says Spine-Health. Then, make a point to sit with your back pressed against the back of the sleep and avoid slumping and hunching your back. Take advantage of the footrests (if your plane has them) or use your carry-on luggage as a footrest. Keeping your knees at a right angle will keep your low back more comfortable.

5. Wear yourself out

Man biking on a dirt road

Exercise before leaving to ensure you’re tired. | iStock.com

Consider the fact you’ll be on a plane for eight or more hours and prepare accordingly. If you fly in the evening, make sure to get a good workout or a long run in that day. If you fly in the morning, wear yourself out the day before. Exercising releases chemicals in your brain to reduce stress, which is key if you get anxious or nervous before boarding a plane. In addition, wearing out your body will ensure you are tired and ready for bed once you settle into your seat so you can get some much-needed sleep that will make the flight fly by.

6. Hydrate and eat right

Man drinking water

Never underestimate the importance of water and nutritious foods. | iStock.com

The air on planes is extremely dry, often dropping to below 20% humidity, warns DripDrop. You may notice your skin, eyes, throat, and nose are dry, so you’ll need to combat this by making a point to drink more water than normal. Being dehydrated not only is bad for your body, but it can actually worsen jet lag. Drinking plenty of water will help you avoid nausea, lethargy, headaches, and sluggishness that are all associated with jet lag. Keep focused on drinking water and avoid the snack trolley as it passes. Focus on eating lean protein and pack your own snacks so you’re not tempted by the snack trolley that is full of processed and sugar-packed foods that actually may make you feel unsettled and unsatisfied.