I'm an experienced world traveler, and my least favorite part of travel is the process of getting from one place to another. Sleeping on airplanes is a great way to make the time go faster and arrive at your destination rested up and ready to explore. I often find sleep elusive under the best of conditions, but sitting in a tiny seat with lighting I can't control, surrounded by people making all kinds of noises? It's a challenge. But over the years I've learned how to get decent sleep on airplanes, with the help of these tips and some great products. Bring on the red-eye flight, I'm ready for you!
You don't want to overeat or indulge in fatty or spicy foods before or during your flight. Heavy food can make you feel uncomfortable as your body works in overtime to digest it. At the same time, you don't want to let yourself get so hungry that your stomach is growling. Intestinal distress certainly isn't compatible with sleep. Bringing your own healthy and easily digestible snacks helps avoid tempting airport food (I'm talking to you, Cinnabon) which will make sleep easier.
Treat your tummy with healthy nibbles.
You don't want to be overly hungry, nor do you want to rely on the airport's selection of tempting but often heavy foods to stave off hunger. Bring your own healthier snacks.
That's It Fruit Bars (opens in new tab) ($17 at Amazon)
These fruit bars contain two servings of fruit and no added sugar. There are 12 in a box and 15 different flavor options.
Healthy Snacks Care Package (opens in new tab) ($42 at Amazon)
This 30-pack contains a variety of healthier snacks, including trail mix, bars, popcorn, veggie straws, fruit crisps, and more.
It should go without saying that you don't want to drink caffeine when you want to sleep on a flight. But an alcoholic "nightcap" isn't ideal either. While it's tempting to down a couple of drinks to help you fall asleep faster, alcohol actually disrupts sleep in the long run. Alcohol is dehydrating and can cause stomach upset and headaches as well. Airplanes are dehydrating enough without adding alcohol into the mix. You're better off with just plain water or other beverage of choice without caffeine or excess sugar. Though you can't bring water through security, you can certainly bring your own water bottle and fill it before you board the plane.
This water bottle rolls up to save space.
The carrying handle of this thick silicone BPA-free collapsible water bottle secures it when you roll it up between uses. It has a covered spout for easy drinking and a wide mouth so it's easy to fill.
Propel Powder Packets (opens in new tab) ($11 at Amazon)
Hydrate with fifty individual packets of drink mix in four flavors. Propel contains electrolytes, vitamins, and no sugar.(opens in new tab)
Great Value Low Calorie Drink Mixes (opens in new tab) ($14 at Amazon)
This box contains forty packets of sugar-free drink mix in four different flavors. Add one to your water for extra taste without the calories.
The right clothing
Dress in comfortable layers. You don't need to wear your pajamas on a plane, but certainly wear non-constricting clothing and layers you can easily add or remove to adjust your temperature. A large scarf can double as a blanket on the plane. Pro tip: buckle your seatbelt over all of your layers, even your blanket or scarf. Why? You want your seatbelt fully visible, so you aren't awakened by a conscientious flight attendant checking to see if your seatbelt is fastened!
Wear it as a scarf or use it as a blanket.
This wool-silk blend scarf will add warmth when you need it; just pack it away when you don't. It comes in dozens of colors to suit every taste.
Gioberti Men's Shawl Collar Cardigan (opens in new tab) ($35 at Amazon)
A cardigan is a great layering piece for travel. It's easy to take on and off when the cabin temperature changes.(opens in new tab)
Lark & Ro Women's Long Waterfall Cardigan (opens in new tab) ($39 at Amazon)
This lightweight, long cascade cardigan comes in tons of colors and makes an excellent travel piece that can be dressed up or down.
Adjust your body clock
If you'll be traveling across multiple time zones, it's a good idea to start adjusting your bedtime and morning alarm in the days before you go. Melatonin can help you adjust, though it's best to talk to your doctor before taking any new medication, even natural ones like melatonin. It's not a sleep medication per se, rather it helps reset your body clock to tell your brain when it's time to go to sleep. This is something I only use on an overnight flight where I need to attempt a full night's sleep, not just a nap. If you're changing time zones, you can start taking it a couple of days before your flight. Take it two hours before bedtime at your destination. Another way to tell your body clock that it's bedtime is to avoid electronic screens of all kinds for at least an hour before you want to sleep. The blue light they emit encourages wakefulness.
Reset your body clock
Melatonin may help you mitigate jet lag.
One pill taken two hours before bedtime at your destination can help reset your body clock to your new time zone. This jar contains 250 pills, 5 milligrams each.
Nature's Bounty Melatonin (opens in new tab) ($8 at Amazon)
This bottle has 240 quick-dissolve tablets of 3 milligrams each.(opens in new tab)
Vicks ZzzQuil Pure Zzzzs (opens in new tab) ($16 at Amazon)
Each 1-milligram melatonin gummy also contains a botanical oil blend of lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, and valerian root.
Banish motion sickness
Being motion sick is no way to get any sleep. I've tried a few different motion sickness medications and found that good old Dramamine is the most effective. I never buy the "less drowsy" version because, well, I want to be drowsy so I can get some sleep. I like to be drowsy when I'm not driving or operating heavy machinery. Just be sure to follow the directions for when to take it to maximize its effectiveness: for adults and children over 12, take one or two tablets a half hour to an hour before takeoff. Again, I'm not a physician, so consult your doctor about any medications.
May cause drowsiness
If you tend to get motion sick, Dramamine can help. The original formula has the side effect of making you drowsy, which is a desirable side effect on a long flight.
Dramamine Chewable Formula (opens in new tab) ($9 at Amazon)
If you can't tolerate taking pills, this is a chewable alternative.(opens in new tab)
Equate Motion Sickness Tablets (opens in new tab) ($8 at Amazon)
Save some money buying this generic product with comparable active ingredients.
Choose your seat wisely
If you can book your seat ahead of time, by all means, grab a window seat. You get a wall to lean against, plus you have more control over your lighting. Avoid sitting near a restroom if possible. Not only do people tend to congregate there, but you may catch whiffs of something you'd rather not. Usually, the exit rows offer more leg room, but keep in mind you must have the physical ability to open the emergency doors if needed. The quietest seats with the least amount of motion are towards the front of the plane, near the wings. You can often book the seat you want through your specific airline's app or website, or you can use an app like SeatGuru (opens in new tab).
Free - Download now (opens in new tab)
You need a good travel pillow
I have what my family calls my magic pillow because I talk it up so much and I'm always trying to get everyone to buy one. I've tried other travel pillows but this is the only one that works for me. Make room in your carry-on bag because trust me: it's worth the space. Sure, you can find cheaper neck pillows, but I paid even more for this one in the airport and I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I ever lost or forgot mine.
Best neck pillow
My family calls this my magic pillow for a reason.
This tall memory foam pillow clasps in the front to keep your head in a comfortable position as you sleep. Say goodbye to sore necks and those awkward head-jerking moments as you drift off.
Huzi Infinity Pillow (opens in new tab) ($40 at Amazon)
The Möbius shape allows you to use this pillow infinite ways so you are sure to find the perfect sleep position.(opens in new tab)
Visco Love Travel Pillow (opens in new tab) ($26 at Amazon)
If you can score a window seat, a travel-sized rectangular memory foam pillow could be just what you need.
A foot rest
It may look funny, but don't knock it 'til you try it. A footrest can relieve some of the pressure on your lower back. You can stretch out your legs, move them around a bit, and just get into a more comfortable position for sleep.
This is a comfortable hammock for your feet.
Rather than letting your feet dangle or keeping your knees at a constant 90-degree angle, plop them into this foot sling for a more comfortable sleep position.
Flypal Inflatable Foot Rest (opens in new tab) ($30 at Amazon)
Two inflatable pieces can be used separately or stacked together to create different heights for maximum comfort.(opens in new tab)
HUANUO Adjustable Foot Rest (opens in new tab) ($40 at Amazon)
This deluxe two-piece memory foam footrest can be used in a variety of configurations.
Block out light
Even with a window seat, you only have so much control over the amount of light on a plane. Darker is better for sleep, so an eye mask is the best way to achieve this. Silk is especially nice against the skin. Be sure your mask fits correctly: tight enough to block out light but loose enough for comfort.
A sleep mask is a must for airplane slumber.
You can't control all of the lights on an airplane, but you can control what reaches your eyes. This silk mask is soft and comfortable and does the job of blocking light so you can sleep.
Unimi Sleep Mask (opens in new tab) ($9 at Amazon)
This contoured memory foam design may be a better fit and block out more light for some people.(opens in new tab)
Asutra Weighted Silk Eye Pillow (opens in new tab) ($18 at Amazon)
This silk sleep mask has a removable inner pouch filled with soothing lavender and flax seeds.
Soothing sounds only
While many people find the white noise of an airplane to be quite soothing, there are always other noises going on that aren't so soothing. Whether it's a crying baby, a snoring seatmate, chatty people, or other random noises, you'll be best served by blocking it out if you can. If you have a favorite pair of noise-canceling headphones, download a white noise app (opens in new tab) to use with them. Good old-fashioned cheap earplugs can also be helpful. My absolute favorite, though, is the noise-masking Bose Sleepbuds. Now that I've discovered them, I won't get on a plane without them. They do not play music; they are solely devoted to the art of sleep and only play a selection of soothing sounds. For sleep aficionados, there is no substitute.
Block out airplane noise.
With three levels of noise cancellation, these high-end headphones let you listen to the relaxing playlist or white noise of your choice in peace. Get up to 20 hours on a single charge.
Howard Leight Earplugs (opens in new tab) ($7 at Amazon)
Five pairs of disposable earplugs come in this travel-sized container.(opens in new tab)
TaoTronics Active Noise Cancelling Headphones (opens in new tab) ($53 at Amazon)
These space-saving headphones have active noise canceling. The ANC does require charging and will work for 15 hours on a single charge. They come with an airplane adapter and removable ear hooks.
Most of all, try not to stress out about how much sleep you do or don't get. Hopefully, with these tips, you can at least have a more relaxing and comfortable flight. If you do get some quality sleep, all the better to offset jet lag when you reach your destination. Bon Voyage!
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Karen is a contributor to iMore.com as a writer and co-host of the iMore Show. She’s been writing about Apple since 2010 with a year-long break to work at an Apple Store as a product specialist. She's also a contributor at CNET. Before joining iMore in 2018, Karen wrote for Macworld, AppAdvice, WatchAware. She’s an early adopter who used to wait in long lines on release days before pre-ordering made things much easier. Karen is also a part-time teacher and occasional movie extra. She loves to spend time with her family, travel the world, and is always looking for portable tech and accessories so she can work from anywhere.
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