Some of us were born with the super power of being able to sleep anywhere, including on a long haul economy flight while curled up like a pretzel.
The rest of us, however, need all the help we can get to sleep sitting upright on a plane. So, to help you sleep more comfortably on your next flight, here are my top tips for sleeping on a plane, including the apps and accessories frequent flyers swear by.
(This article contains some affiliate links – please find the full disclosure for further details.)
How to sleep on a plane in economy class
1. Pick your seat wisely
Where you sit on the aircraft can have a massive impact on your quality of sleep. I favour the window, to avoid people bumping my arm in the aisle or asking to get out and use the bathroom.
If you have the option to choose your seat online in advance, look for available seats that are a decent distance away from bathrooms and the bulkhead, which is where they place the baby bassinets. (These seats tend to involve more movement, noise and lights – at least that was my experience of flying long haul with a baby!)
When I’m travelling without my little one, I tend to favour the middle to end of the back section of the plane. Look for somewhere not too close to the galley, which can also be noisy, but, if you’re lucky, there are more likely to be some empty rows dotted around back here.
If you’re unsure about the aircraft layout and where to find the best seats, type in your flight number to SeatGuru for a detailed guide to the best and worst seats on the plane.
Insider tip: My all-time favourite economy seats are on the upper deck of an A380. A handful of airlines (including Qantas and Singapore Airlines) have a few rows of economy seats on the upper deck behind business that are far more peaceful and generally receive quicker service than in the main cabin below. Look for an upper cabin tab on the seat map when reserving your seats to see if your flight offers this option.
2. Make sure your neck is properly supported
Did you know that the best way to use a travel pillow is not behind your head but around your front to prop up your chin? Scientists say the best way to sleep comfortably in economy class is by making sure you have the right support for your neck.
There are all sorts of face cradles and foam travel pillows on the market at the moment that are trying to better protect traveller’s necks and provide a more comfortable rest in transit. After doing lots of research for this post, the same name kept coming up again and again. According to reviews the Trtl Neck Pillow is the best travel pillow on the market. It looks just like a scarf when you wear it and it’s not too bulky to pack in your hand luggage either.
Personally, I use whatever pillow is provided on the plane, preferably up against the window, but it will depend on the quality of your airline as to how comfortable what they provide is. (If at all!) To avoid any doubts, pack your own travel pillow and make sure it has adequate neck support.
3. Pack lavender scented products
Lavender scented products are known for their sleep-inducing benefits and I swear by This Works Sleep Balm, which I rub onto pulse points when I want to relax and get ready to drift off. They also have a roller ball option, which is easy to apply in a confined cabin.
Another favourite of mine is This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, which you can spritz on your travel pillow or scarf, and comes in particularly handy if the cabin gets a bit stinky after meal time.
Find all my essentials for sleeping on a plane in my Amazon UK store here.
4. Download a meditation app
A white noise playlist is also a great way to block out aircraft noise with more soothing sounds. If you have the budget, treat yourself to some noise-cancelling headphones for a better listening experience without any background noise.
5. Lean back
My back knows from experience that flopping forward and sleeping on the meal tray is going to hurt the next day.
Professionals advise that leaning back with legs uncrossed is the best position for your back when it comes to sleeping on flights.
6. Lay off the coffee
This sounds obvious but caffeine can take up to 6 hours to filter through our systems (6 hours!), so lay off the coffee in the airport if you want to nod off on the flight.
Booze (both on and off the plane) is also best avoided if you want a better quality of sleep.
7. Try natural supplements
Personally, if I follow all of the above pointers I’m more than ready to nod off but my husband, who can struggle to sleep, likes to travel with melatonin and magnesium supplements that are helpful for relaxation and combating muscle stiffness instead.
Speak to your pharmacist or doctor for further advice.
8. Use the Do Not Disturb sign
Ever finally drifted off on a flight only to get woken by the meal service? If you’ve got a friendly seat mate or helpful cabin crew, let them know you plan to sleep through the meal service.
Some airlines offer do not disturb stickers you can pop on your head rest to let crew know you don’t want to be woken for food. (Emirates are well known for doing this.) Check your seat pocket or amenity pack when you board the aircraft.
9. Buckle up over your blanket
Don’t forget to pop your seat belt on over your blanket – that way if there’s any turbulence or its time to land, you won’t be abruptly awoken by someone checking that you’re buckled up.
10. Bring your own blanket
Finally, if you’re flying during the day you won’t necessarily be provided with a blanket on a long haul flight. (And who knows how scratchy it might be if your are!) Bring your own blanket on board by wearing a travel shawl that doubles up as a blanket and will keep your neck and shoulders warm on the plane and in the airport.
UK readers: you can shop this whole post in my Amazon store here.
Have any other foolproof tips for sleeping on flights? Let me know in the comments.
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This article contains some affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on the link, I may receive a small commission. Read the disclaimer for details.
Featured image thanks to Dan Gold