How to sleep on a plane: sleeping well on a long-haul flight

There's an art to sleeping on planes when flying long haul. How to sleep on a plane and arrive at your destination feeling fresh.

Sleeping on planes is a fine art, discover the secrets behind it

Have you ever sat down in your plane seat and been asleep before you’ve even taken off? If you’re reading this article, then probably not. You’re more likely to be someone who just can’t figure out how to sleep on a plane than one of those (honestly, infuriating) people who find it so easy to drift off that planes, buses and trains pose no problems for them.

But it’s time to stop staring jealously at the people who are lucky enough to have no problems with falling asleep on a plane and start sleeping better yourself.

Sleeping on planes is normally neither here nor there when you’re only a short flight, but long-haul travel is different. Getting some good quality sleep whilst in the air, provided that it’s a good idea with the time zones considered (e.g., if it’s night time where you’re going), means that you shouldn’t suffer as badly from jet lag, and can start making the most of your far-flung adventure from day one.

If you’ve got plenty of disposable income then there’s really no need to keep reading as the very best way to ensure you sleep comfortably on a plane is simply to upgrade to business class, or even grab yourself one of those first-class cabins, where you can stretch out and sleep nearly as well as you would in your own bed.

If, however, you can’t quite stretch your budget to that, never fear. Below you’ll find plenty of tips for how to sleep well in economy class and arrive at your destination feeling fresh.

One of the best tips for sleeping on a plane is choosing the right seat

1. Wondering how to sleep on a plane? Start with choosing a window or an aisle seat.

Whether you prefer an aisle or a window seat will depend entirely on you. If you’ve got long legs, you might prefer to stretch out in the aisle, but the window seat means you’ve got something to prop your airplane travel pillow up against.

You can normally get your hands on the best seats by checking in online as soon as it opens. On the other hand, these days most low-cost airlines allow you to pay for the best economy class seats. If you’ve got really long legs, considering stumping up for emergency exit seats.

If you want to know where the very best place for you to sit on the plane is, Seat Guru gives you all the details you need to know about every seat out there, right down to the centimetres of space you’ll have available to you.

2. Sleeping on planes is easier in quieter spots

As well as where you’re sitting in relation to the window and aisle, one of the best tips for sleeping on a plane is to choose a quieter section.

Bear in mind that although the front might seem like a good idea for ease of entry and exit, that’s where families with young children often choose to sit.

Sitting towards the back of the plane is normally a better idea, especially if the flight isn’t full, just avoid the very back rows so you don’t get disturbed by people in the queue for the loo.

If the flight is relatively empty and there are whole rows free, ask an attendant if it’s okay to move. You can then put the armrests up, and lie out across the seats. Luxury.

3. Aeroplane tricks: turn off your devices

You know how everyone goes on out about turning off your phone an hour before bed and leaving it in the next room charging so that your brain has a chance to switch off from all that blue light? The same goes for sleeping on planes.

Approach how to sleep on a plane in the same way you would sleeping anywhere. Turn off your in-flight entertainment or your tablet and pick up your book or dive into a magazine article about your long haul destination, whether you’re heading off to the Middle East or Latin America, and give your chance a brain to slowly switch off, rather than expecting yourself to be able to fall asleep immediately.

Sleeping on planes is even tougher if you're exposed to too much blue light

4. How to fall asleep on a plane: make sure your belt buckle is visible

If you’ve finally managed to figure out how to get comfortable on a plane, the last thing you want is to be woken up by a flight attendant who needs to check if you’ve got your seat belt fastened. Keep it visible, over the top of your blanket, so they don’t have to disturb you.

5. Tips for sleeping on a plane: bring the essentials with you

On a long-haul flight, you’ll often be given a pillow and blanket by the airline, but they’re often not up to scratch. Your own blanket or even sarong and your own travel pillow for airplanes will do a much better job at keeping you cosy and comfortable.

An eye mask and a set of earplugs are also a good idea, to block out noise and light. That will stop you being bothered by your noisy neighbours, or the cabin lights coming on at odd times during the flight.

Last but not least, don’t forget to bring warm, comfy socks (compression socks are always a sensible idea), a warm jumper, and a scarf. Airlines can sometimes be overzealous with the air-conditioning, so make sure you come prepared. Sleeping on long haul flights is much easier if you’re nice and warm.

6. One of the least helpful things to help you sleep on a plane is alcohol

Much as it might seem to knock you out sometimes, alcohol is not one of the best ways to get to sleep.

It might make you drift off initially, but you won’t be able to sleep as deeply or as for long as you would if you’d skipped the booze. As cabin air is really dehydrating, you can experience a hangover even if you’ve only drunk a little.

Tempting as it is, swap the gin and tonic for a glass of iced water, a juice or a mug of herbal tea and you’ll really feel the benefits when it comes to sleeping on a plane.

Good travel pillows for airplanes make all the difference to your experience

7. How to have a comfortable flight: adjust your expectations

If you’re worried about how to sleep on a plane, then the most important thing is to be realistic. You’re not going to sleep as well as you would in your own bed. Expect the worst. Don’t plan any strenuous activities for the first day of your trip, opting for a lazy day in your hotel or on the beach instead, and it’ll probably work out much better than you think.