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A shot looking down the aisle on a plane with passengers seated in a 3-3 formation on either side

How to Sleep on a Plane

The jet airliner is one of mankind’s greatest modern inventions, connecting people and giving us a quick and affordable way to reach parts of the world that we never thought we’d see.

But, for all of its brilliance, it’s clear that the people who invented it didn’t put sleep compatibility anywhere near the top of the list of its most important design factors. Although airlines are doing more and more to make its cabins better for those who want to take a rest, getting quality in-flight sleep can still be a tough struggle.

Struggle no more! At Alternative Airlines, we’ve asked industry experts, frequent flyers and used our own expertise to come up with 16 top tips that’ll have you sleeping (almost) better on the plane than you do in your own bed.

A photo taken of a dark cabin on a plane with blue aisle LED lights and the top of passengers heads

1) Prepare yourself pre-flight

Preparing yourself pre-flight is the first step you should take in ensuring that you’ll remain comfortable enough to sleep once in-flight.

Former pilot and author of Behind the Flight Deck Door, Brett Manders, told us “If you have an evening flight, make sure your morning exercise routine gets your heart rate up and get endorphins going. If you can, try to head outdoors to get fresh air and sunshine. It can also be a good idea to walk around once at the airport as you’ll be sitting still for most of the time on the plane.”

a jogger running down a pathway through trees in warm sunlight

2) Drink water

With low cabin humidity and altitude change, dehydration is one of the biggest factors in preventing people from sleeping while on a plane. That’s why it’s important that you make sure you drink enough water before and at the start of the flight. It’s also a good idea to bring your own water bottle, as this means you won’t have to wait for the cabin crew to serve you.

Tip: Drink in moderation — you don’t want to overdo it either. If you drink too much water, you’ll find yourself constantly needing to get up and go to the toilet, which will also stop you from getting a good amount of sleep.

3) Stay caffeine-free

It might go without saying, but don’t drink any caffeinated drinks. Not only does caffeine boost energy but it’s also another cause of dehydration. Swap your coffee for a fruit tea or a decaf substitute and replace your coke with water or a low-sugar fruit drink.

4) Don’t drink alcohol

Another big culprit of dehydration is alcohol.

Some people will swear by a little pre-flight whiskey as the perfect solution to send you off to sleep. But, even if it does, the quality of your sleep drops significantly when alcohol is involved and you’ll wake up feeling far worse than you did before you went to sleep.

No whiskey sign

5) Buy in-flight accessories

High-quality eye-masks, earplugs, travel pillows and blankets are invaluable when it comes to aiding sleep on a plane. Aircraft cabins can be bright, noisy and cold, so anything you can bring along to nullify the conditions should be at the top of your packing list.

Tip: If you do use a blanket, make sure to strap the seatbelt in on top of the blanket so that the flight attendants can easily see that you’re strapped in and won’t wake you. It’s also a good idea to leave your tray up when sleeping, for the same reasons.

6) Use airline accessories

Sometimes, the airline will give you an extra pair of socks and a blanket or provide them upon request. So, if you want to stay warm and comfortable but don’t want to eat into your carry-on baggage allowance, make good use of the freebies that the airline offers.

It’s important to note that not all airlines will have blankets on board, so it’s best to check before deciding to leave yours behind.

7) Don’t be afraid to recline your seat

Seats are reclinable for a reason. It’s nice to be cautious of the person behind you, but you’ve paid for your ticket, so you’re entitled to recline your seat as far back as what makes you comfortable.

8) Pre-select a seat

Where you’re sat on a plane can make or break your ability to fall asleep. Fortunately, you can pre-book your seat on many of the airlines available through Alternative Airlines and with a little advice, pick the seat that is best for sleeping.

Alternative Airlines seat map display for flight from London Gatwick to Toronto Pearson

a) Choose a window seat

The window seat is the best seat in the row for sleeping. Not only does it provide you with a place to rest your head but it also gives you control over the window shutters. Plus, in a window seat, you won’t have to worry about people waking you up to get past you on their way to the toilet or food getting passed over you when meals, snacks and drinks are served.

b) Avoid the back of the plane at all costs

The back of the plane is the worst place to sit for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s near to the toilet, which means that the noise from the opening of the doors, people chatting in the queue and flushing the toilet might keep you awake. The second reason is that seats at the very back of the plane usually have restricted recline or no recline at all.

9) Upgrade your travel class or seat

If the airline has more than one cabin, a surefire way to make your in-flight experience comfortable enough for sleeping is to upgrade your cabin class.

Many airlines’ Business Class and First Class cabins offer luxurious angle-flat or lie-flat beds, which are perfect for sleeping on. If the cost of upgrading to Business or First is out of the question, then an upgrade to Premium Economy will give you the extra space and legroom you’ll need to get good rest at an affordable price.

Even if the airline doesn’t offer cabin upgrades, it might offer seats with extra legroom within Economy Class. For example, seats in the front row will always give extra space for not much extra cost, so it’s worth looking to see what the options are.

10) Wear something you’re able to sleep in

We’re not suggesting that you turn up to the airport in your PJs, but wearing comfortable and lightweight clothing will make all the difference in helping you sleep on the plane. This is especially important for long-haul flights, where you’ll need to stay comfortable in your clothes for six hours or more.

If you’re dressing to impress when you land, consider taking a change of clothes and changing when you arrive at the airport.

11) Tire yourself out before the flight

There’s nothing worse than wanting to sleep on a flight but you can’t because you’re awake and alert.

One way to combat this issue is to tire yourself out before the flight. You can exercise to drain yourself of energy or, as travel blogger Ioana Stoica suggests, make sure you don’t have a full night of sleep the night before so that you’re more tired than usual by the time you’re in the air.

A shot taken inside a gym showing a man and woman both stretching in gym-wear

12) Don’t bring a personal item

Some airlines will allow you to bring a personal item on the plane in addition to your carry-on bag. A personal item is usually an item such as a small backpack, purse or laptop and bag.

Personal items are great if you want to make the most out of your free baggage allowance but due to lack of space in the overhead locker, they usually have to be stored under the seat in front of you. This inevitably reduces the amount of legroom that you have on the plane and can make for a less comfortable journey.

Tip: Still confused about what a personal item is? Check out our guide on the difference between a carry-on bag and a personal item.

13) Stay away from your phone and in-flight entertainment

The screen on your mobile, the in-flight TVs and any other electronic device that you might use will produce blue light. Blue light sends signals to your brain that tricks its internal clock into thinking that it’s daytime, regardless of what time of day it is. This keeps you awake and alert and makes it much harder to fall asleep.

So, if you were planning to watch a movie, TV show or check your social media before getting to sleep on your flight, you should consider bringing a book to read instead.

A close up shot of an in-flight entertainment system on the ceiling of a plane

14) Download a sleeping app

Whether its a mellow tune helping you relax, white noise blocking out the rest of the cabin or the soothing voice of Matthew McConaughey taking you through a guided meditation, there are tons of sleep-aid apps that will help will you wind down on a flight.

Pre-download a sleep-aid app to your mobile before the flight, stick your earphones in and let the app do the rest of the work.

15) Recreate your bedtime routine

Recreate your bedtime routine to signal to your mind and body that you’re ready to sleep. Frequent flyer and CEO and Founder of My UK Sim Card, Nick Brennan, told us: “take something more comfortable to change into, brush your teeth, have a soothing herbal tea. In other words try to replicate as much as possible what you do at home before going to bed.”

If you don’t have a bedtime routine, consider creating one and using it before bed in the weeks leading up to your flight.

16) Book a lounge

Book a lounge at the airport before your flight to unwind and lull yourself into a sleepy state. Some lounges have washing facilities, which are perfect if you plan to recreate your bedtime routine. Others have gyms, which are useful for tiring yourself out with a pre-flight workout. And, there are even a number of lounges that have spas and private rooms!

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