How to Sleep on an Airplane

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Jordan Burns DC, MS

Dr. Jordan Burns DC, MS

Meet Dr. Burns, a devoted chiropractor with an extensive seven-year professional career dedicated to optimizing patient health. With an academic background in Kinesiology, Life Sciences, and Sports Science and Rehabilitation,…

Last Updated On December 29th, 2023
How to Sleep on an Airplane

Key Takeaways

  • Strategic Seat Selection: Choosing the right seat based on personal preferences and priorities significantly impacts comfort during a long flight. Consider factors like window views, accessibility, and mobility to enhance the likelihood of better sleep.
  • Creating a Restful Environment: Establishing a comfortable atmosphere on the plane is crucial for quality sleep. Utilize noise-canceling headphones, sleep masks, and other accessories to block disturbances. Prioritize first-class amenities or bring personal items to improve overall sleep quality.
  • Mastering Sleep Schedule for Jet Lag: Adapting to the destination’s time zone is essential to overcome jet lag. Gradually adjusting sleep schedules, managing sleep cycles, and avoiding caffeine close to bedtime contribute to better sleep quality during the flight.

Long-haul flights can be challenging, especially if you struggle to get some shuteye. Such flights can disrupt sleep routines, comfort is difficult to achieve, and jet lag is always a looming threat. But fear not. We’re here to help you catch some Zs and arrive refreshed and energized at your destination.

“Sleeping on an airplane can be challenging due to cramped spaces, noise, and irregular sleeping conditions,” says Dr. Burns. “Studies, including those featured in ‘The Lancet Neurology,’ underline the importance of adaptability in such situations. Adjusting expectations and adopting flexible sleep strategies can significantly enhance the quality of rest during air travel.”

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In this article, we will explore some effective strategies and tips on how to sleep on an airplane. From choosing the best seat to mastering your sleep schedule, we’ve got you covered. Let’s dive in and discover how to get some shuteye on your next flight!

Choosing the Right Seat

The seat you select can significantly impact your comfort level during a long flight, which can affect the quality of sleep experienced on an airplane. One study Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source noted how difficult it is to sleep well on a plane compared to a layover hotel, so it’s important to maximize your comfort on your flight.

Different seating options may suit your needs depending on your preferences and priorities. If you cherish the view or like to lean against the wall, window seats are perfect for you on a long flight. For those who favor accessibility and mobility, aisle seats allow you to move around without bothering your fellow passengers.

While some travelers prefer the privacy and legroom offered by the exit row seat on long flights, it may not always be available, and there may be some restrictions to consider. In contrast, middle seats may provide additional support for your head and arms on long flights, but they don’t always offer the best view and may limit your mobility. Consider bringing a comfortable neck pillow or even sleep medicine, if necessary, to enhance your comfort during long flights.

It is essential to choose the right seat to ensure proper body posture and comfort while sleeping on a plane. Whether it’s a window seat, middle seat, exit row seat, aisle seat, or a seat in the right row, do your research, read reviews, and consider your priorities before choosing your perfect seat with optimal sleep and comfort in mind.

Consider factors such as how much space and legroom you’ll have, and don’t forget to bring essential items like neck pillows for added comfort during your flight.

Creating a Comfortable Environment

Falling asleep on an airplane can be challenging without a comfortable environment for sleep. Luckily, there are several strategies to create a peaceful ambiance that can help ease you into slumber.

One approach is using noise-canceling headphones, designed to block out unwanted noise while providing high-quality sound for music or movies. Another option is a sleep mask, which can help block out light and create a darker sleeping environment.

To enhance your chances of better sleep, consider factors such as a few hours of sleep debt, the challenge of sitting upright, and the importance of personal space. While first-class cabins may offer more luxurious accommodations, exploring these strategies can make any flight a more restful experience.

For those who are especially sensitive to noise, ear plugs can be a lifesaver. Choosing suitable earplugs and even eye masks is crucial, as some block out all noise and light, while others allow for some noise to come through. Regardless of your preference, creating a comfortable environment is essential to get optimal sleep on an airplane and arrive at your destination feeling refreshed.

Research in Verified Source Wiley Multinational publishing company specializing in academic and instructional materials. View source ‘The Journal of Sleep Research’ suggests that creating a comfortable sleep environment is crucial for quality rest,” says Dr. Jordan Burns. “While on an airplane, passengers can optimize their sleep space using neck pillows, sleep masks, and noise-canceling headphones. These accessories improve comfort and contribute to minimizing disruptions for a more restful journey.”

Mastering Your Sleep Schedule

Getting enough sleep is essential when traveling, especially when you’re crossing multiple time zones. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can help regulate your internal body clock and ease the effects of jet lag. Verified Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The United States’ health protection agency that defends against dangers to health and safety. View source

To establish an effective sleep routine while traveling, aligning your sleep schedule with your destination’s time zone is crucial. To accomplish this change, adjust your sleep and wake times gradually in the days leading up to your trip so your body gets used to the new schedule.

Managing your sleep cycles can also improve the quality of your sleep. The human body typically goes through five stages of sleep, and completing a full sleep cycle takes around 90 minutes. To maximize your rest, try to time your sleep so that you wake up at the end of a cycle when you’re in lighter sleep and less likely to feel groggy, just as you would time the duration of a nap.

When crossing multiple time zones, adjusting your sleep schedule to prevent jet lag Verified Source Medline Plus Online resource offered by the National Library of Medicine and part of the National Institutes of Health. View source can be challenging. To make the transition easier, avoiding caffeine several hours before bedtime makes sense. Following advice from sleep experts, finding a comfortable position, and considering human factors in your sleep routine can contribute to a smoother adjustment.

By mastering your sleep schedule, you can enhance the quality of your sleep, reduce the effects of jet lag, and arrive at your destination feeling refreshed and ready to go.

Essential Sleep Accessories

If you want quality sleep on an airplane, having the right accessories can make a huge difference. We recommend investing in a neck pillow or travel pillow to support your head and prevent neck strain. Be sure to find a pillow to prevent neck pain by providing adequate comfort and being the right size for your body.

Maximizing legroom can also make it easier to get comfortable and fall asleep. Consider booking seats with extra legroom or asking for an aisle seat to stretch your legs. If you’re stuck in a cramped space, try positioning your legs straight or with a slight bend to help improve circulation.

Remember, the goal is to create a comfortable environment that promotes sleep. Be prepared with the right accessories to keep you well-rested when traveling to make your flight more relaxing and restful.

As we previously mentioned, accessories that can block out any noise and light around you are essential. Pack earplugs or noise-canceling headphones along with a light-blocking sleep mask.

With a bit of preparation, including overnight flights, a carry-on with essentials, the assistance of a flight attendant, and considering sleep time, you can arrive at your destination feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world.

“Maintaining good sleep hygiene is essential for quality sleep, even while flying,” says Dr. Burns. “The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends Verified Source American Academy of Sleep Medicine Society focused on sleep medicine and disorders, and the AASM is who authorizes U.S. sleep medicine facilities. View source establishing a pre-flight routine that mimics bedtime rituals. This can signal to the body that it’s time to wind down, making it easier to relax and fall asleep on the plane.”

Natural Sleep Aids and Medications

Long-haul flights can make it challenging to get adequate sleep. Fortunately, natural sleep aids or medications are available for those who struggle to fall asleep on a plane.

Consider using an amenity kit for essential items, staying hydrated for better sleep throughout the flight, and choosing a suitable time for sleep when the plane takes off. These strategies can contribute to a more comfortable and restful journey.

Herbal tea is known for its calming effect, making it an excellent natural sleep aid. Chamomile, valerian root, passionflower, and lavender are some of the most effective herbal teas for inducing sleep.

Alternatively, some individuals find tart cherry juice can help promote sleepiness. It’s best to consume a glass of it a few hours before you plan to sleep, so you may be able to take some before your flight if you cannot bring a sealed bottle onboard the plane.

Avoiding heavy foods and eating too late before sleeping can also significantly promote restful sleep during your flight, along with staying hydrated.

In addition to herbal tea and a careful diet, sleep aids such as melatonin supplements and sleeping pills can assist. However, discussing their effectiveness and potential side effects with a doctor before use is essential.

It’s worth noting that some sleeping pills may cause grogginess or drowsiness. Meanwhile, herbal teas may not be potent enough for severe sleeplessness. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the effects of these options and only use them as necessary.

Incorporating careful and measured breathing exercises can be a powerful tool in promoting relaxation and enhancing sleepiness during a flight. Engaging in slow, deliberate breaths, focusing on inhaling and exhaling deeply, activates the body’s relaxation response.

Measured breathing techniques like box breathing not only help alleviate stress but also signal to the brain that it’s time to wind down, making it an effective natural sleep aid.

Overall, natural sleep aids or medications, along with practices for good sleep hygiene, can be useful in helping travelers achieve restful sleep on a plane. It’s wise to consult a medical professional to determine the best course of action.

Finding ways to promote deep sleep, such as incorporating relaxation techniques and creating a comfortable environment, can contribute to a more enjoyable and restorative journey.

“In-flight relaxation techniques can significantly impact sleep quality,” says Dr. Burns. “Practices such as deep breathing or gentle stretching, as suggested by recent studies in ‘The Lancet Neurology,’ can help calm the mind and relax the body. Incorporating these techniques into your routine during a flight can promote a more restful travel experience.”

Practices for Sleeping Upright

When it comes to sleeping upright on a plane, maintaining good posture is crucial. Ensure that your back is straight, and avoid slouching.

Position your legs so that they are straight or have a slight bend at the knees, which helps to reduce lower back discomfort. If possible, try stretching your legs every so often to keep them from getting stiff.

Experiment with different sleeping positions to find the one that works best for you. Some passengers prefer resting their heads on their hands, while others find reclining slightly helpful. Adding a small pillow for support and making these adjustments can make it an easy task to find a comfortable position for your upper body during the flight.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to sleep upright in comfort for the duration of your flight.


How can I make my long-haul flight more comfortable?

To enhance comfort during a long-haul flight, prioritize hydration by drinking plenty of water and moisturizing your skin. Bring a neck pillow and a blanket for added coziness, and consider noise-canceling headphones to block out ambient sounds.

Move and stretch periodically to improve circulation and reduce stiffness. Finally, plan your sleep schedule to align with the destination time zone, helping to minimize jet lag.

What is the best plane travel attire?

The key to comfortable plane travel attire is balancing style and functionality. Opt for loose, breathable layers to accommodate temperature variations during the flight.

Choose comfortable shoes that are easy to slip on and off during security checks and offer support during long periods of sitting. Consider compression socks to improve blood circulation and reduce swelling. Bring a scarf or shawl that can double as a blanket for added warmth.

Are airplane footrests worth it?

Airplane footrests can be worth it for some travelers, particularly those who struggle with discomfort or poor circulation during flights. These compact accessories can provide additional support and elevate the legs slightly, reducing pressure on the lower back.

If you often find it challenging to get comfortable in economy seats, investing in a portable footrest could be a simple solution to enhance your overall in-flight comfort.

How do you feel comfortable in economy class on a plane?

To feel more comfortable in economy class, choose an aisle seat for easier aisle access and more legroom. Bring a neck pillow and a blanket for added coziness during the flight. Stay hydrated for better sleep and wakefulness by drinking water regularly and avoiding excessive caffeine consumption.

Consider noise-canceling headphones or earplugs to create a more serene environment. Lastly, stretch and move periodically to prevent stiffness and improve circulation.

What makes you sleepy on a plane?

Several factors contribute to sleepiness on a plane. The hum of the engines and the white noise in the cabin can create a soothing environment conducive to sleep. Dimmed cabin lights signal to your body that it’s time to rest.

Additionally, reducing physical activity and a calm atmosphere during a flight can naturally induce drowsiness. To enhance sleepiness, bring a comfortable travel pillow and a sleep mask to block out any remaining ambient light.

How do you sleep in the middle seat of a plane?

Sleeping in the middle seat requires some strategic planning. Bring a neck pillow for added head and neck support, and consider investing in a supportive travel pillow. Use noise-canceling headphones to drown out ambient sounds, and bring a sleep mask to block out any remaining light.

Angle your body slightly toward the window or aisle to create more shoulder space. Additionally, communicate with your seatmates to coordinate movements and create a more comfortable sleep environment in the middle seat.


Getting a good night’s sleep on an airplane may seem challenging, but with the right approach, anyone can do it. By carefully choosing your seat, creating a comfortable environment, managing your sleep schedule, utilizing sleep accessories, and considering natural sleep aids, you can increase your chances of achieving restful slumber during your next flight.

Remember to maintain good posture and use techniques for sleeping upright to avoid any discomfort or potential injury. With these tips and tricks, you’ll be well-equipped to sleep on the airplane and arrive at your final destination feeling refreshed and ready to go.

About the author

April Mayer is a sleep expert and writer with a degree in exercise physiology. She has dedicated her career to exploring the relationship between sleep and productivity. Her insightful articles, such as "The Surprising Way Your Mood Might Be Messing With Your Productivity" and "Wake Up to More Productive Mornings," have been featured in reputable publications like Forbes, Greatist, Real Homes, Thrillist, Tom's Guide, and Eat This, Not That. With a passion for helping others lead more productive lives through restful sleep, April offers valuable expertise on foods and vitamins for better sleep. As a trusted member of the Early Bird team since March 2020, she continues to provide informative and well-researched content.

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