How to sleep on a long flight : 5 must-try tips

how to sleep on a planeFlying through multiple time zones is really pretty inhumane. But if you can actually sleep on a long flight, it goes a long way to mitigate the shock and awe to your body’s internal clock. Short of flying in the fancy section of the plane with the beds, it is very difficult to find a way to get comfortable enough to sleep. Even just a few hours of sleep can help tremendously on how you feel when you land and on  that first jet-lagged day. This post will give you some essential tips for how to sleep on a plane.

This is the final post in a 3 part series on How to Survive a Long Plane Flight. Here are the links to catch up – Part 1: 7 tips on what to wear and Part 2: How to pack a carry-on.

When we fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo, it is an 11 hour daytime flight, so it just feels like a very long day. Thus, I prepare for maximum comfort and amusement. I download a lot of Netflix and Amazon shows onto my phone and I plan my snacks accordingly.

But when we fly from Tokyo to LA, it is a horribly miserable overnight flight.

The flights have often been last minute (click here for why that is), and we are usually stuck in the middle seats. With no window to lean against, we have to find a way to sleep in our tiny, upright space.

(Fun fact: we fly enough to be upgraded on occasion, but did you know that most airlines do not upgrade on international flights? I mean, what the what? The time I really NEED it is that 9 hour flight overnight!)

Anyway, don’t let my bitter whining get us off track here…if you have an overnight flight or will need to sleep on the plane, then your strategy is all about making this happen. Crammed in with other people. With random plane noises and helpful announcements. In two languages.

How to sleep on a long flight: Tips for how to sleep on a plane, in coach

1. Make sure you are as physically comfortable as possible.

The gouge-y waistband or shirt that keeps bunching up will keep you awake. Or being too hot. Or too cold. (See all my clothing comfort notes about what to wear on a long flight.) My Eldest and Middlest daughters swear by hoodies and yoga pants, so that may work for you, too. They are also bendy enough  to lean forward and sleep on the tray table, to that might work for you, too.

2.  Use a large pashmina scarf as a blanket.

When I wrap the scarf around my shoulders, it stays put pretty well. I don’t know why plane blankets are a weird shape that won’t stay around your shoulders, but they just don’t. I usually make sure my air vent is open to give me a little airflow and it helps me snuggle down a bit.

3. Find the right travel pillow.

I have experimented with various pillow solutions. I tried a blowup triangle one that you lean forward on and it *almost* worked. It’s helpful that style has a place to slide your arms through, but I just couldn’t get the angle right for my neck. Maybe because I’m short (I’m 5’3″). I did a ton of research on neck pillows and finally ended up with a memory foam one that clasps in the front, similar to the #6 pillow in this 6 min video on the best kinds of travel pillows) (<-not an affiliate, but a way to see some different styles.)

Tip: if you get a U-shaped pillow, make sure it has a clasp to hold it closed under your chin. I actually get mine settled for tightness and then TURN IT AROUND so the bulky part is the front and my head fits against the seat better.

4.  Use ear plugs and an eye mask.

I use inexpensive squishy earplugs and it really helps to block out some of the sounds. My girls say the thick hoods on their hoodies do the trick for them. And noise cancelling headphones would work, too, but keep in mind how they might work with your pillow situation.

Even if you don’t normally use an eye mask, I recommend you get a good one for travel. I have an awesome blackout eye mask that really helps keep all the random lights from 300 people from disturbing me. Usually just when I am finally drifting off…

For a list of all the things to have handy in your carry-on for maximum travel comfort, check out the list here.

Here are the steps I take to try and sleep on a long flight:
  1. I set up my foot hammock, tuck that little airplane pillow behind my lower back, and slightly recline my seat.
  2. Put earplugs in and get neck pillow settled.
  3. Drape my large scarf around my shoulders and get my eye mask on.

Then, I do my best to relax. It can be difficult to sleep inches away from a stranger and with all the things happening around me, but the earplugs and eye mask work to block out some of the world. I relax my body and breath as if I were already asleep. This can trick my traveling body into thinking it’s a good idea to sleep. Even a deep doze is helpful to get a bit of rest.

When should you sleep on a long flight?

When is the best time to sleep on a long flight? I ask the flight attendants that question. Since they usually fly the route often and have to make time zone adjustments themselves, they are a great source of info. So don’t be afraid to ask. Most of the time, they advise me to sleep when it is closest to the middle of the night at our destination, if possible.

It is possible to get comfortable and sleep on a long or overnight flight in the economy (or coach) seats! It may take a few trips to get the kinks worked out, but keep trying. Arriving a little rested at your destination is a game changer for business and vacation travel.

Wishing you many zzz’s! Or at least enough to arrive feeling a little bit human.

p.s. don’t forget to check out the rest of my travel tips in this series!
Here are the links:
Part 1: 7 Tips on what to wear
Part 2: How to pack a carry-on.

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